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

Polish Spotlight 14-and-under category, winner

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

Alexander Fletcher

Opposing Winds

When I started writing, I did not know yet
that each of my words would be taking away
a piece of the world, leaving behind
only empty places. That slowly verses

would replace my homeland, my mother, my father, my first
love and my second youth, and what I had written,
would be taken away from this world, would abandon its solid
state, evaporate, become air,

wind, rain and fire, and that which I animated
in verse, would become still in life, and would crumble
into particles so minuscule, that it would become almost
anti-matter, a cloud of invisible dust,

spiralling in the air until in the end,
it falls in your eye and makes it tear up.

Translated from Polish by Alexander Fletcher

Przeciwne wiatry

Kiedy zacząłem pisać, nie wiedziałem jeszcze,
że każde moje słowo będzie zabierało
po kawałku ze świata, w zamian zostawiając
jedynie miejsca puste. Że powoli wiersze

zastąpią mi ojczyznę, matkę, ojca, pierwszą
miłość i drugą młodość, a co zapisałem,
ubędzie z tego świata, zamieni swe stałe
istnienie na byt lotny, stanie się powietrzem,

wiatrem, dreszczem i ogniem, i to, co poruszę
w wierszu, znieruchomieje w życiu, i pokruszy
się na tak drobne cząstki, że się stanie prawie
antymaterią, pyłem całkiem niewidzialnym,

wirującym w powietrzu, tak długo, aż wpadnie
w końcu tobie do oka, a ono załzawi.

Tomasz Różycki

Reproduced by kind permission of the poet


Translation commentary

When translating this poem by Tomasz Różycki, I encountered a few dilemmas, because, although the poem looks fairly simple at first glance due to a lack of complicated metre, it has its particular melody and deep philosophical meaning.

My first dilemma was whether to split up the two original sentences that constitute the poem in Polish to adapt it to a modern English style of writing, in which sentences tend to be shorter than in Polish, or whether to preserve the original two-sentence construction of the poem. After experimenting with these two approaches, I decided not to alter the original structure, because I liked the effect that the heavy use of enjambment, creating a more dramatic atmosphere, had on the poem. I also decided to preserve the original capitalisation in my translation, rather than starting each verse with a capital letter in a more conventional fashion.

Another problem that I faced was translating the title literally as 'opposing winds', which is a common maritime term in English, but not necessarily what the poet had in mind choosing this title for his poem. However, after considering a few alternatives such as 'rival winds', I decided that the literal translation worked best and reduced the risk of twisting the poet's intention.

The final problem I had to solve was translating scientific terms from Polish into English ('stałe istnienie na byt lotny' or 'stanie się prawie antymaterią'). This was difficult because they had to make sense in the poem, but also be scientifically correct. I circumvented this problem by first making sure these terms made sense from the scientific point of view in English, and then evaluated my choices from the poetic angle.

Alexander Fletcher