History of Literature

Anna Akhmatova 






see also EXPLORATION (in Russian):
Anna Achmatova


Anna Andreevna Akhmatova


The Teacher

In memory of Innokentiy Annensky

And he, the one whom I regard to be my teacher,
Passed like a shadow and didn’t leave a shadow,
Absorbed the poison, drank down all the stupor,
Awaited glory, and couldn’t wait for glory.
He was an omen and an augury,
He pitied everyone, breathed languor into all,
And suffocated, short of breath…

Translated by Andrey Kneller








Translated by Lyn Coffin










I am air and fire...

She has kissed Anthony's killed lips already,
Already knelt and wept at Cæsar's feet.
Servants betrayed her. In the falling darkness
Rome's Eagle screams and trumpets her defeat.

In comes the last man captive to her beauty,
Stately and tall. He stammers to his queen:
"He will parade you, as a slave, in triumph”
And, even so, her swan neck lies serene.

Come dawn, they'll chain her children. Precious little
Is left on earth for her: joke with this man
Then set the serpent like a final mercy
Black on her dark breast with a casual hand.







To Death

You're sure to come. So why wait anymore?
I'm waiting for you. I am through.
My light is out. My doors are open for
The simple wonder known as you.
So take whatever guise you feel like: Lob
Your poison bombs across my room,
Or end me like a practiced mugger’s club,
Or damn my throat with typhoid fume,
Or, if you like, come as your bedtime tale
Known to the innocent ad nauseam:
Show me the blue cap of the law1, the pale
House-porter's face and trembling hand.2
I could care less. The Yenisey still streams,
The North Star glimmers overhead
And in beloved eyes the old blue gleam
Is blemished by that final dread.

1 The blue cap of the uniform worn by the secret police
2 i.e. as he opens the tenants' doors for the inspectors when they come to round up suspects.







"I have no use for regimental odes..."

I have no use for regimental odes,
Or the impassioned elegiac hoax.
I make my verses quite beside the point
Made by the just, plain folks.
I wish you knew the kind of garbage heap
Wild verses grow on, paying shame no heed,
Like dandelions yellowing a fence,
Like burdock and bindweed...
An angered yell, the bracing scent of tar,
And walls with runic mildew like a sign...
And soon a tender, testy poem answers
To your delight and mine.








Lot’s Wife

But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
-Genesis 19:26

The righteous man then trailed Jehovah's guide,
Hulking and bright, across a ridge of black,
But in his wife a keening anguish cried:
“It's not too late for you. You can look back

upon your Sodom’s old red towers, the square
where once you sang, the garden where you wove,
the emptied windows of the mansion where
you bore your children by your husband’s love.”

She turned and looked. The bitter vision burned,
Welding her eyelids shut with mortal pain.
Into transparent salt her body turned,
As each quick foot took root into the plain.

Who weeps for such a woman, for so small
A loss in such a brutish circumstance?
Yet ever in my heart I will recall
That wife who laid her life down for a glance.







There Are Three Periods of Memory

There are three periods of memory.
The first of them is like a yesterday,
The soul basks in the blessings of their vault,
The body takes its glory in their shade.
Laughter has not yet passed away, tears gush,
The blot is not yet bleached out of the desk,
The kiss, like a heart's seal, is terminal,
Is singular and unforgettable...
But this does not last long before the vault
Has vanished overhead. And in some backwoods
Neighborhood, in a solitary house
Where summers leave the winters' chill warmed over,
Where spiders weave, where all things are in dust,
Where lovestruck letters lead a crumbling half-life,
Sly portraits change into their different selves
Where people go as if to their own grave,
Soaping their fingers pure as they go back
Wiping a fleeting fear out like a sty
From laden eyes, breathing a burdened sigh...
But time, the clock, is ticking and one spring
Yields to another as the skies are flushed,
The cities roll through names, and none remain
As witnesses to what exactly happened.
Gone are the folk we'd weep or reminisce with.
And slowly then the shades go off from us,
Shades we no longer care to summon back,
Whose reemergence would be terrible.
And once we wake we note how we've forgotten
The path back to that solitary house
And, gasping from the anger and the shame,
We bolt there but (as usual in dreams)
It has all changed: the folk, the walls, the things,
And no one knows us there where we are foreign.
A wrong turn took us elsewhere. God almighty!
We come to the most caustic thought of all:
We come to know that we could never fit
The past into the margins of this life,
A past almost as alien to us
As to the folk next door, we do not know
The dear departed from a stranger, people
That God saw fit to separate from us
Did fine without us. Now we even know
That all is for the best....








