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

18-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


Joseph Harrison

The Reversal of the Tiber

Aeneid book 8 lines 87–102

That whole night long Thybris lightened the stream
And the silent swollen waters spilling back stood still
As he stayed the laid out waters which seemed
Like a calm, cool creek or a placid pool
So that struggle might not tug upon the sailor's oar;
So they went along swiftly, lifting a shout,
The fir-ships smooth with pitch slipping on the shallows
And the waters, the woods were amazed at the sight
Of men's bright shields' light blazing afar
And the colours of the painted prows cruising on the stream.
They tired out the sable night and morning light with rowing
As they overcame the curving of the river's curling course
And the trees gave them shade beneath their many-coloured leaves
Oars slicing through the forest on the river's leaf-green stream.
The fire-shining sun had now risen to its highest point
When they saw the walls and bastion-fort
And the scattered spots of red-tile rooves
Where now Roman power reaches and equals the sky
Evander's reign then saw a humbler domain;
The sailors turned their painted prows and set course for the city.

Translated from the Latin by Joseph Harrison
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The Reversal of the Tiber

Aeneid book 8 lines 87–102

Thybris ea fluvium, quam longa est, nocte tumentem
leniit, et tacita refluens ita substitit unda,
mitis ut in morem stagni placidaeque paludis
sterneret aequor aquis, remo ut luctamen abesset.
ergo iter inceptum celerant rumore secundo;
labitur uncta vadis abies; mirantur et undae,
miratur nemus insuetum fulgentia longe
scuta virum fluvio pictasque innare carinas.
olli remigio noctemque diemque fatigant
et longos superant flexus variisque teguntur
arboribus viridisque secant placido aequore silvas.
sol medium caeli conscenderat igneus orbem,
cum muros arcemque procul ac rara domorum
tecta vident, quae nunc Romana potentia caelo
aequavit, tum res inopes Euandrus habebat:
ocius advertunt proras urbique propinquant.

Virgil

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Translation commentary

My first consideration when translating this piece into English verse was the metre I should use: Virgil's dactylic hexameter is designed for a very different language to English, and it was necessary to find a replacement. I have opted for something to some extent inspired by Hopkins, trying to somewhat emulate the rather heavy alliterative verse with rhymes within lines (rather than end-rhymes) of Old English and ancient Welsh verse, which I consider to be somewhat equivalent to how Virgil uses the very ancient hexameter form. Furthermore, in several places in the Aeneid Virgil uses words that are rather like the kennings common in the type of verse I have tried to emulate: although there are no examples in this particular episode in the Latin, 'peace-bearing' crops up not long after this section. Metre has been difficult, and certainly I have been more free on the metre of this piece than I would normally be; however there are several good reasons for a slightly less strict metre. Firstly, that it has allowed me to keep very closely to a literal translation: I have only added a few metrically necessary words and rephrased more fancifully very short parts in order both to keep to metre and add a bit of flair that, to my mind at least, in keeping with the sense of the piece and the style I wish to create within the translation. The more fluid metre is also grounded somewhat in Virgil's hexameter: the first four feet of every line can be either dactyls or spondees, meaning there can be some fair metric variation from line to line. All in all, this translation aims to be a relatively literal translation re-worked into a relatively modern style that takes inspiration from Old English and Welsh verse.

Joseph Harrison