Летний сад (Summer Garden) by Anna Akhmatova

I want to visit the roses

In that lonely

Park where the statues remember me young

And I remember them under the water

Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet

Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear

A creak of masts. And the swan swims

Still, admiring its lovely

Double. And a hundred thousand steps,

Friend and enemy, enemy and friend,

Sleep. Endless is the procession of shades

Between granite vase and palace door.

There my white nights

Whisper of someone’s discreet exalted

Love. And everything is mother-

Of-pearl and jasper,

But the light’s source is a secret.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(July, 1959, Leningrad)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: The Summer Garden (Летний сад) occupies an island between the Fontanka, Moika, and the Swan Canal in Saint Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad), Russia and shares its name with the adjacent Summer Palace of Peter the Great.

Akhmatova recites her poem:

The text in the original Russian Cyrillic:

Летний сад

Я к розам хочу, в тот единственный сад,
Где лучшая в мире стоит из оград,

Где статуи помнят меня молодой,
А я их под невскою помню водой.

В душистой тиши между царственных лип
Мне мачт корабельных мерещится скрип.

И лебедь, как прежде, плывет сквозь века,
Любуясь красой своего двойника.

И замертво спят сотни тысяч шагов
Врагов и друзей, друзей и врагов.

А шествию теней не видно конца
От вазы гранитной до двери дворца.

Там шепчутся белые ночи мои
О чьей-то высокой и тайной любви.

И все перламутром и яшмой горит,
Но света источник таинственно скрыт.

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‘To read only children’s tales…’ by Osip Mandelstam

To read only children’s tales

and look through a child’s eye;

to rise from grief and wave

big things goodbye.

 

Life has tired me to death;

life has no more to offer.

But I love my poor earth

since I know no other.

 

I swung in a faraway garden

on a plain plank swing;

I remember tall dark firs

in a feverish blur.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1908)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘In Black Memory…’ by Anna Akhmatova

In black memory you’ll find, fumbling,

A glove to the elbow that unlocks

A Petersburg night. And a crumbling

Air of sweetness in the murky box.

A wind from the gulf. And, there, between

The lines of a stormy page,

Blok, smiling scornfully, holds the scene,

The tragic tenor of the age.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: ‘Blok’ here of course refers to the Russian lyrical poet Alexander Blok who had died in 1921.

Молчание (Silentium) by Osip Mandelstam

She has yet to be born:

she is music and word,

and she eternally bonds

all life in this world.

 

The sea breathes gently;

the day glitters wildly.

A bowl of dazed azure

sways pale foam-lilac.

 

May I too reach back

to that ancient silence,

like a note of crystal

pure from its source.

 

Stay, Aphrodite, as foam.

Return, word, to music.

Heart, be shy of heart,

fused with life’s root.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1910)

translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk


Fun fact: This is Mandelstam’s variation on Tyutchev’s earlier poem ‘Silentium‘.

Recital in the original Russian:

Russian cyrillic version:

Она еще не родилась,
Она и музыка и слово,
И потому всего живого
Ненарушаемая связь.

Спокойно дышат моря груди,
Но, как безумный, светел день,
И пены бледная сирень
В черно-лазоревом сосуде.

Да обретут мои уста
Первоначальную немоту,
Как кристаллическую ноту,
Что от рождения чиста!

Останься пеной, Афродита,
И, слово, в музыку вернись,
И, сердце, сердца устыдись,
С первоосновой жизни слито!

Death of a Poet by Anna Akhmatova

The unrepeatable voice won’t speak again,

Died yesterday and quit us, the talker with groves.

Or into gentlest rain of which he sang.

And all the flowers that grew only in this world

Came into bloom to meet his death.

And straightway it’s grown quiet on the planet

That bears a name so modest… Earth.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: The poem refers to the death of Boris Pasternak (29 January 1890 – 30 May 1960).

‘Newly Reaped Ears Of Early Wheat’ by Osip Mandelstam

Newly reaped ears of early wheat

lie in level rows;

fingertips tremble, pressed against

fingers fragile as themselves.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1909)

translated by James Greene

The Death of Sophocles by Anna Akhmatova

Then the king learnt that Sophocles was dead

(Legend)

To Sophocles’ house that night an eagle flew down from the sky,

And sombrely rang from the garden the cicadas’ choir.

At that hour the genius was passing into immortality,

Skirting, at the walls of his native town, the night-fires

Of the enemy. And this was when the king had a strange dream:

Dionysus himself ordered the raising of the siege,

That no noise disturb the Athenians in burying him

With fitting ceremony and with elergies.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1961)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: Sophocles (Σοφοκλῆς) c. 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC) is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and also Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War. As with many famous men in classical antiquity, his death inspired a number of apocryphal stories. The most famous is the suggestion that he died from the strain of trying to recite a long sentence from his Antigone without pausing to take a breath. Another account suggests he choked while eating grapes at the Anthesteria festival in Athens. A third holds that he died of happiness after winning his final victory at the City Dionysia. A few months later, a comic poet, in a play titled The Muses, wrote this eulogy: “Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune.” According to some accounts, however, his own sons tried to have him declared incompetent near the end of his life; he is said to have refuted their charge in court by reading from his as yet unproduced Oedipus at Colonus. One of his sons, Iophon, and a grandson, also called Sophocles, also became playwrights.

Several ancient sources mention Sophocles’ homosexuality or bisexuality. Athenaios reported that Sophocles loved boys like Euripides loved women. The poet Ion of Chios relates an anecdote involving Sophocles seducing a serving boy at a symposium, and Athenaios one in which Sophocles is tricked by a hustler.

Regarding LGBT history under Stalin it makes interesting reading regarding the recriminalisation of homosexuality by him, associating it with fascism and accusating men of being pederasts thus conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Especially as he tolerated the activities of Beria. Long after Stalin’s death in 1953, a 1964 Soviet sex manual instructed citizens that: “With all the tricks at their disposal, homosexuals seek out and win the confidence of youngsters. Then they proceed to act. Do not under any circumstances allow them to touch you. Such people should be immediately reported to the administrative organs so that they can be removed from society” despite liberalisation reforms under Khrushchev.