On Not Immigrating

They're not my kin who leave the land
To enemies and plundering.
I do not heed their vulgar praise.
My songs are not for them to sing.

But I forever grieve for exiles
Like inmates or the nearly dead,
Dark is the road you wander, rovers,
As wormwood fills your foreign bread.

But here at home where conflagrations
Consume the last of youth, we go
Unbothered by our blasted bodies
That did not block a single blow.

We know a later reckoning
Shall vindicate each hour's pain.
We are the tearless of the earth.
We are the proud. We are the plain.









Translated by A. S. Kline






‘Now the pillow’s,’

Now the pillow’s,
hot on both sides.
A second candle
dies, the ravens cry
there, endlessly.
No sleep all night,
too late to think of sleep…
How unbearably white
the blind’s white deep.
 Hello, Morning!






Reading Hamlet

To the right, wasteland by the cemetery,
beyond it the river’s dull blue.
You said: ‘Go, get thee, to a nunnery
or get a fool to marry you…’

Though that’s always how Princes speak,
still, I’ve remembered the words.
As an ermine mantle let them stream,
behind him, through endless years.






‘Hands clasped under the dark veil.’

Hands clasped, under the dark veil.
‘Today, why are you so pale?’
- Because I’ve made him drink his fill
of sorrow’s bitter tale.

How could I forget? He staggered,
his mouth twisted with pain…
I ran down not touching the rail,
I ran all the way to the gate.

‘I was joking,’ I cried, breathlessly.
‘If you go away, I am dead.’
Smiling strangely, calmly,
‘Don’t stand in the wind,’ he said.








‘Memory of sun ebbs from the heart.’

Memory of sun ebbs from the heart.
Grass fades early.
Wind blows the first snowflakes
barely, barely.

Freezing water can’t flow
along these narrow channels.
Nothing happens here, oh
nothing can happen.

A willow against the sky
spreads its transparent fan.
Perhaps its better, if I
don’t accept your hand.

Memory of sunlight ebbs from the heart.
What’s this? Darkness?
Perhaps!...In the night
winter has overcome us.






‘A grey cloud in the sky overhead,’

A grey cloud, in the sky overhead,
like a squirrel skin uncurled.
‘I’m not sorry your body,’ he said,
‘will melt in March, frail snow-girl!’

In the fluffy muff my hands grew cold.
I felt afraid, somehow confused.
How to recall the swift weeks’ flow,
his short-lived insubstantial love!

I don’t want bitterness or revenge,
let me die with the last snow-storm.
My fortune told of him at year’s end.
I was his before February was born.







Song of the Last Meeting

My heart was chilled and numb,
but my feet were light.
I fumbled the glove for my left hand
onto my right.

It seemed there were many steps,
I knew – there were only three.
Autumn, whispering in the maples,
kept urging: ‘Die with me!

I’m cheated by joylessness,
changed by a destiny untrue.’
I answered: ‘My dear, my dear!
I too: I’ll die with you.’

The song of the last meeting.
I see that dark house again.
Only bedroom candles burning,
the yellow, indifferent, flame.







‘I’ve written down the words’

I’ve written down the words
that I’ve not dared to speak.
My body’s strangely dumb.
Dully my head beats.

The horn cries have died.
The heart’s still confused.
On the croquet lawn, light
autumn snowflakes fused.

Let the last leaves rustle!
Let last thoughts torment!
I don’t wish to trouble
those used to happiness.

I forgive those lips, eyes
of yours, their cruel jest…
oh, tomorrow we’ll ride
that first wintry sledge.

Drawing-room candles will glow
more tenderly in the day.
Of conservatory roses
I’ll bring a whole bouquet.







‘I came here, in idleness.’

I came here, in idleness.
Where I’m bored: all the same to me!
A sleepy hilltop mill, yes,
here years pass silently.

Over convolvulus gone dry
the bee swims past, ahead,
I call to that mermaid by
the pond: the mermaid’s dead.

Thick with mud, and rusted,
the wide pond’s shallows:
over the trembling aspen
a weightless moon glows.

I see everything freshly.
The poplars smell moist.
I’m silent. Silent, ready
to be yours again, earth.








White Night

Oh, I’ve not locked the door,
I’ve not lit the candles,
you know I’m too tired
to think of sleep.

See, how the fields die down,
in the sunset gloom of firs,
and I’m drunk on the sound
of your voice, echoing here.

