‘It Is Your Lynx Eyes, Asia…’ by Anna Akhmatova

It is your lynx eyes, Asia,

That spied something in me,

Teased it out, occult

And born of stillness,

Oppessive and difficult

Like the noon heat in Termez.

As though pre-memory’s years

Flowed like lava into the mind…

As if I were drinking my own tears

From a stranger’s cupped hands.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1945)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: Termez (Uzbek: Termiz/Термиз; Russian: Термез; Tajik: Тирмиз; Persian: ترمذTermez, Tirmiz; Arabic: ترمذTirmidh) is a city in the southernmost part of Uzbekistan near the Hairatan border crossing of Afghanistan. It is the hottest point of Uzbekistan hence Akhmatova’s referencing it in regards to this poem’s themes when referencing the noon heat there.

In January 1893 the emirate of Bukhara gave the land of the village Pattakesar to the Russian government to build a Russian fortress and garrison and a military border fortification, where the Amu Darya river port was built.

In 1928 as part of the Soviet Union, Pattakesar was renamed and took the city’s ancient name Termez. In 1929, the village became a town. During the years of Soviet rule industrial enterprises were built and a Pedagogical Institute and a theatre were opened.

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‘That’s How I Am…’ by Anna Akhmatova

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

Better.

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.