Борис Пастернак [Boris Pasternak] by Anna Akhmatova

He who compared himself to the eye of a horse,

Peers, looks, sees, recognizes,

And instantly puddles shine, ice

Pines away, like a melting of diamonds.

 

Backyards drowse in lilac haze. Branch-

Line platforms, logs, clouds, leaves…

The engine’s whistle, watermelon’s crunch,

A timid hand in a fragrant kid glove. He’s

 

Ringing, thundering, grinding, up to his breast

In breakers… and suddenly is quiet… This means

He is tiptoeing over pine needles, feaful lest

He should startle space awake from its light sleep.

 

It means he counts the grains in the empty ears,

And it means he has come back

From another funeral, back to Darya’s

Gorge, the tombstone, cursed and black.

 

And burns again, the Moscow tedium,

In the distance death’s sleigh-bell rings…

Who has got lost two steps from home,

Where the snow is waist-deep, an end to everything?

 

Because he compared smoke with Laocoön,

Made songs out of graveyard thistles,

Because he filled the world with a sound no-one

Has heard before, in a new space of mirrored

 

Verses, he has been rewarded with a form

Of eternal childhood, with the stars’ vigilant love,

The whole earth has been passed down to him,

And he has shared it with everyone.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(19 January 1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Not The Lyre Of A Lover…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Not the lyre of a lover

I’ll carry through my land

The rattle of a leper

Will sing in my hand.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas

Willow by Anna Akhmatova

In the young century’s cool nursery,

In its checkered silence, I was born.

Sweet to me was not the voice of man,

But the wind’s voice was understood by me.

The burdocks and the nettles fed my soul,

But I loved the silver willow best of all.

And, grateful for my love, it lived

All its life with me, and with its weeping

Branches fanned my insomnia with dreams. But

– Surprisingly enough! – I have outlived

It. Now, a stump’s out there. Under these skies,

Under these skies of ours, are other

Willows, and their alien voices rise.

And I am silent… As though I’d lost a brother.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas

Cleopatra by Anna Akhmatova

“I am air and fire…”

                                            – Shakespeare

 

She has kissed lips already grown inhuman,

On her knees she has wept already before Augustus…

And her servants have betrayed her. Under the Roman

Eagle clamour the raucous trumpets, and the dusk has

 

Spread. And enter the last hostage to her glamour.

‘He’ll lead me, then, in triumph?’ ‘Madam, he will.

I know’t.’ Stately, he has the grace to stammer…

But the slope of her swan neck is tranquil still.

 

Tomorrow, her children… O, what small things rest

For her to do on earth – only to play

With this fool, and the black snake to her dark breast

Indifferently, like a parting kindness, lay.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas

Dante by Anna Akhmatova

He did not return, even after his death, to

That ancient city he was rooted in.

Going away, he did not pause for breath

Nor look back. My song is for him.

Torches, night, a last embrace,

Fate, a wild howl, at his threshold.

Out of hell he sent her his curse

And in heaven could not forget her.

But never in a penitential shirt did

He walk with a lighted candle and barefoot

Through beloved Florence he could not betray,

Perfidious, base, and self-deserted.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

When A Man Dies by Anna Akhmatova

When a man dies

His portraits change.

His eyes look at you

Differently and his lips smile

A different smile. I noticed this

Returning from a poet’s funeral.

Since then I have seen it verified

Often and my theory is true.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas

Imitation From The Armenian by Anna Akhmatova

I shall come into your dream

As a black ewe, approach the throne

On withered and infirm

Legs, bleating: ‘Padishah,

Have you dined well? You who hold

The world like a bead, beloved

of Allah, was my little son

To your taste, was he fat enough’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1930s)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: This poem refers to the arrest of Akhmatova’s son by the authorities during the Stalinist era.

Here is an alternative translation of the same poem by Robert Chandler.

Воронеж (Voronezh) by Anna Akhmatova

O.M.

And the town is frozen solid, leaden with ice.

Trees, walls, snow, seem to be under glass.

Cautiously I tread on crystals.

The painted sleighs can’t get a grip.

And over the statue of Peter-in-Voronezh

Are crows, and populars, and a pale-green dome

Washed-out and muddy in the sun-motes.

The mighty slopes of the Field of Kulikovo

Tremble still with the slaughter of barbarians.

And all at once the poplars, like lifted chalices,

Enmesh more boisterously overhead

Like thousands of wedding-guests feasting

And drinking toasts to our happiness.

And in the room of the banished poet

Fear and the Muse take turns at watch,

And the night comes

When there will be no sunrise.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


 

O.M. refers to the poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.

Some Gaze Into Tender Faces by Anna Akhmatova

Some gaze into tender faces,

Others drink until morning light,

But all night I hold conversations

With my conscience who is always right.

 

I say to her: ‘You know how tired I am,

Bearing your heavy burden, many years.’

But for her, there is no such thing as time,

And for her, space also disappears.

 

And again, a black Shrove Tuesday,

The sinister park, the unhurried ring

Of hooves, and, flying down the heavenly

Slopes, full of happiness and joy, the wind.

 

And above me, double-horned and calm

Is the witness… O I shall go there,

Along the ancient well-worn track,

To the deathly waters, where the swans are.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Dust Smells Of A Sun-Ray by Anna Akhmatova

Dust smells of a sun-ray,

Girls’ breaths, – violets hold,

Freedom clings to the wild honey,

But there’s no smell to gold.

 

The mignonette smells of water,

Apple-tang clings to love,

But we were always taught that

Blood smells only of blood.

 

So it was no use the governor from Rome

Washing his hands before the howls

Of the wicked mob,

And it was in vain

That the Scottish queen washed the scarlet

Splashes from her narrow palms

In the thane’s gloomy suffocating home.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1934)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished.

translation by D. M. Thomas