It’s fine, that all’s black,
that life’s – a cursed hell.
O, that you’d come back –
I was so sure, as well.








Evening Room

I speak those words, today, that come
only once, born in the spirit.
Bees hum on white chrysanthemum:
there’s the must of an old sachet.

And the room, with its thin windows,
preserves love, remembers the past.
Over the bed a French script flows:
it reads: ‘Lord, have mercy on us.’

Those saddened marks of so ancient a tale,
you mustn’t touch, my heart, or seek to…
I see bright Sèvres statuettes grow pale:
even as their lustre grows duller too.

A last ray, yellow, heavy,
sets on the dahlias’ bright bouquet,
and I can hear viols playing,
a clavichord’s rare display.








Legend on An Unfinished Portrait

Oh, there’s no reason for sighs,
sadness is pointless, a crime,
here, from grey canvas, I rise,
vaguely, strangely through time.

Arms lifted, freely broken off,
a tormented smile on my face,
I was forced to become like this
through hours of mutual grace.

He wished it so, he willed it so,
with words, spiteful and dead.
Anxiety clotted my mouth, oh
my cheeks with snow were wed.

It’s no sin of his, it seems,
other eyes, he left to see,
no matter these empty dreams
of my mortal lethargy.






‘He loved three things, alive:’

He loved three things, alive:
white peacocks, songs at eve,
and antique maps of America.
Hated when children cried,
and raspberry jam with tea,
and feminine hysteria.
…and he had married me.







A Ride

My feather brushed the carriage roof.
I was gazing into his eyes.
A pain, in my heart I failed to know,
caused by my own sighs.

The evening breathless, heavily-chained
under a heavenly cloud-bank,
as if the Bois de Boulogne were stained,
in some old album, with Indian ink.

Scent of lilac and benzene,
and a quiet, guarded waiting…
with his hand he touched my knees
again, and without trembling.








‘I won’t beg for your love.’

I won’t beg for your love.
It’s safely laid aside….
I won’t be penning jealous
letters to your bride.
But be wise, take my advice:
give her my poems to read,
give her my photos beside –
be kind to the newly-wed!
Oh, knowledge is better for geese,
feeling they’ve won completely,
than sweet companionable speech,
or a tender first-night memory…
and when you’ve spent all your
kopecks of joy with your dear friend,
and your spirit’s sated with it all,
and suddenly you’re ashamed –
don’t come – I’ll fail to know you –
to me, night’s crestfallen guest.
For how could Ihelp you?
I’m not cured of happiness.








In the garden strains of music,
full of inexpressible sadness.
Scent of the sea, pungent, fresh,
on an ice bed, a dish of oysters.

He said to me: ‘I’m a true friend!’
and then touched my dress.
How unlike an embrace
the closeness of his caress.

Thus, you stroke birds or cats, yes,
thus you view shapely performers…
in his calm eyes only laughter,
beneath pale-gold eyelashes.

And the voices of sad viols
sang behind drifting vapour:
‘Give thanks to heaven, then –
you’re alone at last with your lover.’






‘Here we’re all drunkards and whores,’

Here we’re all drunkards and whores,
joylessly stuck together!
On the walls, birds and flowers
pine for the clouds and air.

The smoke from your black pipe
makes strange vapours rise.
The skirt I wear is tight,
revealing my slim thighs.

Windows tightly closed:
who’s there, frost or thunder?
Your eyes, are they those
of some cautious cat, I wonder?

O, my heart how you yearn!
Is it for death you wait?
Or that girl, dancing there,
for hell to be her sure fate?








‘…And no-one came to meet me’

…And no-one came to meet me
carrying a lantern.
The house quiet: my entry
by moonlight uncertain.

Under the green lamp,
his smile was lifeless,
whispering: ‘Cinderella,
how strange your voice…’

Flames of the fire dying:
wearily, cricket chirping.
Ah! Someone’s taken my
white shoe into their keeping.

Given me three carnations
without raising their eyes.
O, dear tokens,
where can you hide?

My heart’s bitter too
knowing soon, soon,
my little white shoe
will be tried by everyone.








‘Always so many pleas from a lover!’

Always so many pleas from a lover!
None when they fall out of love.
I’m so glad it plunges, the river,
beneath colourless ice above.

And I’m to stand – God help me! –
on the surface, fissured, gleaming,
with my letters, for posterity
to judge, in your safe keeping,

so that clearly, and distinctly,
they can see you, brave and wise,
in your glorious biography,
no gaps revealed to the eye?

