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

18-and-under category, commended

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

Helena Walsh

MYS 1:16

        Once entombed
in winter's storm,
Spring emerges; birds
of silent dawn will
break with song and
bloomless buds shall
burst anew.

        But along such
lush mountainsides
your path's
by green, so ripe
a hand stretched out
cannot be seen.

        Still, on
see the trees
and their yellow-
ochre leaves.
Take one. Treasure it.
Unless blue-green -

        then lay it down
and sigh. I say it
with a heavy heart:
mountains of autumn
on my part.

Translated from the Japanese by Helena Walsh

MYS I: 16

image of Japanese text
Princess Nukata

Translation commentary

Taken from the Man'yōshū, collected in around 759AD, this poem revolves around an elemental question, asked by the Emperor Tenchi to Lord Fujiwara, pondered and settled by the Princess Nukata. It utilises rich imagery and an oddly melancholic, but undeniably human experience of attempting to choose one of two particularly delightful entities and transports modern-day readers to a time where humans and nature were more closely intertwined. The question asked is a simple one: which is superior – the perpetual, hued flowers of the Japanese spring mountainside, or the splendour of the infinite, glowing leaves in autumn?

Helena Walsh