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

Open 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


Stuart Lyons

Wild West Cambridge at Dusk


a big red sun hangs on the western sky
purple clouds crimson clouds brown clouds
mottled fields in clusters lie
green grass yellow wheat white fens
lush lush dense dense shagginess
red petals black stamens long stems
poppies in flower in twos and threes
one large lump of translucent amber
concave convex cloud-folds without number

south sky north sky hugger-mugger hush hush
east sky mid sky totally leisurely
universe gathering in tranquillity
sun departing in supreme glory
a gust of wind
some sounds bye-bye

a bold star arrogantly rides
like a bumptious little boat
braving cloud-billows cloud-tides
pip-pip pitter-patter afloat
in a blink the dusk-blaze subsides
see you later mate

sunset glows on the woods and the fields
sunset glows on the plain and the beck
sunset glows on windward and lee
sunset glows on a country girl's brow
sunset glows on crow's back swallow's neck
sunset glows on cock's cry dog's bark

sunset glows on the field-ridge lane
on the track through the field walk folk of all kinds
white-haired old women and old men
bent bodies stoop splutter senile minds
farmers stop work and prepare to rush home
shoulder hoe hand trug mouth bite mushroom

white dress worn by a red-cheeked maid
breaking off stalks white buds red flowers
prettily laughing in thick green shade
fat smug fluffy beijing retires
poppies wave in the cool outdoors
on the white poplar a lone crow caws

the sunset has left a faint purple wake
all of the sky is a mixed-star mosaic
on the road in the field all is still and quiet
the cottage by the elm leaks a needle of light
the wind-struck leaves rise and fall on the boughs
the distant trees cast pagoda shadows
poppy crow universe babies all
sleep sound breathe soft resting well

Translated from Chinese by Stuart Lyons



康桥西野暮色


一个大红日挂在西天
紫云绯云褐云
簇簇斑田田
青草黄田白水
郁郁密密鬋鬋
红瓣黑蕊长梗
罂粟花三三两两
一大块透明的琥珀
千百折云凹云凸

南天北天暗暗默默
东天中天舒舒阖阖
宇宙在寂静中构合
太阳在头赫里告别
一阵临风
几声 "可可"

一颗大胆的明星
仿佛骄矜的小艇
抵牾着云涛云潮
兀兀漂漂潇潇
侧眼看暮焰沉销
回头见伙伴来!

晚霞在林间田里
晚霞在原上溪底
晚霞在风头风尾
晚霞在村姑眉际
晚霞在燕喉鸦背
晚霞在鸡啼犬吠

晚霞在田陇陌上
陌上田垅行人种种
白发的老妇老翁
屈躬咳嗽龙钟
农夫工罢回家
肩锄手篮口衔菰巴

白衣裳的红腮女郎
攀折几茎白葩红英
笑盈盈翳入绿荫森森
跟着肥满蓬松的 "北京"
罂粟在凉园里摇曳
白杨树上一阵鸦啼

夕照只剩了几痕紫气
满天镶嵌着星巨星细
田里路上寂无声响
榆荫里的村屋微泄灯芒
冉冉有风打树叶的抑扬
前面远远的树影塔光
罂粟老鸦宇宙婴孩
一齐沉沉奄奄眠熟了也

Xu Zhimo

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Translation commentary

In the spring of 1922, Xu Zhimo read James Joyce's newly published novel Ulysses. He was bowled over by Molly's punctuation-free monologue in the final chapter. 'Wild West Cambridge at Dusk', depicting scenes around his home village of Sawston, was the result. When Xu sent it for publication, he included an introductory note. 'A snake does not need feet in order to move,' he wrote, 'and a poem does not need punctuation.' In Ulysses, he noted, there were 'no capital letters, no ' ……? : ---- ; ---- ! ( ) " " but a cascade of truly great writing.' I treated the exclamation mark in the standard Chinese text (stanza three, line six) and the inverted commas around 可可 (stanza two, line six) and 北京 (stanza six, line four) as probable interpolations and removed them from my English translation. Xu overcomes the need for punctuation through the clarity of his poetic writing. Every stanza describes an acutely observed phase of the closing day. His lines have colour, texture, sound and wit – 'beijing' refers to his pregnant wife. Xu's sometimes unusual choice of Chinese characters adds to the enchantment; he uses duplicated characters frequently and on occasion innovatively, a feature which I referenced through alliteration and assonance. I tried to respect Xu's rhythmic and rhyming schemes and to be true to his imagery, while using vocabulary that was close to the Chinese but would strike a chord with English readers, for example in the star's boat-ride across the clouds. In the last stanza, I aimed to express the scene though Xu's eyes – the night sky as a mosaic, the needle of light from a darkened cottage and the pagoda-shaped shadows from the trees. 'Wild West Cambridge at Dusk' broke new ground. It is rhythmically compelling and artistically spectacular.

Stuart Lyons