To drink of Earth’s too sweet,
and Love’s nets are too fine.
But may my name be seen
in the students’ books in time,

and, let them smile, secretly,
on reading my sad story…
if I can’t have love, if I can’t have peace,
grant me a bitter glory.






‘The high vault’s bluer’

The high vault’s bluer
than the sky’s solid blue…
forgive me, happy boy,
the death I brought you –

for the roses from every place,
for your foolish words,
that your bold dark face
pale with love, stirred.

I thought: your purpose –
to show an adult’s pride.
I thought it’s not possible:
love, as one loves a bride.

I was wrong in every way.
When the weather grew icy,
everywhere, and always,
you followed, impassively,

as if you wanted to show
I’d no love for you. Forgive!
Why did you take that vow
on the path to suffering?

And death held out its hand…oh,
speak, why then, what for?
I didn’t know how frail your throat
was, under the blue collar.

Happy boy, my tormented
owlet, oh, forgive me!
Today, I find it hard
to leave this sanctuary.






For M. Lozinsky

It’s endless – the heavy, amber day!
Impossible grief, pointless waiting!
And the silver-voiced deer, again,
in the Northern Lights’ park, belling.
And I think there’s cold snow
a blue font for the poor and ill,
and a little sledge’s headlong flow,
to the ancient chime of far-off bells.






Memory’s Voice

For O. A. Glebova-Sudeikina
‘What do you see, on the wall, dimly alive,
at the hour when the sunset eats the sky?

A seagull, on a blue cloth of waters,
or perhaps it’s those Florentine gardens?

Or is it Tsarskoye Seloe’s vast view,
where terror stepped out before you?

Or that one who left your captivity,
and walked into white death, freely?’

No, I see only the wall – that shows
reflections of heaven’s dying glow.

8th November 1913

Sunlight fills my room
with hot dust, lucent, grey.
I wake, and I remember:
today is your saint’s day.
That’s why even the snow
is warm beyond the window,
that’s why, sleeplessly,
like a communicant, I slept.

The Guest

All’s as it was: the snowstorm’s
fine flakes wet the window pane,
and I myself am not new-born,
but a man came to me today.

I asked: ‘What do you seek?’
He said: ‘To be with you in hell’.
I laughed: ‘Ah, unfortunately,
no: perhaps you wish me ill.’

But, his dry hand touched
a petal with a light caress:
‘Tell me, how they kiss you,
Tell me, how you kiss.’

And his eyes, dully gazing,
never lifted from my ring.
not a single muscle shifting
beneath that evil-glistening.

O, I know: to know passionately
and intensely is his delight
there’s nothing that he needs,
nothing I can deny.


For Alexander Blok

I came to the poet as a guest.
Exactly at noon. On Sunday.
Beyond the window, frost,
quiet in the room’s space.

And a raspberry tinted sun
above tangles of blue smoke…
How clearly the taciturn
master turns, on me, his look!

His eyes are of that kind
remembered by one and all:
Better take care, mind:
don’t gaze at them at all.

But I remember our words,
smoky noon, of a Sunday,
in that high grey house
by the Neva’s sea-way.


So many stones are thrown at me
that I no longer cower,
the turret’s cage is shapely,
high among high towers.
My thanks, to its builders,
may they escape pain and woe,
here, I see suns rise earlier,
here, their last splendours glow.
And often winds from northern seas
fill the windows of my sanctuary,
and a dove eats corn from my palm…
and divinely light and calm,
the Muse’s sunburnt hand’s at play,
finishing my unfinished page.

‘There’s a secret border in human closeness,’

There’s a secret border in human closeness,
that love’s being, love’s passion, cannot pass –
though lips are sealed together in sacred silence,
though hearts break in two with love’s distress.

And friendship too is powerless, and years
of sublime flame-filled ecstasy
when the soul itself is free, fights clear,
of the slow languor of sensuality.

Those who try to reach that boundary are mad,
and those who have – are filled with anguish.
Now you know, now you understand,
why my heart won’t beat at your caress.

‘Like one betrothed I receive’

Like one betrothed I receive
a letter at each day’s end,
and late at night conceive
an answer for my friend.

‘On my journey to the dark,
I’m staying with white death.
Do no harm, my gentle one,
to anyone on earth.’

Brighter, a star is shining
between that pair of trees,
so calmly promising
that what I dream will be.


