The Pillow’s Just As Hot by Anna Akhmatova

The pillow’s just as hot

when I turn it over.

And now a second candle

is guttering, and crows

are cawing louder than ever.

Not a wink… And it’s too late

even to think of sleep.

White, blindingly white –

a blind on a white window.

Good morning!

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1909)

from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler


An alternate version of the same poem as D. M. Thomas’ translation The Pillow Hot…

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Song of a Last Encounter by Anna Akhmatova

I walked without dragging my feet

but felt heavy at heart and frightened;

and I pulled onto my left hand

the glove that belonged to the right.

 

There seemed to be countless steps,

though I knew there were only three,

and an autumn voice from maples

whispered, ‘Die with me!

 

I have been undone by a fate

that is cheerless, flighty and cruel.’

I repied, ‘So have I, my dearest –

let me die one death with you…’

 

The song of a last encounter:

I glanced up at a dark wall:

from the bedroom indifferent candles

glowed yellow… And that was all.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1911, Tsarkoye Selo)

from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler


This is an alternative version of same poem translated as Song of the Last Meeting by D. M. Thomas.

We Pronounced by Olga Berggolts

We pronounced

the simplest, poorest words

as if they had never been said.

We were saying

sun, light, grass

as people pronounce

life, love, strength.

 

Remembered how we cleared

that eternal, accursed glacier

from the city streets – and an old man

stamped his foot against the pavement,

shouting, ‘Asphalt, friends, asphault!’

 

As if he were a sailor long ago,

calling out ‘Land, land!’

 

by

Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1945)

translated by Robert Chandler

Snow Keeps Falling Night And Day by Varlam Shalamov

Snow keeps falling night and day –

some god, now turned more strict,

is sweeping out from his domain

scraps of his old manuscripts.

 

Sheaves of ballads, songs and odes,

all that now seems bland or weak –

he sweeps it down from his high clouds,

caught up now by newer work.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1950 – or at least the incident which inspired the poem occurred then)

translated by Robert Chandler

I Went Out In The Clear Air by Varlam Shalamov

I went out in the clear air

and raised my eyes to the heavens

to understand our stars

and their January brilliance.

 

I found the key to the riddle;

I grasped the heiroglyph’s secret;

I carried into our own tongue

the work of the star-poet.

 

I recorded all this on a stump,

on frozen bark,

since I had no paper with me

in that January dark.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

The Sixth Sense by Nikolay Gumilyov

Good is the wine that is in love with us,

and good is bread, our generous friend;

and good the woman who brings us torment

yet yields her sweetness to us in the end.

 

But what are we to do with sunset fires?

With joys that can’t be eaten, drunk or kissed?

And what are we to do with deathless verse?

We stand and watch – as mysteries slip past.

 

Just as some boy too young to know of love

will leave his play to gaze, his heart on fire,

at maidens swimming in a lake, and gaze

and gaze, tormented by obscure desire;

 

or as within the gloom of ancient jungle

some earthbound beast once slithered from its lair

with wing buds on its back, still tightly closed,

and let out cries of impotent despair;

 

so year on year – how long, Lord, must we wait? –

beneath the surgeon’s knife of art and nature,

our flesh is wasted and our spirit howls

as one more sense moves slowly to creation.

 

by Николай Степанович Гумилёв (Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov)

(1920)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

An influential Russian poet, literary critic, traveler, and military officer. He cofounded the Acmeist movement and was Anna Akhmatova’s husband who was arrested and executed by the Cheka, the secret Soviet police force, in 1921.

Ordeal [Extract] by Olga Berggolts

[…] And once again

you will have the strength

to see and recognize

how all you have ever loved

will begin to torment you.

And at once, like a werewolf,

a friend will appear

before you and slander you,

and another will push you away.

And the temptations will start:

‘Renounce! Disavow! Forswear!’

And your soul will writhe

in the grip of anguish and fear.

And you will have the strength,

once again, to repeat one thing:

‘I forswear nothing – nothing –

of all I have lived my life by.’

And once again, remembering

these days, you will have the strength

to cry out to all you have loved:

‘Come back! Come back to me!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(January 1939, Cell 33)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

In December 1938 she was imprisoned for several months and was only released after suffering a miscarriage from being beaten during interrogations. The above extract is from one of her prison poems.