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

Polish Spotlight 18-and-under category, winner

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


Zuzanna Osińska


I am too close for him to dream of me


I am too close for him to dream of me.
I don't fly above him, I don't hide from him
Under the roots of trees. I am too close.
It is not with my voice the fish in the net sings.
It is not my finger from which the ring rolls.
I am too close. A big house burns
Without me screaming for help. Too close
For the bell to ring on my hair.
Too close for me to enter as a guest,
Before whom the walls slide apart.
I will never, for the second time, die so lightly,
So much outside my body, so unwittingly,
As I did once in his sleep. I am too close,
Too close. I hear a hiss
And see the shimmering scale of this word,
I'm paralysed in embrace. He sleeps,
In this moment more accessible to a ticket lady
at a travelling circus with one lion,
seen once in a lifetime,
Than to me lying beside him.
Now for her a red-leafed valley in him grows,
Closed by a snowy mountain in the azure air. I am too close
To be a godsend for him. My scream
Could only wake him. Poor,
Limited to my own form,
And yet I was a birch, yet I was a lizard,
Yet I left behind times and satins,
Flickering through colours of my skin. Yet I had
The favour of disappearing before amazed eyes,
Which is the treasure of treasures. I am close,
Too close for him to dream of me.
I slip my arm from under his sleeping head,
Numb, filled with imagined pins and needles.
On top of each of them, ready to be counted,
Fallen angels sit.

Translated from the Polish by Zuzanna Osińska
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Jestem za blisko, żeby mu się śnić.


Jestem za blisko, żeby mu się śnić.
Nie fruwam nad nim, nie uciekam mu
pod korzeniami drzew. Jestem za blisko.
Nie moim głosem śpiewa ryba w sieci.
Nie z mego palca toczy się pierścionek.
Jestem za blisko. Wielki dom się pali
beze mnie wołającej ratunku. Za blisko,
żeby na moim włosie dzwonił dzwon.
Za blisko, żebym mogła wejść jak gość,
przed którym rozsuwają się ściany.
Już nigdy po raz drugi nie umrę tak lekko,
tak bardzo poza ciałem, tak bezwiednie,
jak niegdyś w jego śnie. Jestem za blisko,
za blisko. Słyszę syk
i widzę połyskliwą łuskę tego słowa,
znieruchomiała w objęciu. On śpi,
w tej chwili dostępniejszy widzianej raz w życiu
kasjerce wędrownego cyrku z jednym lwem
niż mnie leżącej obok.
Teraz dla niej rośnie w nim dolina
rudolistna, zamknięta ośnieżoną górą
w lazurowym powietrzu. Ja jestem za blisko,
żeby mu z nieba spaść. Mój krzyk
mógłby go tylko zbudzić. Biedna,
ograniczona do własnej postaci,
a byłam brzozą, a byłam jaszczurką,
a wychodziłam z czasów i atłasów
mieniąc się kolorami skór. A miałam
łaskę znikania sprzed zdumionych oczu,
co jest bogactwem bogactw. Jestem blisko,
za blisko, żeby mu się śnić.
Wysuwam ramię spod głowy śpiącego,
zdrętwiałe, pełne wyrojonych szpilek.
Na czubku każdej z nich, do przeliczenia,
strąceni siedli anieli.

Wisława Szymborska

Reproduced by kind permission of Fundacja Wisławy Szymborskiej (the Wisława Szymborska Foundation)

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Translation commentary

I decided to enter this competition to test my skills of translation from my own language into English. This nameless poem, commonly referred to as 'Jestem za blisko, żeby mu się śnić', is a gem that I found when searching through the poems of Wislawa Szymborska, whose gorgeous turns of phrase were a joy to translate. It is a touching poem about the ponderings of a woman on her relationship becoming too comfortable whilst her lover is sleeping beside her. I particularly love all the metaphors she uses to convey her distress at her realisation, as well as the easy flow of the poem which portrays her thoughts.

I found the translation particularly difficult due to the complexity and meaning of some of the phrases: I had to sometimes switch them around and change some words to preserve the original meaning as best I could. As Polish doesn't use the same phrases or grammatical rules as English, I had to think very hard about the best way to convey the same meaning as the original language, for example I had to use the word 'ticket lady' as English does not have a gender-specific version of the word cashier. Due to the deeply emotional nature of this poem, I also had to ensure that even a direct translation of a sentence would convey the same tone and emotion as the original.

I also decided that the best way to stay true to the poet's style was to play around with sentence structures, as Szymborska herself was not a fan of poetry rules, instead opting to write what came naturally. This was something I tried to emulate by focusing more on the feeling of the poem than the structure.

Zuzanna Osińska