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)


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.


Courage by Anna Akhmatova

We know what trembles in the scales,

What has to be accomplished.

The hour for courage. If all else fails,

With courage we are not unfurnished.

What though the dead be crowded, each to each,

What though our houses be destroyed? –

We will preserve you, Russian speech,

Keep you alive, great Russian word.

We will pass you to our sons and heirs

Free and clean, and they in turn to theirs,

And so forever.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(23 February 1942)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

‘That’s How I Am…’ by Anna Akhmatova

That’s how I am. I could wish for you someone other,


I trade in happiness no longer…

Charlatans, pushers at the sales! …

We stayed peacefully in Sochi,

Such nights, there, came to me,

And I kept hearing such bells!

Over Asia were spring mists, and

Tulips were carpeting with brilliance

Several hundreds of miles.

O, what can I do with this cleanness,

This simple untaintable scene? O,

What can I do with these souls!

I could never become a spectator.

I’d push myself, sooner or later,

Through every prohibited gate.

Healer of tender hurts, other women’s

Husbands’ sincerest

Friend, disconsolate

Widow of many. No wonder

I’ve a grey crown, and my sun-burn

Frightens the people I pass.

But – like her – I shall have to part with

My arrogance – like Marina the martyr –

I too must drink of emptiness.

You will come under a black mantle,

With a green and terrible candle,

Screening your face from my sight…

Soon the puzzle will be over:

Whose hand is in the white glove, or

Who sent the guest who calls by night.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1942, Tashkent)

from her Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book) era of work but not published at the time

translation by D. M. Thomas


In 1942 Akhmatova was flown out of Leningrad by the authorites on a whim and spent the next 3 years in Tashkent. She became seriously ill with typhus but regarded this period with a mix of joy, delirium and recognition.

Akhmatova in this poem draws a parallel between her circumstances and the fate of fellow poet Marina Tsvetaeva. Tsvetaeva had been an emigre since 1922, returning to Russia only to find out her husband was shot and her daughter arrested. She hung herself in 1941 and it had an immense effect on her peer Akhmatova as evidenced by her poetry.

The Pillow’s Just As Hot by Anna Akhmatova

The pillow’s just as hot

when I turn it over.

And now a second candle

is guttering, and crows

are cawing louder than ever.

Not a wink… And it’s too late

even to think of sleep.

White, blindingly white –

a blind on a white window.

Good morning!


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)


from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler

An alternate version of the same poem as D. M. Thomas’ translation The Pillow Hot…

Song of a Last Encounter by Anna Akhmatova

I walked without dragging my feet

but felt heavy at heart and frightened;

and I pulled onto my left hand

the glove that belonged to the right.


There seemed to be countless steps,

though I knew there were only three,

and an autumn voice from maples

whispered, ‘Die with me!


I have been undone by a fate

that is cheerless, flighty and cruel.’

I repied, ‘So have I, my dearest –

let me die one death with you…’


The song of a last encounter:

I glanced up at a dark wall:

from the bedroom indifferent candles

glowed yellow… And that was all.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1911, Tsarkoye Selo)

from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler

This is an alternative version of same poem translated as Song of the Last Meeting by D. M. Thomas.

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)


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.

‘And You, My Friends…’ by Anna Akhmatova

And you, my friends who have been called away,

I have been spared to mourn for you and weep,

Not as a frozen willow over your memory,

But to cry to the world the names of those who sleep.

What names are those!

I slam shut the calender,

Down on your knees all!

Blood of my heart,

The people of Leningrad march out in even rows,

The living, the dead: fame can’t tell them apart.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)


from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas