‘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

‘I Don’t Know If You’re Alive Or Dead…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.

Can you on earth be sought,

Or only when the sunsets fade

Be mourned serenely in my thought?

 

All is for you: the daily prayer,

The sleepless heat at night,

And of my verses, the white

Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

 

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured

Me more, not

Even the one who betrayed me to torture,

Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

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

Flight by Anna Akhmatova

For O. A. Kuzmin-Karavaev

 

‘If we could only reach the shore,

My dear!’ – ‘Sh! Be quiet!’…

And we started down the stairs,

Hardly breathing, searching for keys.

 

Past the house where we had once

Danced and drunk wine,

Past the Senate’s white columns

To where it was dark, dark.

 

‘What are you doing? You’re mad!’ –

‘Not mad. In love with you!

This wind is wide and billowing,

Gaily it will take the ship!

 

Throat tight with horror,

The canoe took us in the gloom…

The tang of an ocean cable

Burnt my trembling nostrils.

 

‘Tell me – if you know youself:

Am I asleep? Is this a dream? …’

Only the oars splashed evenly

Along the heavy Neva wave.

 

But the black sky grew lighter,

Someone called to us from a bridge.

With both hands I seized the chain

Of the cross on my breast.

 

Powerless, I was lifted in your arms

Like a young girl on to the deck

Of the white yacht, to meet the light

Of incorruptible day.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1914)

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

‘The Road Is Black…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The road is black by the beach –

Garden. Lamps yellow and fresh.

I’m very calm.

I’d rather not talk about him.

 

I’ve a lot of feelings for you. You’re kind.

We’ll kiss, grow old, walk around.

Light months will fly over us.

Like snowy stars.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1914)

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