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

Open 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

Kevin Maynard

Five Poems from the Borderlands

clear autumn skies
          in desert dunelands
                    pepper plant shrubs
                              few and far between

coats of fox-
          fur sable caps
                    go hunting
                              circling round
bowshots bring down
               white wolves
                   their carcasses now dangle
                                 from the nomads' horses

at midnight
          pipes are blown
                    on their return

chaotic jostling
           of felt-covered wagons
                      at least a hundred, maybe more
at the fifth watch
          plunging pell-mell
                      through the snow
then they cross
          the river Luan

one old woman lugs her cart
          she knows this route so well
we lean down from the bank
          and crack the ice
                      to give our camels water

my jade-like
          youngest daughter's
                      twin top-knots:
                              so graceful . . .
and, after rolling up
          the cart's front felt screen
                                    she emerges
suddenly she sees
          one branch of violet blossom

and snaps the hat-pin
          at her hat-brim's edge

mare's milk:
          fresh kumiss
                     fills our bottles
rank smells
          of desert goat,
                       ground-squirrel meat . . .
and when we finish bellowing
          the 'Trampling Song'
                       the whole camp's drunk:
a small drum thumps
          as we process
                   beside the deep blue sea . . .

Wuhuan tribesmen's camp-mounds:
                    the rain begins to clear

purple of chrysanthemums,
          gold of lotus-blossom
festooning every corner of this land . . .

and right beside my horse
          a pair of skylarks
                    (by far my favourite birds)

                              warbling as they fly

Translated from the Classical Chinese by Kevin Maynard

Five Poems from the Borderlands

Chinese original

Nai Xian


Translation commentary


Kevin Maynard