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

14-and-under category, commended

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

Maddie Stoll


Dream's friend -
Fantasy's little sister.

Beginning in your own reflection
But always knowing to run ahead

Intangible as light
And unsettled, just like the wind.

Between you both
Yet all along keeping a distance

Like the birds outside the window,
And the celestial clouds that drift

Alike to the butterfly of the river bank
Both shrewd and yet beautiful

Just as you approach, she simply flies further
If you don't think of her, she ousts you.

She accompanies you forever
Until you reach the last of your breaths

Translated from Chinese by Maddie Stoll


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







你不理她, 她撵你


Ai Qing


Translation commentary

This is my first attempt at translating a poem from Mandarin, and I chose 'Hope' because I was interested in finding out more about contemporary Chinese poetry. Having been to an exhibition by the artist Ai Wei Wei, I learnt of his revolutionary father, the poet and activist Ai Qing. Supporting the left wing, yet opposing China's communist government, he endured imprisonment and hardship for his beliefs.

I've been learning Mandarin for several years and this was the central challenge I faced: finding the meaning of words in online dictionaries proved difficult because of the way characters shift their meaning fluidly depending on their combination.

My experience of Mandarin so far has shown me how diverse it is as a language. The range of possible interpretations is most apparent when it comes to poetry, which conveys its sometimes ambiguous message with brevity. For example, the word 影子 (yĭng zi) means both shadow and reflection. In Mandarin, the ambiguity adds layers to the meaning, but in translation we must choose, as English does not offer an equivalent dual-meaning word to capture the very different sense of position and the symbolic value of Ai Qing's imagery.

The poem is also minimally punctuated, yet I made the decision to include more grammatical breaks to help the flow and structure of the English version. However, I tried to emulate Ai Qing's choice to leave the final line open, because this seems central to the poem's meaning.

Much of Ai Qing's poetry was written during exile. Hope must have been a very poignant feeling for him, and to me this was clearly communicated in his poem. Given the uncertainty and challenges we as a global community are facing, taking time to reflect on the shared quality of human experience is paramount.

Maddie Stoll