Three Autumns by Anna Akhmatova

The smiles of summer are simply indistinct

And winter is too clear,

But I can unerringly pick out

Three autumns in each year.

 

The first is a holiday chaos

Spiting the summer of yesterday.

Leaves fly like a schoolboy’s notes,

Like incense, the smell of smoke,

Everything moist, motley, gay.

 

First into the dance are the birches,

They put on their transparent attire

Hastily shaking off their fleeting tears

On to the neighbour next door.

 

But as it happens, the story’s just begun.

A moment, a minute – and here

Comes the second, passionless as conscience,

Sombre as an air raid.

 

Everything suddenly seems paler, older,

Summer’s comfort is plundered,

Through the scented fog float

Far-off marches played on golden trumpets…

 

A flagstone covers the sky vault. Cold waves

Of incense. But the wind’s started to blow

Everything clean open, and straightway

It’s clear that this is the end of the play,

This is not the third autumn but death.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1943)

from Reed

translated by D. M. Thomas

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To Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

 

By John Keats (1795-1821)

First published in 1820

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

‘I Hear The Oriole’s Always Grieving Voice…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I hear the oriole’s always grieving voice,

And the rich summer’s welcome loss I hear

In the sickle’s serpentine hiss

Cutting the corn’s ear tightly pressed to ear.

 

And the short skirts on the slim reapers

Fly in the wind like holiday pennants,

The clash of joyful cymbals, and creeping

From under dusty lashes, the long glance.

 

I don’t expect love’s tender flatteries,

In premonition of some dark event,

But come, come and see this paradise

Where together we were blessed and innocent.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Lying In Me…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Lying in me, as though it were a white

Stone in the depths of a well, is one

Memory that I cannot, will not, fight:

It is happiness and it is pain.

 

Anyone looking straight into my eyes

Could not help seeing it, and could not fail

To become thoughtful, more sad and quiet

Than if he were listening to some tragic tale.

 

I know the gods changed people into things,

Leaving their consciousness alive and free.

To keep alive the wonder of suffering,

You have been metamorphed into me.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer 1916, Slepnyovo)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas

Flight by Anna Akhmatova

For O. A. Kuzmin-Karavaev

 

‘If we could only reach the shore,

My dear!’ – ‘Sh! Be quiet!’…

And we started down the stairs,

Hardly breathing, searching for keys.

 

Past the house where we had once

Danced and drunk wine,

Past the Senate’s white columns

To where it was dark, dark.

 

‘What are you doing? You’re mad!’ –

‘Not mad. In love with you!

This wind is wide and billowing,

Gaily it will take the ship!

 

Throat tight with horror,

The canoe took us in the gloom…

The tang of an ocean cable

Burnt my trembling nostrils.

 

‘Tell me – if you know youself:

Am I asleep? Is this a dream? …’

Only the oars splashed evenly

Along the heavy Neva wave.

 

But the black sky grew lighter,

Someone called to us from a bridge.

With both hands I seized the chain

Of the cross on my breast.

 

Powerless, I was lifted in your arms

Like a young girl on to the deck

Of the white yacht, to meet the light

Of incorruptible day.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1914)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas