Epic Motifs [extract] by Anna Akhmatova

I would gaze anxiously, as if into a mirror,

at the grey canvas, and with every week

my likeness to my new depiction grew

more strange and bitter…

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1914-1916)

translation by Boris Dralyuk and Margo Shohl Rosen


This extract is about a well known potrait of Akhmatova by Nathan Altman (1914) presented above for ease of reference. Nathan Isaevich Altman was a Jewish-Russian, Soviet, avant-garde artist, Cubist painter, stage designer and book illustrator.

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

‘How Can You Look At The Neva…’ by Anna Akhmatova

How can you look at the Neva,

Stand on bridges just the same? …

No wonder I’ve borne signs of grieving

Since the night your image came.

 

Sharp are the black angels’ wings,

Soon the judgement of the dead,

And street bonfires blazing red

Like roses in snow are flowering.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1914)

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

Lonliness by Anna Akhmatova

So many stones are thrown at me,

They no longer scare.

Fine, now, is the snare,

Among high towers a high tower.

I thank its builders: may

They never need a friend.

Here I can see the sun rise earlier

And see the glory of the day’s end.

And often into the window of my room

Fly the winds of a northern sea,

A dove eats wheat from my hands…

And the Muse’s sunburnt hand

Divinely light and calm

Finishes the unfinished page.

 

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

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

‘I Came To Him As A Guest…’ by Anna Akhmatova

For Alexander Blok

 

I came to him as a guest.

Precisely at noon. Sunday.

In the large room there was quiet,

And beyond the window, frost

 

And a sun like raspberry

Over the bluish-grey smoke-tangles.

How the reticent master

Concentrates as he looks!

 

His eyes are of the kind that

Nobody can forget. I’d

Better look out, better

Not look at them at all.

 

But I remember our talk,

Smoky noon of a Sunday,

In the poet’s high grey house

By the sea-gates of the Neva.

 

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

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas