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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
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Read the winning entries from previous years


William Butler-Denby

Fragment 105(a)


Say – Did the fruit-pickers forget to pick
This fruit of fruits? Or was it out of reach?
Or did a slithering One return at night,
To pluck forbidden Helen from the branch?

From the top of the branch,
From the top of the top –
O Paradigm!

Before malon became malum,
When it was red and not a mela-nin
Upon our souls –

Like an Apple, or love,
That's just as sweet
To the fruit-pickers as it was to Her,

The thing blushed,
As Pomona once fled
Vertumnus in a poet's Eden,

– But
Whose fragment, and
Whose She and One and Man?
Whose Helen, Apple, Poet, Myth?

Translated from the Ancient Greek by William Butler-Denby
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Fragment 105(a)


image of Ancient Greek text
Sappho
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Translation commentary

When I first read Sappho's fragment, I immediately recalled Hart Crane's 'Garden Abstract', which begins rather pertinently with, 'The apple on its bough is her desire, –'. In a literal sense, there is no Eve in Sappho's fragment; her apple is not forbidden by the gods; and her orchard is not Eden – but there are hints of a deeper psycho-social structure, in which apples epitomise allure. Nevertheless, Sappho did not have to contend with the cultural resonances of the Biblical apple, nor with its echoes in treatments such as Milton's Paradise Lost. Although the culture of the Ancient Greeks is politically embedded into ours, no-one today worships their gods or cites their myths with any conviction.

William Butler-Denby