Муза (Muse) by Anna Akhmatova

I feel my life hang by a hair

as I wait at night for the Muse;

youth, freedom, fame melt into air

as my guest appears with her flute.

 

She enters, tosses back her shawl;

her half-closed eyes let nothing pass.

‘So it was you who sang of Hell

to Dante?’ ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘it was.’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1924)

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

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: The exact muse from Greek mythology referred to here is Euterpe who in late Classical times was named muse of lyric poetry and was often depicted holding a flute. The Dante referred to here is of course Dante Alighieri and his epic poem the Divine Comedy, in particular the Inferno section. Calliope was usually considered the muse of epic poetry but of course Akhmatova herself wrote lyric poetry thus explaining why she, to her surprise, encounters Euterpe and not Calliope.

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