International Translation Day

September 30, 2015 is International Translation Day.

To celebrate the act of translation, we ask for your help in translating The Scourge of War by imprisoned Eritrean editor-in-chief and award-winning poet, Amanuel Asrat, into your local languages. Leading up to the 81st PEN International Congress, ours and other Centers across the world are collecting as many translations of this poem as we can, since Amanuel Asrat will occupy one of our Empty Chairs this year.

With support from:
Phoneme Media


Send the translated poem—or section of poem—to us at,
by Friday, September 25.

War’s Curse

Something growled
Something boomed
Invading the calm
It echoed.
Where two brothers pass each other by
Where two brothers meet
Where two brothers join
In the piazza of life and death
In the gulf between calamity and culture
In the valley of anxiety and peace
Something boomed.
While the chia and seraw acacias spat at each other
Sorghum and millet cut each other down
With no one to collect them they feed on one another,
Until a single seed remains…
Brimming with tears
Being chopped—hacked
Sowed unto itself.
In earth yet to gush
In that indiscernible thing,
Stream of blood and water,
The seed…
Assailed by:
The freezing sun
Tempestuous nimbus cloud
Grayish lightning
Scalding rain…
Slipping through littered iron
Climbing onto the spirit of death
Shouldering its sterile life
Here, it has grasped at spring.
The seed…
Arrived on its own
From the blood and water yet to gush
Whose and to whom unascertained
Its tributaries unidentifiable
When it parted that spring
But in that spring…
When the seed looked to the right
He was a man, it was a beard
When it looked to the left
He was the earth, it was a seed
Bewildered… it fed on amazement
Tempted… but joining forces is not like it
Who should it stick with, where should it lurk
Who should it win over or be thrown at
But that spring’s dirtiness is its ugliness
It plowed with the beak of bullet
Spilled infinite lives
Swept breath

Reaped death with death
Threshing it on the shoulders of our offspring
Finally bruised the fruit in distrust.
For the fruit…
When day and night became one
Anxiety and calm mingled
A world within a world
War within peace
Trust in betrayal’s backdoor
It sunk in bewilderment.
Is it not bewildering?

The scourge of this spring of war
After a mother’s tear for her children
The clan’s tear for its time
The earth’s tear for the earth
Flowed and flowed like a stream
Soon the earth became wet and muddy
The property, mired
Entrapping all… robbing them
Then the shovel and the pick were produced
And the shroud and the stretcher sprang up
How fast everything is used up and everyone scrambles for it
All of us crave and own it

The ugliness of this thing, war
When its spring arrives unwished-for
When its ravaging echoes knock at your door
It is then that war’s curse brews doom
You serve it willy-nilly
Unwillingly you keep it company
Still, you pray so hard for it to be silenced!

Amanuel Asrat (1999)

(Translated from Tigrinya by Tedros Abraham in collaboration with David Shook)

Thank you!