for Osip Mandelstam
All the town’s gripped in an icy fist.
Trees and walls and snow are set in glass.
I pick my timid way across the crystal.
Unsteadily the painted sledges pass.
Flocks of crows above St Peter’s, wheeling.
The dome amongst the poplars, green and pale in
subdued and dusty winter sunlight, and
echoes of ancient battles that come stealing
out across the proud, victorious land.
All of a sudden, overhead, the poplars
rattle, like glasses ringing in a toast,
as if a thousand guests were raising tumblers
to celebrate the marriage of their host.
But in the exiled poet’s hideaway
the muse and terror fight their endless fight
throughout the night.
So dark a night will never see the day.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)
translation by Peter Oram
A different translation of the Воронеж (Voronzh) poem. The alternative on this site is translated by D. M Thomas and is also titled Воронеж (Voronzh).
The poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.