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.

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An Attempt At Jealousy by Marina Tsvetaeva

How is your life with the other one,

simpler, isn’t it? One          stroke of the oar

then a long coastline, and soon

even the memory of me

 

will be a floating island

(in the sky, not on the waters):

spirits, spirits, you will be

sisters, and never lovers.

 

How is your life with an ordinary

woman?          without godhead?

Now that your sovereign has

been deposed (and you have stepped down).

 

How is your life? Are you fussing?

flinching? How          do you get up?

The tax of deathless vulgarity

can you cope with it, poor man?

 

‘Scenes and hysterics          I’ve had

enough! I’ll rent my own house.’

How is your life with the other one

now, you that I chose for my own?

 

More to your taste, more delicious

is it, your food? Don’t moan if you sicken.

How is your life with an image

you, who walked on Sinai?

 

How is your life with a stranger

from this world? Can you (be frank)

love her? Or do you          feel shame

like Zeus’ reins on your forehead?

 

How is your life? Are you

healthy? How do you          sing?

How do you deal with the pain

of an undying conscience, poor man?

 

How is your life with a piece of market

stuff, at a steep price?

After Carrara marble,

how is your life with the dust of

 

plaster now? (God was hewn from

stone, but he is smashed to bits.)

How do you live with one of a

thousand women          after Lilith?

 

Sated with newness, are you?

Now you are grown cold to magic,

how is your life with an

earthly woman, without a sixth

 

sense? Tell me: are you happy?

Not? In a shallow pit how is

your life, my love? Is it as

hard as mine with another man?

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1924)

translated by Elaine Feinstein


 

The gaps mid-line were present in the original as was the emphasis on the word ‘image‘.

In case you want a few pointers regarding the context of the poem here are some facts about Tsvetaeva‘s life. To be honest I’ve tried to give a few points but it feels like you might have to do some in depth ‘further reading’ about her life to fully understand the context of this poem’s lines. A brief account of her life reads like it was one tragic event after the other…

Sergei Yakovlevich Efron (Сергей Яковлевич Эфрон; 8 October 1893 – 16 October 1941) was a Russian poet, officer of White Army and husband of Marina Tsvetaeva. While in emigration, he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner to the better known KGB). After returning to USSR from France, he was executed. Some believe that Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

They fell in love and were married in January 1912. While they had an intense relationship, Tsvetaeva had affairs, such as those with Osip Mandelstam and poet Sofia Parnok.

Tsvetaeva and her husband had two daughters: Ariadna a.k.a Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917), and one son, Georgy. In 1919 while stuck in Moscow during the civil war (during which there was also a famine), she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Alya became ill and Tsvetaeva removed her but Irina died there of starvation in 1920. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague (where they had resided) for the suburbs, living for a while in Jíloviště, before moving on to Všenory, where Tsvetaeva conceived their son, Georgy, whom she was to later nickname ‘Mur‘. He was a difficult child but Tsetaeva loved him obsessively. With Efron now rarely free from tuberculosis, their daughter Ariadna was relegated to the role of mother’s helper and confidante, and consequently felt robbed of much of her childhood.

To end on a lighter note: The Tsvetaev family name (feminine form: Tsvetaeva) evokes an association with flowers as the Russian word цвет (tsvet) means “color” or “flower”.

Also here is a reading of the poem in the original Russian by Маша Матвейчук, who does readings of various poems, on YouYube:

To An Artist by Anna Akhmatova

Your work that my inward sight still comes,

Fruit of your graced labours:

The gold of always-autumnal limes,

The blue of today-created water-

 

Simply to think of it, the faintest drowse

Already has led me into your parks

Where, fearful of everything turning, I lose

Consciousness in a trance, seeking your tracks.

 

Shall I go under this vault, transfigured by

The movement of your hand into a sky,

To cool my shameful heat?

 

There shall I become forever blessed,

There my burning eyelids will find rest,

And I’ll regain a gift I’ve lost-to weep.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1924)

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

translation by D. M. Thomas

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

 

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