Courage by Anna Akhmatova

We know what trembles in the scales,

What has to be accomplished.

The hour for courage. If all else fails,

With courage we are not unfurnished.

What though the dead be crowded, each to each,

What though our houses be destroyed? –

We will preserve you, Russian speech,

Keep you alive, great Russian word.

We will pass you to our sons and heirs

Free and clean, and they in turn to theirs,

And so forever.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(23 February 1942)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


‘That’s How I Am…’ by Anna Akhmatova

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


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.

The Pillow’s Just As Hot by Anna Akhmatova

The pillow’s just as hot

when I turn it over.

And now a second candle

is guttering, and crows

are cawing louder than ever.

Not a wink… And it’s too late

even to think of sleep.

White, blindingly white –

a blind on a white window.

Good morning!


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)


from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler

An alternate version of the same poem as D. M. Thomas’ translation The Pillow Hot…

‘And You, My Friends…’ by Anna Akhmatova

And you, my friends who have been called away,

I have been spared to mourn for you and weep,

Not as a frozen willow over your memory,

But to cry to the world the names of those who sleep.

What names are those!

I slam shut the calender,

Down on your knees all!

Blood of my heart,

The people of Leningrad march out in even rows,

The living, the dead: fame can’t tell them apart.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)


from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Борис Пастернак [Boris Pasternak] by Anna Akhmatova

He who compared himself to the eye of a horse,

Peers, looks, sees, recognizes,

And instantly puddles shine, ice

Pines away, like a melting of diamonds.


Backyards drowse in lilac haze. Branch-

Line platforms, logs, clouds, leaves…

The engine’s whistle, watermelon’s crunch,

A timid hand in a fragrant kid glove. He’s


Ringing, thundering, grinding, up to his breast

In breakers… and suddenly is quiet… This means

He is tiptoeing over pine needles, feaful lest

He should startle space awake from its light sleep.


It means he counts the grains in the empty ears,

And it means he has come back

From another funeral, back to Darya’s

Gorge, the tombstone, cursed and black.


And burns again, the Moscow tedium,

In the distance death’s sleigh-bell rings…

Who has got lost two steps from home,

Where the snow is waist-deep, an end to everything?


Because he compared smoke with Laocoön,

Made songs out of graveyard thistles,

Because he filled the world with a sound no-one

Has heard before, in a new space of mirrored


Verses, he has been rewarded with a form

Of eternal childhood, with the stars’ vigilant love,

The whole earth has been passed down to him,

And he has shared it with everyone.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(19 January 1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Not The Lyre Of A Lover…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Not the lyre of a lover

I’ll carry through my land

The rattle of a leper

Will sing in my hand.


– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas

Willow by Anna Akhmatova

In the young century’s cool nursery,

In its checkered silence, I was born.

Sweet to me was not the voice of man,

But the wind’s voice was understood by me.

The burdocks and the nettles fed my soul,

But I loved the silver willow best of all.

And, grateful for my love, it lived

All its life with me, and with its weeping

Branches fanned my insomnia with dreams. But

– Surprisingly enough! – I have outlived

It. Now, a stump’s out there. Under these skies,

Under these skies of ours, are other

Willows, and their alien voices rise.

And I am silent… As though I’d lost a brother.


– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas