There are Four of Us by Anna Akhmatova

O Muse of Weeping…

– M. Tsvetaeva

 

I have turned aside from everything,

From the whole earthly store.

The spirit and guardian of this place

is an old tree-stump in water.

 

We are brief guests of the earth, as it were,

And life is a habit we put on.

On paths of air I seem to overhear

Two friendly voices, talking in turn.

 

Did I say two? … There

By the east wall’s tangle of raspberry,

Is a branch of elder, dark and fresh.

Why! It’s a letter from Marina.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1961, in delirium)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


In later Soviet editions of her works this poem is entitled ‘Komarovo Sketches‘. She spent a lot of time in her last years at Komarovo, fifty miles from Leningrad (St Petersburg), on the Karelian isthmus and is buried there.

The three poets referred to are Pasternak, Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva alongside Akhmatova herself.

The epigaph is from a poem addressed to Akhmatova in 1916.

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

Stallion by Mike Jenkins

When the night’s stallion

approaches us over the yellowing fields,

we see shafts of lonliness

in his eyes. The last wild flowers

have gone with the mares

he whinnied to, over the high-barred gate.

 

A barbed mockery of thorn-trees

and the two of us – jesting to catch

leaves feathering down – share

the hillside with the coal-hewn stallion.

 

Once, he had broken free, his spine

bridging the moor and the village,

hooves clicking the tongues of sleep.

Now, pushing flanks against staked branches,

he mules his raked flesh.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Invisible Times

Song Of The Last Meeting by Anna Akhmatova

My breast grew cold and numb,

But my feet were light.

On to my right hand I fumbled

The glove to my left hand.

 

It seemed that there were many steps

-I knew there were only three.

An autumn whisper between the maples

Kept urging: ‘Die with me.

 

Change has made me weary,

Fate has cheated me of everything.’

I answered: ‘My dear, my dear!

I’ll die with you. I too am suffering.’

 

It was a song of the last meeting.

Only bedroom-candles burnt

When I looked into the dark house,

And they were yellow and indifferent.

 

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

– 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