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

14-and-under category, third 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


Caroline-Olivia Edwards

Versos Sencillos, Verso III


I detest the mask and vice
From the corridor of my hotel:
I turn to the meek noise
Of my mountain of laurel.

With the poor of the earth
I want to cast my luck:
I am more pleased
With the mountain stream than the sea.

Give in vain the tender gold
That burns and shines in the crucible:
Give me the eternal forest
When the sun first shines in it.

I have seen the gold made land
Bubble in the flask:
I prefer to be in the mountains
When a dove flies.

The bishop of Spain is finding
Pillars for his altar;
In my temple in the mountains,
The pillar is poplar!

And the rug is pure fern,
And the walls are of birch,
And the light comes from the ceiling,
From the ceiling of the blue sky.

The bishop, at night,
Goes out, slowly to sing:
Rides, quietly in his coach,
Which is a pinecone.

The pullers of his chariot
Are two blue birds:
And the air sings and romps,
And the birch trees sing.

I sleep in my bed of rock
My sweet and profound sleep:
A bee grazed my mouth
And the world grows in my body.

The great mouldings shine
In the morning fire
That dyes the hangings
Pink, purple and scarlet.

The bugle alone in the mountains,
Sings to the first flush:
The gauze of the horizon
Is burned by the Sun with one breath.

Tell the blind bishop,
The old bishop of Spain
Let him come, let him come later,
To my temple, to the mountain!

Translated from Cuban Spanish by Caroline-Olivia Edwards



Versos Sencillos, Verso III


Odio la máscara y vicio
Del corredor de mi hotel:
Me vuelvo al manso bullicio
De mi monte de laurel.

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar:
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar.

Denle al vano el oro tierno
Que arde y brilla en el crisol:
A mí denme el bosque eterno
Cuando rompe en él el Sol.

Yo he visto el oro hecho tierra
Barbullendo en la redoma:
Prefiero estar en la sierra
Cuando vuela una paloma.

Busca el obispo de España
Pilares para su altar;
¡En mi templo, en la montaña,
El álamo es el pilar!

Y la alfombra es puro helecho,
Y los muros abedul,
Y la luz viene del techo,
Del techo de ciel o azul.

El obispo, por la noche,
Sale, despacio, a cantar:
Monta, callado, en su coche,
Que es la piña de un pinar.

Las jacas de su carroza
Son dos pájaros azules:
Y canta el aire y retoza,
Y cantan los abedules.

Duermo en mi cama de roca
Mi sueño dulce y profundo:
Roza una abeja mi boca
Y crece en mi cuerpo el mundo.

Brillan las grandes molduras
Al fuego de la mañana
Que tiñe las colgaduras
De rosa, violeta y grana.

El clarín, solo en el monte,
Canta al primer arrebol:
La gasa del horizonte
Prende, de un aliento, el Sol.

¡Díganle al obispo ciego,
Al viejo obispo de España
Que venga, que venga luego,
A mi templo, a la montaña!。

José Martí

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Translation commentary

Whilst translating the poem, one of the challenges that I faced was whether to preserve the rhyming form (ABAB) in English. I tried many different synonyms, but when I did this, I found that it began to affect the structure and meaning of the poem. As I did not want this to happen, I decided not to keep the rhyme scheme.

Secondly, the word order of some of the sentences needed changing so that they made more sense in English. There were some sentences that I had translated but which then made no sense to me, and I had to go back to the poem in Spanish to check that I had translated the words correctly. After that, I changed the word order of the sentences so that they read better in English and were easier to understand. For example, I translated the phrase 'Que es la piña de un pinar' as 'Which is the pineapple of a pine forest.' This means a pinecone. I thought that 'pinecone' was more suited to the poem's style, so I changed it.

I am not fluent in Spanish, so I used the Collins Spanish School Dictionary and the Oxford Online Spanish Dictionary to assist me with the translation of the poem. Another challenge was the fact that I could not find some of these words in my Collins Spanish School Dictionary. I was able to predict the meaning of some of the words based on the context of the poem and subsequently check the meaning of them with the online Oxford Spanish Dictionary.

Caroline-Olivia Edwards