Август 1940 (August 1940) by Anna Akhmatova

When you bury an epoch

You do not sing psalms at the tomb.

Soon, nettles and thistles

Will be in bloom.

And only – bodies won’t wait! –

The gravediggers toil;

And it’s quiet, Lord, so quiet,

Time has become audible.

And one day the age will rise,

Like a corpse in a spring river –

But no mother’s son will recognize

The body of his mother.

Grandsons will bow their heads.

The moon like a pendulum swinging.

And now – over stricken Paris

Silence is winging.

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

A recital of the poem, in Russian, by Pavel Besedin.

Below is the original version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Август 1940

То град твой, Юлиан!

Вяч. Иванов

Когда погребают эпоху,

Надгробный псалом не звучит,

Крапиве, чертополоху

Украсить ее предстоит.

И только могильщики лихо

Работают. Дело не ждет!

И тихо, так, господи, тихо,

Что слышно, как время идет.

А после она выплывает,

Как труп на весенней реке,—

Но матери сын не узнает,

И внук отвернется в тоске.

И клонятся головы ниже,

Как маятник, ходит луна.

Так вот — над погибшим Парижем

Такая теперь тишина.

In 1940 by Anna Akhmatova

1

When you bury an epoch

You do not sing psalms at the tomb.

Soon, nettles and thistles

Will be in bloom.

And only – bodies won’t wait! –

The gravediggers toil;

And it’s quiet, Lord, so quiet,

Time has become audible.

And one day the age will rise,

Like a corpse in a spring river –

But no mother’s son will recognize

The body of his mother.

Grandsons will bow their heads.

The moon like a pendulum swinging.

And now – over stricken Paris

Silence is winging.

.

.

2

To the Londoners

Shakespeare’s play, his twenty-fourth –

Time is writing it impassively.

By the leaden river what can we,

Who know what such feasts are,

Do, except read Hamlet, Caesar, Lear?

Or escort Juliet to her bed, and christen

Her death, poor dove, with torches and singing;

Or peep through the window at Macbeth,

Trembling with the one who kills from greed –

Only not this one, not this one, not this one,

This one we do not have the strength to read.

.

.

3

Shade

What does a certain woman know
about the hour of her death?
– Osip Mandelstam

Tallest, most elegant of us, why does memory

Insist you swim up from the years, pass

Swaying down a train, searching for me,

Transparent profile through the carriage-glass?

Were you angel or bird? – how we argued it!

A poet took you for his drinking-straw.

Your Georgian eyes through sable lashes lit

With the same even gentleness, all they saw.

O shade! Forgive me, but clear sky, Flaubert,

Insomnia, the lilacs flowering late,

Have brought you – beauty of the year

’13 – and your unclouded temperate day,

Back to my mind, in memories that appear

Uncomfortable to me now. O shade!

.

.

4

I thought I knew all the paths

And precipices of insomnia,

But this is a trumpet-blast

And like a charge of cavalry.

I enter an empty house

That used to be someone’s home,

It’s quiet, only white shadows

In a stranger’s mirrors swim.

And what is that in a mist? –

Denmark? Normandy? Or some time

In the past did I live here,

And this – a new edition

Of moments lost forever.

.

.

5

But I warn you,

I am living for the last time.

Not as a swallow, not as a maple,

Not as a reed nor as a star,

Not as water from a spring,

Not as bells in a tower –

Shall I return to trouble you

Nor visit other people’s dreams

With lamentation.

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

.

.

Below are the original Russian versions of this verse in Cyrillic.

.

.

1

Август 1940

То град твой, Юлиан!

Вяч. Иванов

.

Когда погребают эпоху,

Надгробный псалом не звучит,

Крапиве, чертополоху

Украсить ее предстоит.

И только могильщики лихо

Работают. Дело не ждет!

И тихо, так, господи, тихо,

Что слышно, как время идет.

А после она выплывает,

Как труп на весенней реке,—

Но матери сын не узнает,

И внук отвернется в тоске.

И клонятся головы ниже,

Как маятник, ходит луна.

Так вот — над погибшим Парижем

Такая теперь тишина.

.

.

2

Лондонцам

И сделалась война на небе.

– Апок.

.

Двадцать четвертую драму Шекспира

Пишет время бесстрастной рукой.

Сами участники чумного пира,

Лучше мы Гамлета, Цезаря, Лира

Будем читать над свинцовой рекой;

Лучше сегодня голубку Джульетту

С пеньем и факелом в гроб провожать,

Лучше заглядывать в окна к Макбету,

Вместе с наемным убийцей дрожать,—

Только не эту, не эту, не эту,

Эту уже мы не в силах читать!

.

.

3

Тень

Что знает женщина одна о смертном часе?

О. Мандельштам

.

Всегда нарядней всех, всех розовей и выше,

Зачем всплываешь ты со дна погибших лет,

И память хищная передо мной колышет

Прозрачный профиль твой за стеклами карет?

Как спорили тогда — ты ангел или птица!

Соломинкой тебя назвал поэт.

Равно на всех сквозь черные ресницы

Дарьяльских глаз струился нежный свет.

О тень! Прости меня, но ясная погода,

Флобер, бессонница и поздняя сирень

Тебя — красавицу тринадцатого года —

И твой безоблачный и равнодушный день

Напомнили… А мне такого рода

Воспоминанья не к лицу. О тень!

.

.

4

Уж я ль не знала бессонницы

Все пропасти и тропы,

Но эта как топот конницы

Под вой одичалой трубы.

Вхожу в дома опустелые,

В недавний чей-то уют.

Всё тихо, лишь тени белые

В чужих зеркалах плывут.

И что там в тумане — Дания,

Нормандия или тут

Сама я бывала ранее,

И это — переиздание

Навек забытых минут?

.

.

5

Но я предупреждаю вас,

Что я живу в последний раз.

Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,

Ни тростником и ни звездой,

Ни родниковою водой,

Ни колокольным звоном —

Не буду я людей смущать

И сны чужие навещать

Неутоленным стоном.

Judgement Day by R. S. Thomas

Yes, that's how I was,
I know that face,
That bony figure
Without grace
Of flesh or limb;
In health happy,
Careless of the claim
Of the world's sick
Or the world's poor;
In pain craven -
Lord, breathe once more
On that sad mirror,
Let me be lost
In mist for ever
Rather than own
Such bleak reflections,
Let me go back
On my two knees
Slowly to undo
The knot of life
That was tied there.

By R. S. Thomas
from Tares (1961)

Remembrance Day, Aberystwyth by Sally Robert Jones

Spray by the castle hurls across the rail;

The mermaid stares forever across the sea,

Dry-eyed; they lay their poppies at her feet,

But she looks away, to the movement of a sail

Far over breakers; knows not their fallen dead,

Hears not their autumn hymn or the signal guns.

Spray by the castle, spray in November air,

Yearn for the land as she for the empty waves,

(As the dead, perhaps, for their lost and silent home).

Everything empty: castle and crowd and wreaths

Seperate beings; and over them, kissing the rain,

The shape of a fish in bronze, without speech, without soul.

On Sundays remember the dead, but not here.

This is another country, another lord

Rules in its acres, who has no respect for love.

Always the sea sucks at the stones of the wall,

Always the mermaid leans to the distant sail;

Already the wreaths are limp and the children wail.

By Sally Roberts Jones


Additional information:

Aberystwyth ( literally “Mouth of the Ystwyth [river]“) is a historic market town, administrative centre, community, and holiday resort within Ceredigion, Wales, often colloquially known as Aber. It is located near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol. Historically part of Cardiganshire, since the late 19th century, Aberystwyth has also been a major Welsh educational centre, with the establishment of a university college there in 1872.

The mermaid mentioned in this poem is a bronze statue at the base of the Aberystwyth town war memorial which is considered by some to be one of the finest in Britain. Contemporary reports record that the top figure represents Victory and the figure at the base, i.e. the mermaid, represents Humanity emerging from the effects of war.  It records the names of 111 Aberystwyth men who died as a result of action during the First World war and 78 men and women who died during the Second World War. It is one of a number in the town: others are in chapels, places of work and schools.

Aberystwyth Castle (Welsh: Castell Aberystwyth) is a Grade I listed Edwardian fortress located in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Mid Wales. It was built in response to the First Welsh War in the late 13th century, replacing an earlier fortress located a mile to the south. During a national uprising by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh captured the castle in 1404, but it was recaptured by the English four years later. In 1637 it became a Royal mint by Charles I, and produced silver shillings. The castle was slighted by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

Prayer before Sleep 28 March 1931 at Seven O’Clock in the Evening by Daniil Kharms

‘Lord, in broad daylight

apathy overcame me.

Allow me to lie down and fall asleep Lord,

and while I sleep fill me Lord

with your strength.

There is much I want to know,

but neither books nor people

will tell me this.

May You alone Lord enlighten me

by means of my verses.

Wake me strong for the battle with meaning,

swift in the arrangement of words

and zealous to praise the name of God

for ever and ever.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(date unknown)

translated by Robert Chandler