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

Polish Spotlight 10-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

Maximilian Hempler

A sawfish

There was a sawfish
Sharp like a sting
Who chased a thin herring – poor thing!
'Help, helpʼ – the herring called
His friend – Mr Shark – who was very old.
He came to the rescue with all his might and main
And his efforts were not in vain.
So how did he get the sawfish to lose its sharp?
The answer is simple – his full name was Mr Hammerhead Shark!

Translated from Polish by Maximilian Hempler

Ryba Pila

Ostra i zła ryba piła
Małego śledzia goniła.
Poprosił więc śledź chudzina
O pomoc starego rekina.
Ten w pomoc sił włożył tyle,
Że stępił piłę złej pile.
Skąd dziwnych wypadków tych splot?
Odpowiedź: to był rekin młot.

Łukasz Dębski

Reproduced by kind permission of the poet


Translation commentary

I have involved my son, aged 5, in translating poetry during lockdown. He loves poems by classic Polish authors and enjoys rhymes in all forms. The final version of the poem is the result of scaffolded and structured activities from the Trustʼs page as well as my own activities created at home. My son picked 'Ryba Piłaʼ as he worked on a similar poem at school called 'Starvinʼ Martinʼ and a short text 'A Shark in the Park'.

Big Decisions: How to make it rhyme? My son noticed very quickly, after translating the poem literally word for word, that it didnʼt rhyme and sounded 'boring'. His first big decision was how to choose words for the ends of the lines so they'd rhyme. We looked at the words for two lines and tried to see what rhymes with them. This was the basis for the rhyming pattern. How to translate chudzina? I explained that this word refers to a person or animal that is very thin but also poorly, and the word makes us feel sorry for them. My son referred to a song from school, 'The North Wind Doth Blow', and concluded that the herring from the Polish poem is a 'poor thing', just like the robin. Direct quote from other stories: My son struggled with the line ten w pomoc... He didnʼt quite understand what had really happened when the shark sił włożył tyle. He then took out one of his favourite stories in English, 'Zog and the Flying Doctors', and referred to a line from the book, explaining that it is exactly what Zog and Sir Gadabout did to help Princess Pearl. He decided to change the quote to suit his translation.

Maximilian Hempler