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

‘O There Are Words…’ by Anna Akhmatova

O there are words that should not be repeated,

And he who speaks them – is a spendthrift.

Inexhaustable is the sky’s blue spindrift

Alone, and the mercy of the Redeemer.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Winter 1916, Sebastopol)

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

‘The Churchyard’s Quiet…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The churchyard’s quiet on a Sunday,

Under an oak board I shall rest.

Come to me, my dearest, running,

Come to your mama, like a guest.

Over the stream and hillside run,

So the slow grown-ups disappear;

From far, the keen eyes of my son

Will recognize my cross. My dear,

I know I can’t expect you to

Remember me, who neither kissed

And dandled you, nor scolded you,

Nor took you to the eucharist.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

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

‘Under An Empty Dwelling’s Frozen Roof…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Under an empty dwelling’s frozen roof,

Dead days. Here no living comes.

I read the acts of the Apostles

And the Psalms.

 

But the stars are blue, the hoar-frost downy,

And each meeting more wonderful,

And in the Bible a red maple leaf

Marks the pages of the Song of Songs.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

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

In A Country Church by R. S. Thomas

To one kneeling down no word came,

Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips

Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;

Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,

Bats not angels, in the high roof.

 

Was he balked by the silence? He kneeled long,

And saw love in a dark crown

Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree

Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

 

by R. S. Thomas

From Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)

Love (III) by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.

‘A guest’, I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

 

by George Herbert (1593 – 1633)