For O. A. Kuzmin-Karavaev
‘If we can only reach the shore,
my dear!’ – ‘Silently…’
And so we slipped down the stair,
not breathing, searching for keys.

Past the place where we once
danced, and drank the wine,
past the Senate’s white columns,
to where it was dark as a mine.

‘What are you doing, you’re crazy!’ –
‘No, just in love with you!
This breeze – wide and windy,
will delight a boat or two!’

Throat constrained with horror,
the skiff carried us in darkness…
a sea-cable’s strong odour
burnt my quivering nostrils.

‘Tell me, you surely must know:
am I sleeping? So like a dream…’
Only the oars measured blows,
on the Neva’s heavy stream.

But the black sky lightened,
someone called from a bridge,
with both hands I grasped
the cross’s chain at my breast.

Powerless, I was lifted, like
a young girl, in your arms,
onto the white yacht’s deck,
to meet day’s incorruptible charms.

‘I don’t know if you’re alive or dead –’

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead –
Can you be found on earth, though,
or only in twilit thoughts instead
be mourned for, in that peaceful glow.

All for you: the prayer daily,
the hot sleeplessness at night,
the white flock of poetry,
and the blue fire of my eyes.

No one was cherished more,
or tormented me so, no not
him, who betrayed me to torture,
nor him, who caressed and forgot.

‘Like a white stone in a well’s depths,’

Like a white stone in a well’s depths,
a single memory remains to me,
that I can’t, won’t fight against:
It’s happiness – and misery.

I think someone who gazed full
in my eyes, would see it straight.
They’d be sad, be thoughtful,
as if hearing a mournful tale.

I know the gods changed people
to things, yet left consciousness free,
to keep suffering’s wonder alive still.
In memory, you changed into me.








‘Everything’s looted, betrayed and traded,’

Everything’s looted, betrayed and traded,
black death’s wing’s overhead.
Everything’s eaten by hunger, unsated,
so why does a light shine ahead?

By day, a mysterious wood, near the town,
breathes out cherry, a cherry perfume.
By night, on July’s sky, deep, and transparent,
new constellations are thrown.

And something miraculous will come
close to the darkness and ruin,
something no-one, no-one, has known,
though we’ve longed for it since we were children.








White churches there, and bright crackling ice,
there my son’s cornflower-blue eyes blossom.
Above the old town, nights are diamond-bright, Russian:
more yellow than lime-flower honey, the moon’s slice.
Dry snow-storms blow from the plains beyond the river,
and, like angels, men are glad on God’s Holy Day.
They’ve cleared the best room, icon lamps play,
on the oak table you’ll see the Good Book’s cover.
There, ungenerous to me now, Memory so severe,
bowed low, opened her tower rooms as well;
but I slammed the fearful door, did not enter:
while the town rang with cheerful Christmas bells.







Lot’s Wife

The just man followed God’s messenger,
vast and bright against the black hill,
but care spoke in the woman’s ear:
‘There’s time, you can look back still,

at Sodom’s red towers where you were born,
the square where you sang, where you’d spin,
the high windows of your dark home,
where your children’s life entered in.

She looked, and was transfixed by pain,
uncertain whether she could still see,
her body had turned to translucent salt,
her quick feet rooted there, like a tree.

A loss, but who still mourns the breath
of one woman, or laments one wife?
Though my heart never can forget,
how, for one look, she gave up her life.

Note: The reference is to Lot’s wife in the Bible, Genesis 19:26


When I wait, at night, for her to come,
life, it seems, hangs by a strand.
What are honour, youth, freedom,
next to the dear guest, flute in hand?

And now she enters. Throws aside
her veil, gazing deep in my eyes.
I ask her: ‘Was that you, Dante’s guide
Dictating, in Hell?’ She answers: ‘I’.


To An Artist

In every work of yours I find,
fruit of your twice-blessed labours,
gold of ever-autumnal limes,
blue of fresh-created waters.

Think of them, and the lightest slumber
leads me into your park, already,
where each turning seems fearful,
seeking your tracks, unconsciously.

Shall I walk beneath this arch, transmuted by
the movement of your hand, into the sky,
in order to cool my shameful heat?...

There I’ll be forever blessed
and my burning eyes find rest,
there I’ll regain the gift, I’ll weep.

 The Last Toast

I drink to our ruined house,
to all of life’s evils too,
to our mutual loneliness,
and I, I drink to you –
to eyes, dead and cold,
to lips, lying and treacherous,
to the age, coarse, and cruel,
to the fact no god has saved us.


For Osip Mandelshtam

And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath the glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s poplars, crows
a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground caught.
Frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though at our wedding, and the crowd
drinking our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of approaching dawn, has no knowledge.

Note: The field of Kulikovo was the scene of a famous battle against the Tartar Horde in 1378. Mandelshtam was exiled for a time to Voronezh, south of Moscow on the River Don.


She has already kissed Antony’s dead lips,
already wept on her knees before Augustus…
and her servants have betrayed her. Trumpets
cry below Roman eagles, the gloom of dusk.

Noble and stately, stammering with confusion
now enters the last prisoner of her beauty,
‘You – like a slave…
he’ll lead me in triumph before him…’
but her swanlike neck still bends peacefully.

Tomorrow her children. O, what littleness
is left to do on earth – only toy with this fool,
and, indifferently, like a parting kindness
lay the black snake to her dark breast too.








‘What does a certain woman know
 of the hour of her death?’ - Mandelshtam 

Tallest, most suave of us, why Memory,
forcing you to appear from the past, pass
down a train, swaying, to find me
clear profiled through the window-glass?
Angel or bird? How we debated!
The poet thought you translucent straw.
Through dark lashes, your eyes, Georgian,
looked out, with gentleness, on it all.
Shade, forgive. Blue skies, Flaubert,
insomnia, late-blooming lilac flower,
bring you, and the magnificence of the year,
nineteen-thirteen, to mind, and your
unclouded temperate afternoon, memory
difficult for me now – Oh, shade!

‘The souls of those I love are on high stars.’

The souls of those I love are on high stars.
How good that there’s no-one left to lose
and one can weep. All created in order
to sing songs, this air of Tsarskoye Selo’s.

The river bank’s silver willow
touches the bright September stream.
Rising from the past, my shadow
is running in silence to meet me.

So many lyres hung on branches here,
but it seems there’s room for mine too.
And this shower, sun-drenched, rare,
brings me consolation, good news.

Two Poems


Desolate the victories
of mysterious non-meeting,
phrases unspoken,
voiceless words.
Un-meeting glances
not knowing where to rest:
and tears alone are glad
to go on flowing.
Wild roses, ah, near Moscow
are in it! Who knows why…
and all this will be called
immortal passion.


‘You are with me again, Autumn, my friend!’

Others in the south may still linger,
basking in the paradise garden.
Here it’s northerly, and this year
for my friend I’ve chosen autumn.
I’ve brought here the blessed memory
of my last non-meeting with you –
the pure flame of my victory
over fate, so cold, and pure, too.







There will be thunder then. Remember me.
Say: ‘She asked for storms.’ This entire
world will be the colour of crimson stone,
and your heart, as then, will turn to fire.

That day, in Moscow, a true prophecy,
when for the last time I say goodbye,
soaring to the heavens I longed to see,
leaving my shadow here in the sky.










Hands pressed together under the veil…
“What is it that makes you so pale and faint?”
I’m afraid I intoxicated him with the ale
Of bitter anguish and torturous pain.

Could I forget it? He stumbled out, wavering,
His tormented mouth was twisted and grim....
I ran down the stairs, not touching the railing,
At the end of the walkway, I caught up to him.

I yelled after him: “I was kidding and only.
If you leave me today, you’ll be doing me in.”
He turned back and smiled, so intolerably calmly
And told me: “Don’t stand in the wind.”



The Muse

When, at night, I’m waiting her arrival,
Life it seems, is hanging by a thread.
Glory, youth and freedom cannot rival
The joy she brings me, with a flute in hand.

She enters, and before I can discern her,
She stares at me with an attentive eye.
“Were you,” I ask, “the cause of the Inferno
For Dante?” – And she answers: “I!”


Translated by Andrey Kneller







Alexander By Thebes
(From "The Little Antic Poems")

I think, the king was fierce, though young,
When he proclaimed, “You’ll level Thebes with ground.”
And the old chief perceived this city proud,
He’d seen in times that are in sagas sung.
Set all to fire! The king listed else
The towers, the gates, the temples – rich and thriving…
But sank in thoughts, and said with lighted face,
“You just provide the Bard Home’s surviving.”

Translated by Tanya Karshtedt







"Along the Hard Crust..."

Along the hard crust of deep snows,
To the secret, white house of yours,
So gentle and quiet – we both
Are walking, in silence half-lost.
And sweeter than all songs, sung ever,
Are this dream, becoming the truth,
Entwined twigs’ a-nodding with favor,
The light ring of your silver spurs...

