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

Polish Spotlight 18-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


Hanna Kisiala

Homecoming


In that single moment, which is over now, as
fleeting as that of birth, the old woman, her body
devastated by disease, suddenly, gently
pushes away the medicine, the white bandages, our hands, our tears,
death and life- she runs out: out into the sun; a youthful
girl, golden-haired and graceful as a dancing flame on a
hot sleepy afternoon in June; she walks through the square
of the little town, impatient, thirsty. To the well, in the
fickle shade of the acacia; bending over, she sees in the water's mirror
an image of the world, innocent and pure and - delighted - her face in a
crown of braids, in a crown of light, crown
of the world, gold and white as the clouds.
Happily humbled, she gently stirs the picture: she drinks the living water
and runs off, eager. It's time to go
home, along quiet Kühn Street, with its intoxicating
rows of roses and mallow over its fences, every second she is
younger, under the red rowanberry lanterns, she is going home: the home
of sisters, brothers, cats, dolls, bows; she is younger and
younger, a little girl, she struggles to open the iron gate, she runs, impatient,
eager, through the warm grass- she is going to her home, her Father's house.
And, even younger, so little, barely revealed to the
innocent world, still nameless, still barely understanding a word, suddenly she understands
everything. Eagerly, so eagerly, she will hear: "Talitha Kum!"; and she is
home.

Translated from Polish by Hanna Kisiala
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Powrót


W tej jednej chwili, która już minęła, tak
jak przemija i chwila narodzin: stara
kobieta o ciele spustoszonym chorobą – nagle
łagodnie odsuwa lekarstwa, biel bandaży, nasze ręce, płacz,
śmierć i życie – i wybiega: w słońce; młodziutka
dziewczyna, złotowłosa i smukła jak tańczący
płomyk, w gorące, senne popołudnie tego
czerwca: idzie przez rynek miasteczka, niecierpliwa,
spragniona. Do studni, w zmienny cień
akacji: schylona, w lusterku wody widzi niewinnie
czysty wizerunek świata i – zachwycona – swoją twarz
w koronie warkoczy, w koronie światła, świata, w złocie
i bieli obłoków. Radośnie zawstydzona, łagodnie, mąci
obraz: pije żywą wodę. I odbiega, spragniona. Czas
wracać do domu: cichą ulicą Kühna, w odurzającym
szpalerze róż i malw nad płotami, z każdą chwilą
młodsza, pod czerwonymi lampionami jarzębin, idzie do domu:
domu sióstr, braci, kotów, lalek, wstążek, coraz
młodsza: mała dziewczynka, z trudem odmyka kutą furtkę,
biegnie, niecierpliwa, spragniona, przez ciepłą trawę - do domu,
do Domu Ojca. I, coraz młodsza, maleńka, zaledwie
objawiona niewinnemu światu, jeszcze bezimienna, jeszcze
nie rozumiejąc ani słowa, a nagle
już wszystko pojmując – usłyszy,
spragniona, usłyszy: „Talitha
kum!" I
powróci.

Bronisław Maj

Reproduced by kind permission of the poet

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Translation commentary

I decided to translate 'Powrót' by Bronisław Maj because it reflects the cultural significance of Christian belief in Polish literature, masterfully channelling metaphysical concepts into vivacious imagery. This meant having contextual understanding whilst translating; I interpreted Maj's use of '[Dom] Ojca' to mean 'her Father's House', which alluded to Jesus's expressions in the Bible, and which I thought best enriched the image of the young girl eagerly running home to her spiritual father, longing to be where she can achieve satiety for eagerness that is repeated throughout the poem.

Another challenge was preserving the enjambment, which I was keen to do, as it reflects how the girl is running towards her final destination as she gets younger and younger, the sentences spilling over lines, until at the very end the poem can stop when she finally returns home. Since most of the English words I employ are longer than their Polish counterparts, I simplified the punctuation within the lines so as to keep the reader engaged by breaking up some longer sentences, which also amplified the enjambment.

I had to decide on the translation of some of the key words of the poem which would lose their significance in direct translation. For example, although 'Powrót' literally means 'return', with the significance being in the belief that the afterlife is where people return to God, I felt that this word in English was not reflective of the significance of the girl's journey to a specific destination where her heavenly Father resides, so I decided to employ the idea of 'home'. Since Polish has one word for 'home' and 'house', while the English understanding of 'home' is more personal and emotional, I employed this word in both the title and end to convey the sentiment of why this 'return' is special.

Hanna Kisiala