Epigram by Anna Akhmatova

Here the loveliest of young women fight

for the honour of marrying the hangmen;

here the righteous are tortured at night

and the resolute worn down by hunger

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1928)

translated by Robert Chandler

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Three Autumns by Anna Akhmatova

The smiles of summer are simply indistinct

And winter is too clear,

But I can unerringly pick out

Three autumns in each year.

 

The first is a holiday chaos

Spiting the summer of yesterday.

Leaves fly like a schoolboy’s notes,

Like incense, the smell of smoke,

Everything moist, motley, gay.

 

First into the dance are the birches,

They put on their transparent attire

Hastily shaking off their fleeting tears

On to the neighbour next door.

 

But as it happens, the story’s just begun.

A moment, a minute – and here

Comes the second, passionless as conscience,

Sombre as an air raid.

 

Everything suddenly seems paler, older,

Summer’s comfort is plundered,

Through the scented fog float

Far-off marches played on golden trumpets…

 

A flagstone covers the sky vault. Cold waves

Of incense. But the wind’s started to blow

Everything clean open, and straightway

It’s clear that this is the end of the play,

This is not the third autumn but death.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1943)

from Reed

translated by D. M. Thomas

Alexander at Thebes by Anna Akhmatova

Surely the young king must have been blind to pity

As he spoke the order: ‘Destroy Thebes utterly.’

The old general gazed, and knew this place to be

No better than he remembered it, a haughty city.

 

Put it all to the fire! There were wonders – gate

And tower and temple – everywhere the king searched,

But suddenly  his face brightened with a thought:

‘Be sure that the house of the Poet is not touched.’

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), Leningrad, 1961, October

– from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas


I will try to upload Russian poetry, or reviews of things concerning the Russian Revolution and Soviet era, daily during this month as it is the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. I might end up posting one or two other things too.

In Memory of V. C. Sreznevskaya by Anna Akhmatova

Impossible almost, for you were always here:

In the shade of blessed limes, in hospitals and bockades,

In the prison-cell, and where there were evil birds,

Lush grasses, and terrifying water.

How everything has changed, but you were always here,

And it seems to me that I have lost half my soul,

The half you were – in which I knew the reason why

Something important happened. Now I’ve forgotten…

But your clear voice is calling and it asks me not

To grieve, but wait for death as for a miracle.

What can I do! I’ll try.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

-written at Komarovo, St Petersburg on 9 September 1964

– from Седьмая книга (‘The Seventh Book’)

-translation by D. M. Thomas

Lot’s Wife by Anna Akhmatova

And the just man trailed God’s messenger,

His huge, light shape devoured the black hill.

But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her:

‘it’s not too late, you can look back still

 

At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you,

The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed,

At the empty windows of that upper storey

Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.’

 

Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt

Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind;

Her body turned into transparent salt,

And her swift legs were rooted to the ground.

 

Who mourns one woman in a holocaust?

Surely her death has no significance?

Yet in my heart she never will be lost,

She who gave up her life to steal one glance.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922-1924)

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

Rachel by Anna Akhmatova

A man met Rachel, in a valley. Jacob

Bowed courteously, this wanderer far from home.

Flocks, raising the hot dust, could not slake their

Thirst. The well was blocked with a huge stone.

Jacob wrenched the stone from the well

Of pure water, and the flocks drank their fill.

 

But the heart in his breast began to grieve,

It ached like an open wound.

He agreed that in Laban’s fields he should serve

Seven years to win the maiden’s hand.

For you, Rachel! Seven years in his eyes

No more than seven dazzling days.

 

But silver-loving Laban lives

In a web of cunning, and is unknown to grace.

He thinks: every deceit forgives

Itself to the glory of Laban’s house.

And he led Leah firmly to the tent

Where Jacob took her, blind and innocent.

 

Night drops from on high over the plains,

The cool dews pour,

And the youngest daughter of Laban groans,

Tearing the thick braids of her hair.

She curses her sister and reviles God, and

Begs the Angel of Death to descend.

 

And Jacob dreams the hour of paradise:

In the valley the clear spring,

The joyful look in Rachel’s eyes,

And her voice like a bird’s song.

Jacob, was it you who kissed me, loved

Me, and called me your black dove?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

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

‘Behind The Lake…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Behind the lake the moon’s not stirred

And seems to be a window through

Into a silent, well-lit house,

Where something unpleasant has occurred.

 

Has the master been brought home dead,

The mistress run off with a lover,

Or has a little girl gone missing,

And her shoes found by the creek-bed…

 

We can’t see. But feel some awful thing,

And  we don’t want to talk.

Doleful, the cry of eagle-owls, and hot

In the garden the wind is blustering.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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