‘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.


An Attempt At Jealousy by Marina Tsvetaeva

How is your life with the other one,

simpler, isn’t it? One          stroke of the oar

then a long coastline, and soon

even the memory of me


will be a floating island

(in the sky, not on the waters):

spirits, spirits, you will be

sisters, and never lovers.


How is your life with an ordinary

woman?          without godhead?

Now that your sovereign has

been deposed (and you have stepped down).


How is your life? Are you fussing?

flinching? How          do you get up?

The tax of deathless vulgarity

can you cope with it, poor man?


‘Scenes and hysterics          I’ve had

enough! I’ll rent my own house.’

How is your life with the other one

now, you that I chose for my own?


More to your taste, more delicious

is it, your food? Don’t moan if you sicken.

How is your life with an image

you, who walked on Sinai?


How is your life with a stranger

from this world? Can you (be frank)

love her? Or do you          feel shame

like Zeus’ reins on your forehead?


How is your life? Are you

healthy? How do you          sing?

How do you deal with the pain

of an undying conscience, poor man?


How is your life with a piece of market

stuff, at a steep price?

After Carrara marble,

how is your life with the dust of


plaster now? (God was hewn from

stone, but he is smashed to bits.)

How do you live with one of a

thousand women          after Lilith?


Sated with newness, are you?

Now you are grown cold to magic,

how is your life with an

earthly woman, without a sixth


sense? Tell me: are you happy?

Not? In a shallow pit how is

your life, my love? Is it as

hard as mine with another man?


by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)


translated by Elaine Feinstein


The gaps mid-line were present in the original as was the emphasis on the word ‘image‘.

In case you want a few pointers regarding the context of the poem here are some facts about Tsvetaeva‘s life. To be honest I’ve tried to give a few points but it feels like you might have to do some in depth ‘further reading’ about her life to fully understand the context of this poem’s lines. A brief account of her life reads like it was one tragic event after the other…

Sergei Yakovlevich Efron (Сергей Яковлевич Эфрон; 8 October 1893 – 16 October 1941) was a Russian poet, officer of White Army and husband of Marina Tsvetaeva. While in emigration, he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner to the better known KGB). After returning to USSR from France, he was executed. Some believe that Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

They fell in love and were married in January 1912. While they had an intense relationship, Tsvetaeva had affairs, such as those with Osip Mandelstam and poet Sofia Parnok.

Tsvetaeva and her husband had two daughters: Ariadna a.k.a Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917), and one son, Georgy. In 1919 while stuck in Moscow during the civil war (during which there was also a famine), she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Alya became ill and Tsvetaeva removed her but Irina died there of starvation in 1920. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague (where they had resided) for the suburbs, living for a while in Jíloviště, before moving on to Všenory, where Tsvetaeva conceived their son, Georgy, whom she was to later nickname ‘Mur‘. He was a difficult child but Tsetaeva loved him obsessively. With Efron now rarely free from tuberculosis, their daughter Ariadna was relegated to the role of mother’s helper and confidante, and consequently felt robbed of much of her childhood.

To end on a lighter note: The Tsvetaev family name (feminine form: Tsvetaeva) evokes an association with flowers as the Russian word цвет (tsvet) means “color” or “flower”.

Also here is a reading of the poem in the original Russian by Маша Матвейчук, who does readings of various poems, on YouYube:

Some Things Succeed And Some Things Fail by Georgy Ivanov

Some things succeed, and some things fail;

everything’s nonsense that passes away…


But even so this reddish-brown grass

which grows by a gate in the fence will last.


… If Russian speech has the power to go

back to the land where the Neva flows –

from Paris I send these muddled words,

though even to me they sound absurd.


by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)


by Stephen Capus

After Plodding Year After Year by Georgy Ivanov

After plodding year after year

through towns in an alien land,

we have ground enough to despair –

and despair is where we must end.


For despair is our final refuge –

as if, midwinter, we had come

from Vespers in a nearby church,

through Russian snow, to our home.


by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)


by Robert Chandler

To Ivan Pushchin by Alexander Pushkin

First friend, friend beyond price,

one morning I blessed fate

when sleigh bells, your sleigh bells

sang out and filled my lovely home

lost in its drifts of snow.


May my voice now, please God,

gladden your soul

in that same way

and lighten your exile

with light from our Lycée‘s clear day.


by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin


translated by  Robert Chandler

Before A Map Of Russia by Teffi

In a strange house, in a far away land,

her portrait hangs on the wall;

she herself is dying like a beggar woman,

lying on straw, in pain that can’t be told.


But here she looks as she always did look –

she is young, rich and draped

in the luxurious green cloak

in which she was always portrayed.


I gaze at your counternance as if at an icon…

‘Blessed be your name slaughtered Rus!’

I quietly touch your cloak with one hand;

and with that same hand make the sign of the cross.


by Тэффи (Teffi) (1872 – 1952)

a.k.a. Надежда Александровна Лoхвицкая (Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘Behind The Lake…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Behind the lake the moon’s not stirred

And seems to be a window through

Into a silent, well-lit house,

Where something unpleasant has occurred.


Has the master been brought home dead,

The mistress run off with a lover,

Or has a little girl gone missing,

And her shoes found by the creek-bed…


We can’t see. But feel some awful thing,

And  we don’t want to talk.

Doleful, the cry of eagle-owls, and hot

In the garden the wind is blustering.


– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas