Reading Hamlet by Anna Akhmatova

A dusty waste-plot by the cemetery,

Behind it, a river flashing blue.

You said to me: ‘Go get thee to a nunnery,

Or get a fool to marry you…’

 

Well, princes are good at such speeches,

As a girl is quick to tears, –

But may those words stream like an ermine mantle

Behind him for ten thousand years.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1909, Kiev)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas

Imitation Of Annensky by Anna Akhmatova

And with you, my first vagary,

I parted. In the east it turned blue.

You said simply: ‘I won’t forget you.’

I didn’t know at first what you could mean.

 

Rise and set, the other faces,

Dear today, and tomorrow gone.

Why is it that at this page

Alone the corner is turned down?

 

And eternally the book opens

Here, as if it’s the only part

I must know. From the parting moment

The unreturning years haven’t departed.

 

O, the heart is not made of stone

As I said, it’s made of flame…

I’ll never understand it. Are you close

To me, or did you simply love me?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911, Tsarskoye Selo)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas

Legend On An Unfinished Portrait by Anna Akhmatova

There’s nothing to be sad about.

Sadness is a crime, a prison.

A strange impression, I have risen

From the grey canvas like a sheet.

 

Up-flying arms, with a bad break,

Tormented smile – I and the sitter

Had to become thus through the bitter

Hours of profligate give and take.

 

He willed it that it should be so,

With words that were sinister and dead.

Fear drove into my lips the red,

And into my cheeks it piled the snow.

 

No sin in him. I was his fee.

He went, and arranged other limbs,

And other draparies. Void of dreams,

I lie in mortal lethargy.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1912)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas

‘The Pillow Hot…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The pillow hot

On both sides,

The second candle

Dying, the ravens

Crying. Haven’t

Slept all night, too late

To dream of sleep…

How unbearably white

The blind on the white window.

Good morning, morning!

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1909)

from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas

‘He Loved Three Things Alone…’ by Anna Akhmatova

He loved three things alone:

White peacocks, evensong,

Old maps of America.

He hated children crying,

And raspberry jam with his tea,

And womanish hysteria.

… And he had married me.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas