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

Polish Spotlight 18-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

Patrick Lynch

A song about the end of the world

On the day of the end of the world
A bee is hovering over a nasturtium flower,
A fisherman is mending a shimmering net.
Happy dolphins are jumping in the sea,
Baby sparrows are clinging to the gutter
And a snake has golden skin, as it should do.

On the day of the end of the world
Women are walking across fields under umbrellas,
A drunk is falling asleep by the kerb,
Vegetable sellers are calling in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat is returning to the island
The sound of a violin is hanging in the air
Opening a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangel trumpets
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the Sun and Moon are above,
As long as a bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as pink babies are born,
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a grey-haired old man, who would be a prophet,
But is not a prophet for he has other work to do,
Is saying while tying up tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Translated from Polish by Patrick Lynch

Piosenka o końcu świata

W dzień końca świata
Pszczoła krąży nad kwiatem nasturcji,
Rybak naprawia błyszczącą sieć.
Skaczą w morzu wesołe delfiny,
Młode wróble czepiają się rynny
I wąż ma złotą skórę, jak powinien mieć.

W dzień końca świata
Kobiety idą polem pod parasolkami,
Pijak zasypia na brzegu trawnika,
Nawołują na ulicy sprzedawcy warzywa
I łódka z żółtym żaglem do wyspy podpływa,
Dźwięk skrzypiec w powietrzu trwa
I noc gwiaździstą odmyka.

A którzy czekali błyskawic i gromów,
Są zawiedzeni.
A którzy czekali znaków i archanielskich trąb,
Nie wierzą, że staje się już.
Dopóki słońce i księżyc są w górze,
Dopóki trzmiel nawiedza różę,
Dopóki dzieci różowe się rodzą,
Nikt nie wierzy, że staje się już.

Tylko siwy staruszek, który byłby prorokiem,
Ale nie jest prorokiem, bo ma inne zajęcie,
Powiada przewiązując pomidory:
Innego końca świata nie będzie,
Innego końca świata nie będzie.

Czesław Miłosz

'Piosenka o koncu swiata' from OCALENIE © 1945 by Czeslaw Milosz. All Rights Reserved.


Translation commentary

My first attempt to translate a Polish poem happened during an interview for a place at Oxford University. When I found out about the competition, I jumped at the idea of having another go at translating, this time in a more relaxed setting and with more time. To warm myself up I had a go at the poem I was asked to translate during the interview, namely 'Lesson on silence' by Tymoteusz Karpowicz. And then something amazing happened: I started to discover the beauty and emotions that poetry can evoke. I was hooked.

To take part in the competition I have chosen a poem by Czesław Milosz, 'A Song on the End of the World'. Although written in 1945 it is still an immensely powerful and visionary image of a society and its individuals – that one can see among us every day. The poem refers to The Apocalypse of St. John, through its title and repetition at the end of the poem. The comparison between an apocalypse and everyday life is striking, notably because none of the poem's characters are aware of the inevitability of death. The observations of everyday activities promise nothing but peace. Only the 'grey-haired old man' understands the concept of death and that it will arrive for everyone at any point in time. I've taken from this poem not only the idea of an apocalypse but also a moral rule. A rule on how to live wisely, and what attitude is needed when faced with the world. According to Czesław Miłosz, it is necessary to have an awareness of death and accept what is inevitable. Only in this case will man overcome fear and calmly focus on everyday life.

Patrick Lynch