Муза (Muse) by Anna Akhmatova

I feel my life hang by a hair

as I wait at night for the Muse;

youth, freedom, fame melt into air

as my guest appears with her flute.

 

She enters, tosses back her shawl;

her half-closed eyes let nothing pass.

‘So it was you who sang of Hell

to Dante?’ ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘it was.’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1924)

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

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: The exact muse from Greek mythology referred to here is Euterpe who in late Classical times was named muse of lyric poetry and was often depicted holding a flute. The Dante referred to here is of course Dante Alighieri and his epic poem the Divine Comedy, in particular the Inferno section. Calliope was usually considered the muse of epic poetry but of course Akhmatova herself wrote lyric poetry thus explaining why she, to her surprise, encounters Euterpe and not Calliope.

Muse by Anna Akhmatova

When at night I wait for her to come,

Life, it seems, hangs by a single strand.

What are glory, youth, freedom, in comparison

With the dear welcome guest, a flute in hand?

 

She enters now. Pushing her veil aside,

She stares through me with her attentiveness.

I question her: ‘And were you Dante’s guide,

Dictating the Inferno?’ She answers: ‘Yes.’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1924)

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

translation by D. M. Thomas