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11 March 2022

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St Hugh’s announces the winner of the Edith McMorran Prize 2022

Congratulations to Isabel Parkinson (DPhil Medieval and Modern Languages – German, 2021) who has been awarded the Edith McMorran Verse Translation Prize 2022 for her entry taken from the final chapter of Der Abend nach dem Begräbnis der besten Freundin, by Austrian author Marlene Streeruwitz. 

The late Edith McMorran was a Lecturer in French at St Hugh’s for many years, and also founded TRIO (Translation Research in Oxford) which organised a number of important day conferences on such topics as the new translations of Freud and Proust. Edith left a donation to the College, and it was decided to set up an annual Verse Translation Prize bearing her name.

Dr Tom Kuhn, Tutorial Fellow in German and one of the competition judges said, ‘I thought the sense of rhythm and incantation that emerges from very short lines and the lack of punctuation is nicely captured in Isabel’s translation. I liked the gently poetic formulations that help to lift the rhetoric. It was altogether an intelligent and sensitive piece of work.’

Commenting on the the process and challenges of the translation of her chosen poem Isabel said, ‘Thematically and structurally a bleak poem, stripped of punctuation and capitalisation, it is characteristic of Streeruwitz’s formal experimentation. It is full of ambiguity: who is the “verlornes kind” [‘lost child’]? Who is the referent of “du” [‘you’]? Why does the genitive appear in “des hellen winds” [‘of the bright wind’], where it isn’t strictly necessary? “Lang” [‘long’] is negated by “nicht” [‘not’], but is “laut” [‘loud’]? Much of this is easy to render straightforwardly in English – omitting punctuation was an obvious choice; as was retaining the short lines and gentle rocking rhythm that emerges. “Unlong and loud” as a translation of “nicht lang und laut” [‘not long and loud’] retains not only the referential ambiguity of the original, but also Streeruwitz’s non-standard language elsewhere. 

‘Occasionally, however, solutions to Streeruwitz’s linguistic innovation were not as clear. What, for example, should the translator do with “sonnenstärke” [‘sun-strength’], which is normally used in a strictly meteorological context, in the sense of “UV levels”? The standard “sunlight” does not do justice to Streeruwitz’s linguistic innovation; the literal “sun strength” becomes clumsy when followed by the adjectival phrase “light winds” or its equivalent. “Sunbright” thus emerges as the best option: it is non-standard yet clear; and frees up the word “light” as a translation of “hellen” [‘bright’]. Further, the inversion of “light winds” to give “winds light” retains the near-rhymes and assonance elsewhere in the poem. Given the absence of punctuation, “winds light” could either be a simple adjective phrase, or a possessive: “wind’s light.” The puzzling use of the genitive in the original is therefore retained by other means. 

‘I was very pleased to be chosen as this year’s winner — thank you to the College and the Edith McMorran competition assessors!’

The full verse translation can be viewed here.


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