‘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

‘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

‘Now Farewell , Capital…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Now farewell, capital,

Farewell, my spring,

Already I can hear

Karelia yearning.

 

Fields and kitchen-gardens

Are green and peaceful,

The waters are still deep,

And the skies still pale.

 

And the marsh rusalka,

Mistress of those parts,

Gazes, sighing, up at

The bell-tower cross.

 

And the oriole, friend

Of my innocent days,

Has flown back from the south

And cries among the branches

 

That it’s shameful to stay

Until May in the cities,

To stifle in theatres,

Grow bored on the islands.

 

But the oriole doesn’t know,

Rusalka won’t understand,

How lovely it is

Kissing him!

 

All the same, right now,

On the day’s quiet slope,

I’m going. God’s land,

Take me to you!

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1917)

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

‘O There Are Words…’ by Anna Akhmatova

O there are words that should not be repeated,

And he who speaks them – is a spendthrift.

Inexhaustable is the sky’s blue spindrift

Alone, and the mercy of the Redeemer.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Winter 1916, Sebastopol)

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

‘Lying In Me…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Lying in me, as though it were a white

Stone in the depths of a well, is one

Memory that I cannot, will not, fight:

It is happiness and it is pain.

 

Anyone looking straight into my eyes

Could not help seeing it, and could not fail

To become thoughtful, more sad and quiet

Than if he were listening to some tragic tale.

 

I know the gods changed people into things,

Leaving their consciousness alive and free.

To keep alive the wonder of suffering,

You have been metamorphed into me.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer 1916, Slepnyovo)

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

‘Neither By Cart Nor Boat…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Neither by cart nor boat

Could you have got here.

On rotten snow

The deep water;

Farmsteads marooned and

Ah! that morose

Soul, that Robinson,

Is so close.

How often can

He inspect sledge and skis,

Return to the divan

To sit and wait for me?

And his short spur grinds

Sheer through the vile

Rug. Now mirrors learn

Not to expect smiles.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1916)

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