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The Stephen Spender Prize 2020 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, first prize

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2020 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Hannah Kripa Jordan

And Yet – Our Tamil Life

by Manushya Puthiran
View the original Tamil as an image
(Reproduced by kind permission of the poet)

These doorbells  –
Does it matter they don't ring?
And yet  –
None of my visitors
Have gone without today's gossip.

The bathroom latch is broken, so what?
A year and a half has gone by.
And yet  –
No one's privacy has been invaded,
No daydreams interrupted.

The chair may have a broken leg,
Its balance a little rocky.
And yet  –
To the startled guest,
Not a hint of disrespect.

For more than a week now,
My car brakes have been failing.
And yet  –
God keeps watch on the city.
Still I return home,
In one full piece.

I suffer a pain in my belly,
But what can I do?
Nowadays it returns frequently.
And yet  –
If I recline at a certain angle,
I can just about bear the pain.

Predicaments may be endless
In most parts of our life,
And yet  –
Tamil life is plain sailing,
A thread without knots.

Translated from Tamil by Hannah Kripa Jordan

Translation commentary

I liked this poem, which I found on the Poetry International website, because I found it true to my experience of life in India; my family are constantly fixing things for my grandparents. As soon as we arrive there, my dad puts together a long list of all the things that need fixing. Inevitably, when we return, there is another list, yet we all get by just fine, even if the monsoon winds blow through the gaps in the wall or the brakes in the car we borrow don't work.

After I chose this poem, my mum provided a gloss of individual words which helped me to understand tricky Tamil words. I first wrote out the literal meaning of each line in English with her help, and then I started to put the words back into more poetic lines and create a light, playful rhythm for the whole poem. The repetition of the line 'And yet  – ' in my version soon fell into place, giving the stanzas a bit more structure and emphasising the contrast between the negative and the positive in the English version. As the poem developed, I had to allow stanzas four and five an extra line to accommodate the contrasting tones fully.

One difficulty was making sure that the poem sounded funny in English yet kept the specific Tamil problems in the translation; at some points I had to move away from the original a little as it was just too difficult to maintain the light tone otherwise. In the last stanza the flow of the Tamil lines made sense but a literal English translation sounded awkward and too serious. I managed to keep the final image, which works in English as well, giving the poem an ending that accurately reflects the original.

Hannah Kripa Jordan