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The Stephen Spender Prize 2018 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

18-and-under category, first prize

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2018 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


Emilia Leonowicz

Braid


Once all the women
from the transport were sheared
four workers with brooms
made of linden wood swept
and gathered the hair.

Beneath clear glass lay
the stiff hair of those lost
strangled in gas chambers
in this hair there are pins
and delicate combs made of bone.

Light does not grace them
wind will not blow through them
a gentle hand will not touch them
nor rain, nor lips

In huge crates
dry hair of the strangled
and one grey braid
a mouse's tail, secured with a ribbon
one which boisterous young boys
would tug on in the playground.

Translated from the Polish by Emilia Leonowicz
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Warkoczyk


Kiedy już wszystkie kobiety
z transportu ogolono
czterech robotników miotłami
zrobionymi z lipy zamiatało
i gromadziło włosy

Pod czystymi szybami
leżą sztywne włosy uduszonych
w komorach gazowych
w tych włosach są szpilki
i kościane grzebienie

Nie prześwietla ich światło
nie rozdziela wiatr
nie dotyka ich dłoń
ani deszcz ani usta

W wielkich skrzyniach
kłębią się suche włosy
uduszonych
i szary warkoczyk
mysi ogonek ze wstążeczką
za który pociągają w szkole
niegrzeczni chłopcy.

Tadeusz Różewicz
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Translation commentary

I chose to translate 'Warkoczyk' after my mum read it out to me; I felt that the author had gotten across a strong message using a fairly short poem, which despite its length has a huge impact on the reader. I truly wanted to get across this same feeling in my translation, and that is the author's grief and his bitterness at the loss of children – an entire generation – in the Holocaust. The last three lines of the poem are certainly the most powerful, speaking of a children's playground that will never be, but should have been. I personally also liked the description of combs found in the hair being made of bone, as if death had already claimed these women before their arrival and evidence of it clung to their remains.

I faced several difficulties when translating this poem, especially the use of diminutives. The very title of the original, 'Warkoczyk', is a diminutive of the Polish for braid; this is a word used most commonly when speaking to children, it is an almost 'cutesy' way of using the word. In English there is no such equivalent, thus it was difficult for me to really get across the feeling of the poem.

The original poem is not structured, nor does it rhyme, therefore I was able to take some artistic liberties, if you will. However, I did make sure to translate it in a way which preserved the original tempo as well as the number of lines and paragraphs which the poem comprises.

Emilia Leonowicz