Rachel by Anna Akhmatova

A man met Rachel, in a valley. Jacob

Bowed courteously, this wanderer far from home.

Flocks, raising the hot dust, could not slake their

Thirst. The well was blocked with a huge stone.

Jacob wrenched the stone from the well

Of pure water, and the flocks drank their fill.

 

But the heart in his breast began to grieve,

It ached like an open wound.

He agreed that in Laban’s fields he should serve

Seven years to win the maiden’s hand.

For you, Rachel! Seven years in his eyes

No more than seven dazzling days.

 

But silver-loving Laban lives

In a web of cunning, and is unknown to grace.

He thinks: every deceit forgives

Itself to the glory of Laban’s house.

And he led Leah firmly to the tent

Where Jacob took her, blind and innocent.

 

Night drops from on high over the plains,

The cool dews pour,

And the youngest daughter of Laban groans,

Tearing the thick braids of her hair.

She curses her sister and reviles God, and

Begs the Angel of Death to descend.

 

And Jacob dreams the hour of paradise:

In the valley the clear spring,

The joyful look in Rachel’s eyes,

And her voice like a bird’s song.

Jacob, was it you who kissed me, loved

Me, and called me your black dove?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘I Don’t Know If You’re Alive Or Dead…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.

Can you on earth be sought,

Or only when the sunsets fade

Be mourned serenely in my thought?

 

All is for you: the daily prayer,

The sleepless heat at night,

And of my verses, the white

Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

 

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured

Me more, not

Even the one who betrayed me to torture,

Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

‘I Won’t Beg For Your Love…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I won’t beg for you love: it’s laid

Safely to rest, let the earth settle…

Don’t expect my jealous letters

Pouring in to plague your bride.

But let me, nevertheless, advise you:

Give her my poems to read in bed,

Give her my portraits to keep – it’s wise to

Be kind like that when newly-wed.

For it’s more needful to such geese

To know that they have won completely

Than to have converse light and sweet or

Honeymoons of remembered bliss…

When you have spent your kopeck’s worth

Of happiness with your new friend,

And like a taste that sates the mouth

Your soul has recognized the end –

Don’t come crawling like a whelp

Into my bed of lonliness.

I don’t know you. Nor could I help.

I’m not yet cured of happiness.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1914)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Nobody Came To Meet Me…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Nobody came to meet me

with a lantern,

Had to find my way up

the steps by weak moonlight

 

And there he was, under

the green lamp, and

With a corpse’s smile

he whispered, ‘Your voice

 

Is strange Cinderella…’

Fire dying in the hearth,

Cricket chirping. Ah!

someone’s taken my shoe

 

As a souvenir, and with

lowered eyes given me

Three carnations.

Dear mementoes,

 

Where can I hide you?

And it’s a bitter thought

That my little white shoe

will be tried by everyone.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1913)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas

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