‘I Don’t Know If You’re Alive Or Dead…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.

Can you on earth be sought,

Or only when the sunsets fade

Be mourned serenely in my thought?

 

All is for you: the daily prayer,

The sleepless heat at night,

And of my verses, the white

Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

 

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured

Me more, not

Even the one who betrayed me to torture,

Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

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Flight by Anna Akhmatova

For O. A. Kuzmin-Karavaev

 

‘If we could only reach the shore,

My dear!’ – ‘Sh! Be quiet!’…

And we started down the stairs,

Hardly breathing, searching for keys.

 

Past the house where we had once

Danced and drunk wine,

Past the Senate’s white columns

To where it was dark, dark.

 

‘What are you doing? You’re mad!’ –

‘Not mad. In love with you!

This wind is wide and billowing,

Gaily it will take the ship!

 

Throat tight with horror,

The canoe took us in the gloom…

The tang of an ocean cable

Burnt my trembling nostrils.

 

‘Tell me – if you know youself:

Am I asleep? Is this a dream? …’

Only the oars splashed evenly

Along the heavy Neva wave.

 

But the black sky grew lighter,

Someone called to us from a bridge.

With both hands I seized the chain

Of the cross on my breast.

 

Powerless, I was lifted in your arms

Like a young girl on to the deck

Of the white yacht, to meet the light

Of incorruptible day.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1914)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

In A Country Church by R. S. Thomas

To one kneeling down no word came,

Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips

Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;

Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,

Bats not angels, in the high roof.

 

Was he balked by the silence? He kneeled long,

And saw love in a dark crown

Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree

Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

 

by R. S. Thomas

From Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)

‘The Road Is Black…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The road is black by the beach –

Garden. Lamps yellow and fresh.

I’m very calm.

I’d rather not talk about him.

 

I’ve a lot of feelings for you. You’re kind.

We’ll kiss, grow old, walk around.

Light months will fly over us.

Like snowy stars.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1914)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

Love (III) by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

‘A guest’, I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

 

by George Herbert (1593 – 1633)

‘How Can You Look At The Neva…’ by Anna Akhmatova

How can you look at the Neva,

Stand on bridges just the same? …

No wonder I’ve borne signs of grieving

Since the night your image came.

 

Sharp are the black angels’ wings,

Soon the judgement of the dead,

And street bonfires blazing red

Like roses in snow are flowering.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1914)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

Lonliness by Anna Akhmatova

So many stones are thrown at me,

They no longer scare.

Fine, now, is the snare,

Among high towers a high tower.

I thank its builders: may

They never need a friend.

Here I can see the sun rise earlier

And see the glory of the day’s end.

And often into the window of my room

Fly the winds of a northern sea,

A dove eats wheat from my hands…

And the Muse’s sunburnt hand

Divinely light and calm

Finishes the unfinished page.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer 1914, Slepnyovo)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas