In Memory Of Mikhail Bulgakov by Anna Akhmatova

This, not graveyard roses, is my gift;

And I won’t burn sticks of incense:

You died as unflinchingly as you lived,

With magnificent defiance.

Drank wine, and joked – were still the wittiest,

Choked on the stifling air.

You yourself let in the terrible guest

 

And stayed alone with her.

Now you’re no more. And at your funeral feast

We can expect no comment from the mutes

On your high, stricken life. One voice at least

Must break the silence, like a flute.

O, who would have believed that I who have been tossed

On a slow fire to smoulder, I, the buried days’

Orphan and weeping mother, I who have lost

Everything, and forgotten everyone, half-crazed –

Would be recalling one so full of evergy

And will, and touched by that creative flame,

Who only yesterday, it seems, chatted to me,

Hiding the illness crucifying him.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(House on the Fontanka, 1940)

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

translation by D. M. Thomas

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Imitation From The Armenian by Anna Akhmatova

I shall come into your dream

As a black ewe, approach the throne

On withered and infirm

Legs, bleating: ‘Padishah,

Have you dined well? You who hold

The world like a bead, beloved

of Allah, was my little son

To your taste, was he fat enough’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1930s)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished

translation by D. M. Thomas


This poem refers to the arrest of Akhmatova’s son by the authorities during the Stalinist era.

Воронеж (Voronezh) by Anna Akhmatova

O.M.

And the town is frozen solid, leaden with ice.

Trees, walls, snow, seem to be under glass.

Cautiously I tread on crystals.

The painted sleighs can’t get a grip.

And over the statue of Peter-in-Voronezh

Are crows, and populars, and a pale-green dome

Washed-out and muddy in the sun-motes.

The mighty slopes of the Field of Kulikovo

Tremble still with the slaughter of barbarians.

And all at once the poplars, like lifted chalices,

Enmesh more boisterously overhead

Like thousands of wedding-guests feasting

And drinking toasts to our happiness.

And in the room of the banished poet

Fear and the Muse take turns at watch,

And the night comes

When there will be no sunrise.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

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

translation by D. M. Thomas


 

O.M. refers to 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.

Some Gaze Into Tender Faces by Anna Akhmatova

Some gaze into tender faces,

Others drink until morning light,

But all night I hold conversations

With my conscience who is always right.

 

I say to her: ‘You know how tired I am,

Bearing your heavy burden, many years.’

But for her, there is no such thing as time,

And for her, space also disappears.

 

And again, a black Shrove Tuesday,

The sinister park, the unhurried ring

Of hooves, and, flying down the heavenly

Slopes, full of happiness and joy, the wind.

 

And above me, double-horned and calm

Is the witness… O I shall go there,

Along the ancient well-worn track,

To the deathly waters, where the swans are.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

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

translation by D. M. Thomas

Dust Smells Of A Sun-Ray by Anna Akhmatova

Dust smells of a sun-ray,

Girls’ breaths, – violets hold,

Freedom clings to the wild honey,

But there’s no smell to gold.

 

The mignonette smells of water,

Apple-tang clings to love,

But we were always taught that

Blood smells only of blood.

 

So it was no use the governor from Rome

Washing his hands before the howls

Of the wicked mob,

And it was in vain

That the Scottish queen washed the scarlet

Splashes from her narrow palms

In the thane’s gloomy suffocating home.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1934)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished.

translation by D. M. Thomas

The Last Toast by Anna Akhmatova

I drink to our demolished house,

To all this wickedness,

To you, our loneliness together,

I raise my glass-

 

And to the dead-cold eyes,

The lie that has betrayed us,

The coarse, brutal world, the fact

That God has not saved us.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1934)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Six Books)

translation by D. M. Thomas

To An Artist by Anna Akhmatova

Your work that my inward sight still comes,

Fruit of your graced labours:

The gold of always-autumnal limes,

The blue of today-created water-

 

Simply to think of it, the faintest drowse

Already has led me into your parks

Where, fearful of everything turning, I lose

Consciousness in a trance, seeking your tracks.

 

Shall I go under this vault, transfigured by

The movement of your hand into a sky,

To cool my shameful heat?

 

There shall I become forever blessed,

There my burning eyelids will find rest,

And I’ll regain a gift I’ve lost-to weep.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1924)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Six Books)

translation by D. M. Thomas