Evening Room by Anna Akhmatova

I speak in those words suddenly

That rise once in the soul. So sharply comes

The musty odour of an old sachet,

A bee hums on a white chrysanthemum.

 

And the room, where the light strikes through slits,

Cherishes love, for here it is still new.

A bed, with a French inscription over it,

Reading: ‘Seigneur, ayez pitié de nous.’

 

Of such a lived-through legend the sad strokes

You must not touch, my soul, nor seek to do…

Of Sèvres statuettes the brilliant cloaks

I see are darkening and wearing through.

 

Yellow and heavy, one last ray has poured

Into a fresh bouquet of dahlias

And hardened there. And I hear viols play

And of a clavecin the rare accord.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1910, Tsarskoye Selo)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), 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

Imitation Of Annensky by Anna Akhmatova

And with you, my first vagary,

I parted. In the east it turned blue.

You said simply: ‘I won’t forget you.’

I didn’t know at first what you could mean.

 

Rise and set, the other faces,

Dear today, and tomorrow gone.

Why is it that at this page

Alone the corner is turned down?

 

And eternally the book opens

Here, as if it’s the only part

I must know. From the parting moment

The unreturning years haven’t departed.

 

O, the heart is not made of stone

As I said, it’s made of flame…

I’ll never understand it. Are you close

To me, or did you simply love me?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911, Tsarskoye Selo)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas

As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.

‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.

‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

 

by W.H. Auden (November 1937)

from Another Time (1940)

‘He Loved Three Things Alone…’ by Anna Akhmatova

He loved three things alone:

White peacocks, evensong,

Old maps of America.

He hated children crying,

And raspberry jam with his tea,

And womanish hysteria.

… And he had married me.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1911)

– from Вечер (Evening, 1912), translation by D. M. Thomas