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver






"And As It's Going..."

An as it's going often at love's breaking,
The ghost of first days came again to us,
The silver willow through window then stretched in,
The silver beauty of her gentle branches.
The bird began to sing the song of light and pleasure
To us, who fears to lift looks from the earth,
Who are so lofty, bitter and intense,
About days when we were saved together.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver






"And Pushkin's Exile Had..."

And Pushkin's exile had begun right here,
And Lermontov's expulsion had been "canceled."
There is the easy grasses' scent on highland.
And only once it chanced to me to see it --
Near the lake, where shades of plane-trees hover,
In that doom hour before the evening thrusts,--
The dazzling light of the desirous eyes
Of Tamara's forever living lover.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver






"As a White Stone..."

As a white stone in the well's cool deepness,
There lays in me one wonderful remembrance.
I am not able and don't want to miss this:
It is my torture and my utter gladness.

I think, that he whose look will be directed
Into my eyes, at once will see it whole.
He will become more thoughtful and dejected
Than someone, hearing a story of a dole.

I knew: the gods turned once, in their madness,
Men into things, not killing humane senses.
You've been turned in to my reminiscences
To make eternal the unearthly sadness.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver







The Grey-Eyed King

Hail! Hail to thee, o, immovable pain!
The young grey-eyed king had been yesterday slain.

This autumnal evening was stuffy and red.
My husband, returning, had quietly said,

"He'd left for his hunting; they carried him home;
They'd found him under the old oak's dome.

I pity the queen. He, so young, past away!...
During one night her black hair turned to grey."

He found his pipe on a warm fire-place,
And quietly left for his usual race.

Now my daughter will wake up and rise --
Mother will look in her dear grey eyes...

And poplars by windows rustle as sing,
"Never again will you see your young king..."

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver






"I Don't Like Flowers..."

I don't like flowers - they do remind me often
Of funerals, of weddings and of balls;
Their presence on tables for a dinner calls.

But sub-eternal roses' ever simple charm
Which was my solace when I was a child,
Has stayed - my heritage - a set of years behind,
Like Mozart's ever-living music's hum.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver






"If the Moon On the Skies..."

If the moon on the skies does not roam,
But cools, like a seal above,
My dead husband enters the home
To read the letters of love.

He remembers the box, made of oak,
With the lock, very secret and odd,
And spreads through a floor the stroke
Of his feet in the iron bond.

He watches the times of the meetings
And the signatures' blurry set.
Hasn't had he sufficiently grievings
And pains in this word until that?

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver






In the Evening

The garden's music ranged to me
With dole that's beyond expression.
The frozen oysters smelled with freshness
And sharpness of the northern sea.

He told me, "I'm the best of friends!",
And gently touched my gown's laces.
Oh, how differs from embraces
The easy touching of these hands.

Like that they pet a cat, a bird...
Or watch the girls that run the horses....
And just a quiet laughter poses
Under his lashes' easy gold.

And the distressing fiddles' voice
Sings me from haze that's low flowed,
"Thank holly heaven and rejoice --
You are first time with your beloved."

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver








"In Human Closeness There..."

In human closeness there is a secret edge,
Nor love nor passion can pass it above,
Let lips with lips be joined in silent rage,
And hearts be burst asunder with the love.

And friendship, too, is powerless plot,
And so years of bliss with noble tends,
When your heart is free and known not,
The slow languor of the earthy sense.

And they who strive to reach this edge are mad,
But they who reached are shocked with anguish hard --
Now you know why beneath your hand
You do not feel the beating of my heart.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver








"A Widow in Black..."

A widow in black -- the crying fall
Covers all hearts with a depressing cloud...
While her man's words are clearly recalled,
She will not stop her lamentations loud.
It will be so, until the snow puff
Will give a mercy to the pined and tired.
Forgetfulness of suffering and love --
Though paid by life -- what more could be desired?

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver






"You, Who Was Born..."

You, who was born for poetry’s creation,
Do not repeat the sayings of the ancients.
Though, maybe, our Poetry, itself,
Is just a single beautiful citation.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver







To Boris Pasternak


The echo-bird will give me answer

It ceased – the voice, inimitable here,
The peer of groves left forever us,
He changed himself into eternal ear...
Into the rain, of that sang more than once.

