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

16-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

Megan Turtle

Do not leave your room

Do not leave your room, do not make a mistake.
What use is the sun if your smoke chain must break?
Outside nothing makes sense, happiness included.
Go quickly to the restroom but remain elusive.

Do not leave your room.

Do not leave your room, do not call a taxi.
Space is nothing but a hallway floor, waxy,
that ends with a meter, counting. If your lover
knocks, undresses, caresses - expel her.

Do not leave your room.

Do not leave your room, feign illness, face white.
What's more interesting than the lamp's soft light?
Why leave your room when you will come back later
the same, unchanged, if not more mutilated?

Do not leave your room.

Do not leave your room, instead dance the bossa nova
Naked except for shoes with your coat thrown over.
The smell of cabbage lingers in the hallway, heavy.
You wrote countless letters; one more, too many.

Do not leave your room.

Do not leave your room, let these four walls become
your only friend, your mirror. Incognito ergo sum
as substance once informed form, in the chaos of nightmare.
Stay at home, sleep, dance, write. It's not France out there.

Do not leave your room.

Do not be a fool! Be what others couldn't be.
Stay home for furniture will keep you company.
Practise wall-paper fusion. Barricade the door to protect us
from Chronos, Cosmos, Eros, the Virus.

Translated from Russian by Megan Turtle

Не выходи из комнаты

Не выходи из комнаты, не совершай ошибку.
Зачем тебе Солнце, если ты куришь Шипку?
За дверью бессмысленно всё, особенно — возглас счастья.
Только в уборную — и сразу же возвращайся.

О, не выходи из комнаты, не вызывай мотора.
Потому что пространство сделано из коридора
и кончается счётчиком. А если войдёт живая
милка, пасть разевая, выгони не раздевая.

Не выходи из комнаты; считай, что тебя продуло.
Что интересней на свете стены и стула?
Зачем выходить оттуда, куда вернёшься вечером
таким же, каким ты был, тем более — изувеченным?

О, не выходи из комнаты. Танцуй, поймав, боссанову
в пальто на голое тело, в туфлях на босу ногу.
В прихожей пахнет капустой и мазью лыжной.
Ты написал много букв; ещё одна будет лишней.

Не выходи из комнаты. О, пускай только комната
догадывается, как ты выглядишь. И вообще инкогнито
эрго сум, как заметила форме в сердцах субстанция.
Не выходи из комнаты! На улице, чай, не Франция.

Не будь дураком! Будь тем, чем другие не были.
Не выходи из комнаты! То есть дай волю мебели,
слейся лицом с обоями. Запрись и забаррикадируйся
шкафом от хроноса, космоса, эроса, расы, вируса.

Joseph Brodsky

© 1970, Joseph Brodsky


Translation commentary

Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) was a Russian-American poet who explored the relationship between the poet and society through his writing.

This poem bears no title, but is known by its first line. It was written by Brodsky in 1970, shortly before he was exiled from Russia by Soviet authorities, after they concluded he was 'not a valuable person at all and may be let go'. I chose this poem because, when removed from its Soviet context and read alongside UK government guidance to stay at home amidst an ongoing pandemic, it is particularly relevant to today. It is important to mention that Brodsky wrote this poem in an entirely satirical manner to mock the intelligentsia of Leningrad at the time, who loathed life under Soviet control but did not take action to oppose it. However, I still felt that the poem's imagery and lyrical quality definitely made it worth a fresh translation.

Before I translated the poem, I listened to a recording of Brodsky reading it aloud in order to understand the poem's rhythm, which proved invaluable as a non-native speaker. When I first read the poem, I was surprised that Brodsky maintained a strict rhyme scheme throughout. Yet upon reflection I realised that the use of rhyme perfectly counters his satirical spirit. I used an online dictionary to help me translate the poem, which allowed me to further explore Brodsky's ingenious writing. My favourite rhyme in this poem is in the fourth stanza: 'боссанову' (bossa nova) and 'босу ногу' (bare foot). They are pronounced in an almost identical way yet have very different meanings. This was difficult to reflect in English, so I chose to instead use internal rhymes such as 'undresses, caresses'. I also inserted a line in between each stanza to emphasise the commanding tone of the speaker.

Megan Turtle