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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

Scarlett Stubbings

The Intruder's Work

Dissect our land,
Gut the Druids' sacred oaks
And strip the Celtic birch and yew
Of their once budding chestnuts,
Who once whispered lullabies of birds.
Breed flames within their wastelands.
Snake through shrub and shoot
Like swelling waves on golden sands
As they scrawl onto the twisted spine
Of our aged nation. Their hollow
Verses attempt to mimic our grief,
Offering words, ugly words.
Their stark letters sit stiff on the page
Displaying the armoured faces
Of chains of iron soldiers.
They sing banal ballads for their own resin trees –
Why give them such strange names?
The organ's pulse
Beats the blues against the trees,
Trees and seeds birthed by the ashes of our land,
And driven by the Atlantic Wind
Storms our own nation's Requiem.

Translated from the Breton by Scarlett Stubbings

Labour an estren

Attempts have been made to contact the rights holder of this poem.
For more information please contact

Diwiskañ, dibourc'hañ hor Bro
Skubañ derv sakr an Drouized
Bezv ar Gelted hag o ivin
Ha kistin hor yaouankiz
Ma kane enne al laboused.
C'hwezhañ tan el lannegi
Er brugeier, er balan o wagenniñ
'Vel morioù o dour aour
Ha skrivañ war gein noazh
Ar Vro gozh, e kement yezh estren
Barzhonegoù a gañv
Barzhonegoù digened
Gant o lizherennoù sonn
Reut 'vel o dremmoù dir
Regennadoù hir a soudarded plom.
Gwerzennoù dilusk o gwez rousin
Dezhe anvioù iskis !
... Ha dizale
War ograoù-meur
O c'hoadoù teñval ha trist
Temzet gant ludu hor c'hoad-ni
E c'hoario 'n ur ganañ
An Avel Atlantel
... Requiem hor Bro.

Anjela Duval
© Kuzul ar Brezhoneg


Translation commentary

Travelling to Brittany each year has allowed me to observe the remnants of traditional Breton culture, including its ever-diminishing Celtic language. I chose to translate this poem because Duval powerfully explores the gradual disappearance of the Breton language and how this affected her personally – I felt that it was important to acknowledge the impact of this loss of part of a culture's identity from the point of view of an individual who experienced this change first-hand.

One of the main problems I came across when translating this poem was the various person endings and obscure forms of certain verbs, which had the ability to change the meaning of a line or action. Similarly, the order of the words in some of the sentences made it difficult to determine which adjectives described which nouns - this again affected the power dynamics between the land itself and those who have appeared to remove this traditional identity.

Whilst reading this poem I noticed the harsh consonant sounds of the Breton language, which I interpreted as a portrayal of not only Duval's passion, but also her torment towards the removal of this ancient culture over time. I tried to retain this resentment through violent imagery and irregular punctuation, portraying Brittany as vulnerable, then dominant, reflecting the unbreakable strength which the poet believes her homeland possesses. I kept the structure of the poem faithful to the original, as the lack of pause usually created as a result of stanzas appears to prove the relentlessness of this removal of the Breton culture.

Despite this being such a personal poem, many people can understand these feelings of grief and sorrow towards lost cultures – ironically, the act of translating this poem proves how easy it is to change people's intentions through different interpretations of the language.

Scarlett Stubbings