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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

Omar Ullah

Lest they say something

I cannot do the work I seek
Always anxious, always meek
My resolve always wavering
Lest they say something

Hidden, hidden I stay
From the limelight, I move away
Unable to take a step forward
Lest they say something

Courage builds up inside my heart
A noble deed calls for my part
My courage deflates
Lest they say something

My soul begins to cry
Carefully, I dry each eye
Pure tears reveal my heart
Lest they say something

A comforting word, although brief
Can muffle the pain, mask the grief
Close your eyes, fake it away
Lest they say something

When they act for a noble deed
The toils of many so it may succeed
I must remain isolated
Lest they say something

God forced upon me this life
It has always been plagued with strife
Dread snuffs out my hope

Translated from Bangla by Omar Ullah

পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে

করিতে পারি না কাজ
সদা ভয় সদা লাজ
সংশয়ে সংকল্প সদা টলে –
পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে।
আড়ালে আড়ালে থাকি
নীরবে আপনা ঢাকি,
সম্মুখে চরণ নাহি চলে
পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে।
হৃদয়ে বুদবুদ মত
উঠে চিন্তা শুভ্র কত,
মিশে যায় হৃদয়ের তলে,
পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে।
কাঁদে প্রাণ যবে আঁখি
সযতনে শুকায়ে রাখি;-
নিরমল নয়নের জলে,
পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে।
একটি স্নেহের কথা
প্রশমিতে পারে ব্যথা –
চলে যাই উপেক্ষার ছলে,
পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে।
মহৎ উদ্দেশ্য যবে,
এক সাথে মিলে সবে,
পারি না মিলিতে সেই দলে,
পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে।
বিধাতা দেছেন প্রাণ
থাকি সদা ম্রিয়মাণ;
শক্তি মরে ভীতির কবলে,
পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে।

Kamini Roy


Translation commentary

The most significant change in my translation was the rhyme scheme. Originally, the poem had an AABB structure, and the final line of each stanza is the same: 'Lest they say something'. I wanted to preserve this refrain, so I altered the rhyme scheme to AABC in the English translation. In this way, my translation remains true to the first rhyming couplet as well as the repeated line without hindering the meaning.

One phrase which I had to translate creatively was 'হৃদয়ে বুদবুদ মত', which literally translates to 'like bubbles in my heart'. However, I felt that it did not fit the serious tone of the poem, as it explores contemporary sexism and the heart-breaking consequences of systemic gender inequality – 'bubbles', in contrast, connotes a sense of light-heartedness. I converted this line to 'courage builds up inside my heart' to convey the meaning of the line as the speaker experiences a momentary burst of confidence, and the verb 'builds' maintains the plosive sound from the original; 'বুদবুদ' is phonetically pronounced as 'budhbudh'.

The phrase following this line was also curious, 'উঠে চিন্তা শুভ্র কত', literally 'get up and think how white', so I tried to adapt the metaphorical meaning in my translation, 'a noble deed calls for my part'. I found that the verb 'calls' is better suited than 'get up' and the meaning of 'white' reflects the purity and nobility of the action. Finally, I chose to use 'part' instead of 'act' or 'deed' to form a rhyming couplet with the previous 'heart'!

Omar Ullah