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

‘To Fall Ill As One Should…’ by Anna Akhmatova

To fall ill as one should, deliriously

Hot, meet everyone again,

To stroll broad avenues in the seashore garden

Full of the wind and the sun.

 

Even the dead, today, have agreed to come,

And the exiles, into my house.

Lead the child to me by the hand.

Long I have missed him.

 

I shall eat blue grapes with those who are dead,

Drink the iced

Wine, and watch the grey waterfall pour

On to the damp flint bed.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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

I’m Not Of Those Who Left…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I’m not of those who left their country

For wolves to tear it limb from limb.

Their flattery does not touch me.

I will not give my songs to them.

 

Yet I can take the exile’s part,

I pity all among the dead.

Wanderer, your path is dark,

Wormwood is the stranger’s bread.

 

But here in the flames, the stench,

The murk, where what remains

Of youth is dying, we don’t flinch

As the blows strike us, again and again.

 

And we know there’ll be a reckoning,

An account for every hour… There’s

Nobody simpler than us, or with

More pride, or fewer tears.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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

‘To Earthly Solace…’ by Anna Akhmatova

To earthly solace, heart, be not a prey,

To wife and home do not attach yourself,

Take the bread out of your child’s mouth,

And to a stranger give the bread away.

Become the humblest servant to the man

Who was your blackest enemy,

Call by your brother’s name the forest wolf,

And do not ask God for anything.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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

‘They Wiped Your Slate…’ by Anna Akhmatova

They wiped your slate

With snow, you’re not alive.

Bayonets twenty-eight

And bullet-holes five.

It’s a bitter present,

Love, but I’ve sewed it.

Russia, an old peasant

Killing his meat.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

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

‘Everything Is Looted…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Everything is looted, spoiled, despoiled,

Death flickering his black wing,

Anguish, hunger – then why this

Lightness overlaying everything?

 

By day, cherry-scent from an unknown

Wood near the town. July

Holding new constellations, deep

At night in the transparent sky –

 

Nearer to filthy ruined houses

Flies the miraculous…

Nobody has ever known it,

This, always so dear to us.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

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