‘To Earthly Solace…’ by Anna Akhmatova

To earthly solace, heart, be not a prey,

To wife and home do not attach yourself,

Take the bread out of your child’s mouth,

And to a stranger give the bread away.

Become the humblest servant to the man

Who was your blackest enemy,

Call by your brother’s name the forest wolf,

And do not ask God for anything.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘They Wiped Your Slate…’ by Anna Akhmatova

They wiped your slate

With snow, you’re not alive.

Bayonets twenty-eight

And bullet-holes five.

It’s a bitter present,

Love, but I’ve sewed it.

Russia, an old peasant

Killing his meat.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Everything Is Looted…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Everything is looted, spoiled, despoiled,

Death flickering his black wing,

Anguish, hunger – then why this

Lightness overlaying everything?

 

By day, cherry-scent from an unknown

Wood near the town. July

Holding new constellations, deep

At night in the transparent sky –

 

Nearer to filthy ruined houses

Flies the miraculous…

Nobody has ever known it,

This, always so dear to us.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Why Is Our Century Worse Than Any Other? …’ by Anna Akhmatova

Why is our century worse than any other?

Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief

It has plunged its fingers in the blackest ulcer,

Yet cannot bring relief?

 

Westward the sun is dropping,

And the roofs of towns are shining in its light.

Already death is chalking doors with crosses

And calling the ravens and the ravens are in flight.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

‘The Cuckoo I Asked…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The cuckoo I asked

How many years I would live… The

Pine tops shivered,

A yellow shaft fell to the grass.

In the fresh forest depths, no sound…

I am going

Home, and the cool wind

Caresses my hot brow.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1 June, 1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

The Ring by Gwyn Parry

See that field,

in ’39 a Heinkel crashed,

 

the bodies

scattered amongst the turnips

 

their uniforms

grey as morning.

 

I was the first there,

was just 29.

 

I looked through bits of wing and wire,

the Germans all dead.

 

I knelt down on my knees

and see this ring,

 

I wiggled it

from the pilot’s finger,

 

took it home

in my hankerchief,

 

cleaned off

the mud and the blood,

 

put it on

my little finger,

 

where late at night

it burned

 

my tongue a knot

of strange language,

 

shame

winking

 

from all corners

of the room.

 

by Gwyn Parry

‘Now No-one Will Be Listening To Songs…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Now no-one will be listening to songs.

The days long prophesied have come to pass.

The world has no more miracles. Don’t break

My heart, song, but be still: you are the last.

 

Not long ago you took your morning flight

With all a swallow’s free accomplishment.

Now that you are a hungry beggar-woman,

Don’t go knocking at the stranger’s gate.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas