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

‘To Fall Ill As One Should…’ by Anna Akhmatova

To fall ill as one should, deliriously

Hot, meet everyone again,

To stroll broad avenues in the seashore garden

Full of the wind and the sun.

 

Even the dead, today, have agreed to come,

And the exiles, into my house.

Lead the child to me by the hand.

Long I have missed him.

 

I shall eat blue grapes with those who are dead,

Drink the iced

Wine, and watch the grey waterfall pour

On to the damp flint bed.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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

‘Blows The Swan Wind…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Blows the swan wind,

The blue sky’s smeared

With blood; the anniversary

Of your love’s first days draws near.

 

You have destroyed

My sorcery; like water the years

Have drifted by. Why

Aren’t you old, but as you were?

 

Your tender voice even more ringing…

Only your serene brow

Has taken from time’s wing

A scattering of snow.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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

‘They Wiped Your Slate…’ by Anna Akhmatova

They wiped your slate

With snow, you’re not alive.

Bayonets twenty-eight

And bullet-holes five.

It’s a bitter present,

Love, but I’ve sewed it.

Russia, an old peasant

Killing his meat.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

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

That Summer by Emyr Humphreys

There was nothing to help us

Trapped in that ornamental summer

By sunlight and ubiquitous foreboding; the tides

The pebbles indifferent to our sore feet

Told us nothing: banner headlines

Congealed those lukewarm fish and chips.

 

From where we stood to the horizon

The future stretched like a brooding canvas

Awaiting a blood stained brush. There were rocks

and groundsheets to sleep on, nowhere to go.

Only the tanks knew where to assemble.

 

Who would win who would lose

Whose corpse would hang on the wire

Would come later. The seagulls knew

More than we did as they wheeled above us

Like fighter bombers, their droppings

Illegible leafets, mobilising their screeches

As they crossed and recrossed concrete

Frontiers reinforced in the Underworld.

 

It didn’t need to happen. It shouldn’t

But it would. Limbs still free

Twitched with the urge to run: the sea

Was a threat not a refuge: the sky

Was closing in. We could only turn and face

The mouth of the tunnel: only wait

For the machine to emerge and howl

On our behalf as it ran us down.

 

by Emyr Humphreys

‘Now Farewell , Capital…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Now farewell, capital,

Farewell, my spring,

Already I can hear

Karelia yearning.

 

Fields and kitchen-gardens

Are green and peaceful,

The waters are still deep,

And the skies still pale.

 

And the marsh rusalka,

Mistress of those parts,

Gazes, sighing, up at

The bell-tower cross.

 

And the oriole, friend

Of my innocent days,

Has flown back from the south

And cries among the branches

 

That it’s shameful to stay

Until May in the cities,

To stifle in theatres,

Grow bored on the islands.

 

But the oriole doesn’t know,

Rusalka won’t understand,

How lovely it is

Kissing him!

 

All the same, right now,

On the day’s quiet slope,

I’m going. God’s land,

Take me to you!

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Lying In Me…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Lying in me, as though it were a white

Stone in the depths of a well, is one

Memory that I cannot, will not, fight:

It is happiness and it is pain.

 

Anyone looking straight into my eyes

Could not help seeing it, and could not fail

To become thoughtful, more sad and quiet

Than if he were listening to some tragic tale.

 

I know the gods changed people into things,

Leaving their consciousness alive and free.

To keep alive the wonder of suffering,

You have been metamorphed into me.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer 1916, Slepnyovo)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas