‘That’s How I Am…’ by Anna Akhmatova

That’s how I am. I could wish for you someone other,

Better.

I trade in happiness no longer…

Charlatans, pushers at the sales! …

We stayed peacefully in Sochi,

Such nights, there, came to me,

And I kept hearing such bells!

Over Asia were spring mists, and

Tulips were carpeting with brilliance

Several hundreds of miles.

O, what can I do with this cleanness,

This simple untaintable scene? O,

What can I do with these souls!

I could never become a spectator.

I’d push myself, sooner or later,

Through every prohibited gate.

Healer of tender hurts, other women’s

Husbands’ sincerest

Friend, disconsolate

Widow of many. No wonder

I’ve a grey crown, and my sun-burn

Frightens the people I pass.

But – like her – I shall have to part with

My arrogance – like Marina the martyr –

I too must drink of emptiness.

You will come under a black mantle,

With a green and terrible candle,

Screening your face from my sight…

Soon the puzzle will be over:

Whose hand is in the white glove, or

Who sent the guest who calls by night.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1942, Tashkent)

from her Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book) era of work but not published at the time

translation by D. M. Thomas


 

In 1942 Akhmatova was flown out of Leningrad by the authorites on a whim and spent the next 3 years in Tashkent. She became seriously ill with typhus but regarded this period with a mix of joy, delirium and recognition.

Akhmatova in this poem draws a parallel between her circumstances and the fate of fellow poet Marina Tsvetaeva. Tsvetaeva had been an emigre since 1922, returning to Russia only to find out her husband was shot and her daughter arrested. She hung herself in 1941 and it had an immense effect on her peer Akhmatova as evidenced by her poetry.

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Landscapes I. New Hampshire by T. S. Eliot

Children’s voices in the orchard

Between the blossom- and the fruit-time:

Golden head, crimson head.

Between the green tip and the root.

Black wing, brown wing, hover over;

Today grieves, tomorrow grieves,

Cover me over, light-in-leaves;

Golden head, black wing,

Cling, swing,

Spring, sing,

Swing up into the apple-tree.

 

by T. S. Eliot

from Minor Poems

Rachel by Anna Akhmatova

A man met Rachel, in a valley. Jacob

Bowed courteously, this wanderer far from home.

Flocks, raising the hot dust, could not slake their

Thirst. The well was blocked with a huge stone.

Jacob wrenched the stone from the well

Of pure water, and the flocks drank their fill.

 

But the heart in his breast began to grieve,

It ached like an open wound.

He agreed that in Laban’s fields he should serve

Seven years to win the maiden’s hand.

For you, Rachel! Seven years in his eyes

No more than seven dazzling days.

 

But silver-loving Laban lives

In a web of cunning, and is unknown to grace.

He thinks: every deceit forgives

Itself to the glory of Laban’s house.

And he led Leah firmly to the tent

Where Jacob took her, blind and innocent.

 

Night drops from on high over the plains,

The cool dews pour,

And the youngest daughter of Laban groans,

Tearing the thick braids of her hair.

She curses her sister and reviles God, and

Begs the Angel of Death to descend.

 

And Jacob dreams the hour of paradise:

In the valley the clear spring,

The joyful look in Rachel’s eyes,

And her voice like a bird’s song.

Jacob, was it you who kissed me, loved

Me, and called me your black dove?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

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

‘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

Spring by Afanasy Fet

I come again with greetings new,

to tell you day is well begun;

to say the leaves are fresh with dew

and dappled in the early sun;

 

to tell you how the forest stirs

in every branch of every brake,

and what an April thirst is hers,

with every whistling bird awake;

 

to say, as yesterday, once more,

with love as passionate and true,

my heart is ready as before

for serving happiness and you;

 

to tell how over every thing

delight is blowing on the air –

I know not yet what I shall sing;

I only know the song is there.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

(1843)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman

Spring Song by Innokenty Annensky

Not yet does the current hold sway

but it’s drowning the blue ice;

the clouds have not melted away,

yet the snow is drifting in sunlight.

 

Through a half-open door

my heart hears a whisper…

You don’t yet love, but no more

can you keep your distance.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1906)

Translated by Robert Chandler

Home-Thoughts, From Abroad by Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England

Now that April’s there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England – now!

 

And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows –

Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children’s dower,

-Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

 

by Robert Browning (1812 – 1889)