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The Stephen Spender Prize 2019 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2019 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Jasper Gabriel Birkin


These trees, all of one mother –
Roots so low, and branches high –
I always stop, open my ears
To hear the sublime silence.

I felt the storm invade
And knock them off their feet.
I saw them, lost in dreams
Of dances, summer-sweet,

Their anxious, shaking branches
In darkness and in light –
The weathered bark-faces hold
A mirror to my own life.

Translated from the Dutch by Jasper Gabriel Birkin


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Als ik de bomen zie
gemaakt van hetzelfde leven,
maar dan met stam en tak en twijg.
Als ik de bomen zie
dan luister 'k altijd even
naar hun fantastisch zwijgen

Ik heb de storm zien komen,
hij sloeg ze half kapot, verstild zag ik ze dromen
of dansen, zomerzot.

Ik zag hun angstig beven
in donker en in licht.
Ik zie mijn eigen leven
in hun verweerd gezicht.

Toon Hermans


Translation commentary

I'm 14 years old and my mother is Dutch; I lived there for the first few years of my life which made translating the poem easier than others might find it. I've been surrounded by nature my whole life, cycling around the Netherlands on holidays - perfect for seeing nature at its finest, with perfect landscapes and tree-lined cycle paths; now I live on a farm in England. This poem is one my Opa (Grandpa in Dutch) liked very much and suggested I read.

Translating directly was a reasonable struggle; it made me feel a bit it illiterate. I created a draft of the poem and showed it to my English teacher who discussed how to edit it so it flowed much more and made more sense; felt more natural. I took out some words and added some to make it have a good shape. The way it was written in Dutch had a certain rhythm and syllables that I've mimicked. I felt this would be more effective than changing it completely and so stuck close to the original.

I feel the poem is quite relatable, and often think of it as I cycle around doing the errands. The certain bit that I love the most is 'I saw them lost in dream/ Of dancing summer-sweet' and ever since I've heard this I always think of how when I see the trees, they act so glum in the storm the poem talks of.

But the whole original poem is written like an observation, like the poet Toon Herman was just writing down notes; I felt this was clever and it made the reader take an internal note for the next time they went outside. Which I do too. I feel the Dutch have a very beautiful way of putting words and this shows very well during the whole of the poem.

Jasper Gabriel Birkin