Imitation From The Armenian by Anna Akhmatova

I shall come into your dream

As a black ewe, approach the throne

On withered and infirm

Legs, bleating: ‘Padishah,

Have you dined well? You who hold

The world like a bead, beloved

of Allah, was my little son

To your taste, was he fat enough’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1930s)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished

translation by D. M. Thomas


This poem refers to the arrest of Akhmatova’s son by the authorities during the Stalinist era.

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Воронеж (Voronezh) by Anna Akhmatova

O.M.

And the town is frozen solid, leaden with ice.

Trees, walls, snow, seem to be under glass.

Cautiously I tread on crystals.

The painted sleighs can’t get a grip.

And over the statue of Peter-in-Voronezh

Are crows, and populars, and a pale-green dome

Washed-out and muddy in the sun-motes.

The mighty slopes of the Field of Kulikovo

Tremble still with the slaughter of barbarians.

And all at once the poplars, like lifted chalices,

Enmesh more boisterously overhead

Like thousands of wedding-guests feasting

And drinking toasts to our happiness.

And in the room of the banished poet

Fear and the Muse take turns at watch,

And the night comes

When there will be no sunrise.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


 

O.M. refers to the poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.

Vedran Smailovic by Mike Jenkins

People dash across our TV screens

like sheep scatting from a moorland blaze,

they’ll disappear over the edge of dreams

when we ascend to sleep away the day.

 

But, all of a sudden, within a frame,

a portrait animated and tightly-strung:

the cellist plays on streets where lame

buildings hobble before falling down.

 

His slashback hair is aging a rocker style,

upturned moustache makes a sign of peace;

his two faces: a pizzicato smile

and mournful vibrato of so much grief.

 

His audience are the pavement wreathes,

from the distance come heckles of gunfire:

the amphitheatre where he once bowed

is a frozen skip of bricks and wires.

 

On a thin point he gradually spins

the web-fine veins of an Adagio,

while hearing the bomb’s deadening dins

and fearing for that small bridge below.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from This House, My Ghetto

Barn Owl by R. S. Thomas

i.

Mostly it is a pale

face hovering in the afterdraught

of the spirit, making both ends meet

on a scream. It is the breath

of the churchyard, the forming

of white frost in a believer,

when he would pray; it is soft

feathers camouflaging a machine.

 

It repeats itself year

after year in its offspring,

the staring pupils it teaches

its music to, that is the voice

of God in the darkness cursing himself

fiercely for his lack of love.

 

ii.

and there the owl happens

like white frost as

cruel and as silent

and the time on its

blank face is not

now so the dead

have nothing to go

by and are fast

or slow but never punctual

as the alarm is

over their bleached bones

of its night-strangled cry.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from The Way of It  (1977)

Some Gaze Into Tender Faces by Anna Akhmatova

Some gaze into tender faces,

Others drink until morning light,

But all night I hold conversations

With my conscience who is always right.

 

I say to her: ‘You know how tired I am,

Bearing your heavy burden, many years.’

But for her, there is no such thing as time,

And for her, space also disappears.

 

And again, a black Shrove Tuesday,

The sinister park, the unhurried ring

Of hooves, and, flying down the heavenly

Slopes, full of happiness and joy, the wind.

 

And above me, double-horned and calm

Is the witness… O I shall go there,

Along the ancient well-worn track,

To the deathly waters, where the swans are.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Dust Smells Of A Sun-Ray by Anna Akhmatova

Dust smells of a sun-ray,

Girls’ breaths, – violets hold,

Freedom clings to the wild honey,

But there’s no smell to gold.

 

The mignonette smells of water,

Apple-tang clings to love,

But we were always taught that

Blood smells only of blood.

 

So it was no use the governor from Rome

Washing his hands before the howls

Of the wicked mob,

And it was in vain

That the Scottish queen washed the scarlet

Splashes from her narrow palms

In the thane’s gloomy suffocating home.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1934)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished.

translation by D. M. Thomas

The Last Toast by Anna Akhmatova

I drink to our demolished house,

To all this wickedness,

To you, our loneliness together,

I raise my glass-

 

And to the dead-cold eyes,

The lie that has betrayed us,

The coarse, brutal world, the fact

That God has not saved us.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1934)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Six Books)

translation by D. M. Thomas