And all the flowers, that grow under heavens,
Began to flourish – to meet the going death…
But suddenly it got the silent one and saddened –
The planet, bearing the humble name, the Earth.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver







When, in the night, I wait for her, impatient,
Life seems to me, as hanging by a thread.
What just means liberty, or youth, or approbation,
When compared with the gentle piper's tread?

And she came in, threw out the mantle's edges,
Declined to me with a sincere heed.
I say to her, "Did you dictate the Pages
Of Hell to Dante?" She answers, "Yes, I did."

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver








Lot's Wife
1922 - 1924

Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.

Holy Lot was a-going behind God's angel,
He seemed huge and bright on a hill, huge and black.
But the heart of his wife whispered stronger and stranger:
"It's not very late, you have time to look back
At these rose turrets of your native Sodom,
The square where you sang, and the yard where you span,
The windows looking from your cozy home
Where you bore children for your dear man."
She looked -- and her eyes were instantly bound
By pain -- they couldn't see any more at all:
Her fleet feet grew into the stony ground,
Her body turned into a pillar of salt.

Who'll mourn her as one of Lot's family members?
Doesn't she seem the smallest of losses to us?
But deep in my heart I will always remember
One who gave her life up for one single glance.

Translated from Russian by Tanya Karshtedt






"Why Is This Century Worse..."

Why is this century worse than those others?
Maybe, because, in sadness and alarm,
It only touched the blackest of the ulcers,
But couldn't heal it in its span of time.

Else, in the West, the earthly sun endows
The roofs of cities with the morning light,
But, here, the White already marks a house,
And calls for crows, and the crows fly.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver








Something of heavens ever burns in it,
I like to watch its wondrous facets' growth.
It speaks with me in fate's non-seldom fits,
When others fear to approach close.

When the last of friends had looked away
From me in grave, it lay to me in silence,
And sang as sing a thunderstorm in May,
As if all flowers began to talk in gardens.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver








"I Was Born In the Right Time..."

I was born in the right time, in whole,
Only this time is one that is blessed,
But great God did not let my poor soul
Live without deceit on this earth.

And therefore, it's dark in my house,
And therefore, all of my friends,
Like sad birds, in the evening aroused,
Sing of love, that was never on land.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver








"They Didn't Meet Me..."

They didn't meet me, roamed,
On steps with lanterns bright.
I entered quiet home
In murky, pail moonlight.

Under a lamp's green halo,
With smile of kept in rage,
My friend said, "Cinderella,
Your voice is very strange..."

A cricket plays its fiddle;
A fire-place grew black.
Oh, someone took my little
White shoe as a keep-sake,

And gave me three carnations,
While casting dawn eyes --.
My sins for accusations,
You couldn't be disguised.

And heart hates to believe in
The time, that's close too,
When he will ask for women
To try on my white shoe.

Translated by Tanya Karshtedt








"You'll Live, But I'll Not..."

You'll live, but I'll not; perhaps,
The final turn is that.
Oh, how strongly grabs us
The secret plot of fate.

They differently shot us:
Each creature has its lot,
Each has its order, robust, --
A wolf is always shot.

In freedom, wolves are grown,
But deal with them is short:
In grass, in ice, in snow, --
A wolf is always shot.

Don't cry, oh, friend my dear,
If, in the hot or cold,
From tracks of wolves, you'll hear
My desperate recall.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver







Reading 'Hamlet'


The lot by the graves was a dusty hot land;
The river behind -- blue and cool.
You told me, "Well, go to a convent,
Or go marry a fool..."
Princes always say that, being placid or fierce,
But I cherish this speech, short and poor --
Let it flow and shine through a thousand years,
Like from shoulders do mantles of fur.


And, as if in wrong occasion,
I said, "Thou," else...
And an easy smile of pleasure
Lit up dear face.

From such lapses, told or mental,
Every cheek would blaze.
I love you as forty gentle
Sisters love and bless.

Translated by Tanya Karshtedt








For Osip Mandelstam

And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath a glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
the painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s there are poplars, crows
there’s a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in the sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground.
The frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though it was our wedding, and the crowd
were drinking to our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of the coming dawn, has no knowledge.









Twenty-First. Night. Monday

Twenty-first. Night. Monday.
Silhouette of the capitol in darkness.
Some good-for-nothing -- who knows why--
made up the tale that love exists on earth.

People believe it, maybe from laziness
or boredom, and live accordingly:
they wait eagerly for meetings, fear parting,
and when they sing, they sing about love.

But the secret reveals itself to some,
and on them silence settles down...
I found this out by accident
and now it seems I'm sick all the time.




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