‘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

‘The Churchyard’s Quiet…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The churchyard’s quiet on a Sunday,

Under an oak board I shall rest.

Come to me, my dearest, running,

Come to your mama, like a guest.

Over the stream and hillside run,

So the slow grown-ups disappear;

From far, the keen eyes of my son

Will recognize my cross. My dear,

I know I can’t expect you to

Remember me, who neither kissed

And dandled you, nor scolded you,

Nor took you to the eucharist.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

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

‘Under An Empty Dwelling’s Frozen Roof…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Under an empty dwelling’s frozen roof,

Dead days. Here no living comes.

I read the acts of the Apostles

And the Psalms.

 

But the stars are blue, the hoar-frost downy,

And each meeting more wonderful,

And in the Bible a red maple leaf

Marks the pages of the Song of Songs.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

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

‘Freshness Of Words…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Freshness of words, simplicity of emotions,

If we lost these, would it not be as though

Blindness had stricken Fra Angelico,

Or an actor lost his power of voice and motion?

 

But don’t behave as if you own

What has been given you by the Saviour:

We ourselves know, we are condemned to squander

Our wealth, and not to save. Alone

 

Go out and heal the cataract,

And later, witness your own disciples’

Malice and jeers, and see the people’s

Stolid indifference to the act.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

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

‘There Is A Frontier-Line…’ by Anna Akhmatova

There is a frontier-line in human closeness

That love and passion cannot violate –

Though in silence mouth to mouth be soldered

And passionate devotion cleave the heart.

 

Here friendship, too, is powerless, and years

Of that sublime and fiery happiness

When the free soul has broken clear

From the slow languor of voluptuousness.

 

Those striving towards it are demented, and

If the line seem close enough to broach –

Stricken with sadness… Now you understand

Why my heart does not beat beneath your touch.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (May 1915, St Petersburg)

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