History of Literature

Anna Akhmatova





see also EXPLORATION (in Russian):
Anna Achmatova



Martiros Saryan. 1946

Aleksey Batalov. 1952

Vladimir Favorsky. 1956



Translated by A. S. Kline

2. Translated by Yevgeny Bonver

Translated by Sasha Soldatow




Translated by A. S. Kline












                                        No, not under a foreign sky,

                                                  no not cradled by foreign wings –

                                                  Then, I was with my people, I,

                                                  with my people, there, sorrowing.




Instead of a Preface


In the dreadful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison queues in Leningrad. One day someone ‘identified’ me. Then a woman standing behind me, blue with cold, who of course had never heard my name, woke from that trance characteristic of us all and asked in my ear (there, everyone spoke in whispers):

- Ah, can you describe this?

And I said:

I can.

Then something like a tormented smile passed over what had once been her face.


                                                  1st April 1957


Note: Nikolai Yezhov as head of the NKVD from 1936 instituted a savage purge, akin to the Cultural Revolution in China, involving denunciations and show trials. He was in turn denounced in 1938 by Molotov, executed, and replaced by Beria.  People in the Soviet Union came to call the Great Terror: Yezhovshchina (the time of Yezhov).





Before this sorrow mountains bow,

the vast river’s ceased to flow,

the ever-strong prison bolts

hold the ‘convict crews’ now,

abandoned to deathly longing.

For someone the sun glows red,

for someone the wind blows fresh –

but we know none of that, instead

we only hear the soldier’s tread,

keys scraping against our flesh.

Rising as though for early mass,

through the city of beasts we sped,

there met, breathless as the dead,

sun low, a mistier Neva. Far ahead,

hope singing still, as we passed.

Sentence given…tears pour out,

she thought she knew all separation,

in pain, blood driven from the heart,

as if she’s hurled to earth, apart,

yet walks…staggers…is in motion…

Where now my chance-met friends

of those two years satanic flight?

What Siberian storms do they resist,

and in what frosted lunar orb exist?

To them it is I send my farewell cry.


March 1940





Those days, when only the dead

, glad to be at peace,

and Leningrad, unneeded, swayed,

throwing wide its penitentiary.

When legions of the condemned,

maddened by torment, passed,

brief the songs of parting then,

the locomotives’ farewell blast,

Dead stars hung above us,

and blameless Russia writhed

under boots stained with blood,

and the Black Marias’ tyres.






They took you away at dawn,

as though at a wake, I followed,

in the dark room weeping children,

among icons, the candle guttered.

On your lips, the chill of a cross,

on your brow a deathly pall.

I’ll be, like a woman to be shot,

dragged to the Kremlin wall.






Quiet flows the silent Don,

yellow moonlight fills the home.


Fills it, and falls askance,

yellow moon-ghost in its glance.


A woman there it is, makes moan,

a woman there, she lies alone,


Son in chains, husband clay,

pray for her, O pray.





No it is not I, someone else is suffering.

I could not have borne it otherwise, all that’s happening,

let them grant to it a dark covering,

and let them take away the glittering…






They should have shown you, little teaser,

                    little favourite, friend of all,

                    sylvan princess, happy charmer,

                    what situation would be yours –

as three-hundredth in the line

you’d stand, beneath the cross,

and let your tears’ hot brine

burn through New Year’s ice.

See the prison poplars sway,

without a sound – oh what a crowd

of innocent lives all end today…





Seventeen months I’ve pleaded

for you to come home.

Flung myself at the hangman’s feet,

my terror, oh my son.

And I can’t understand,

now all’s eternal confusion,

who’s beast, and who’s man,

how long till execution.

And only flowers of dust,

ringing of censers, tracks just

running somewhere, nowhere, far.

And deep in my eyes gazing,

swift, fatal, threatening,

one enormous star.





Lightly the weeks fly, too,

what’s happened I can’t understand.

Just as, my darling child, in prison,

white nights gazed at you,

so now again they gaze,

hawk-eyed, passionate-eyed,

and of your cross on high,

of death, they speak today.




7. The Sentencing


It has fallen, the word of stone

on my living breast, now.

No matter, I was prepared, you know,

I’ll get by, somehow.


I’ve things to do today:

I must crush memory down,

I must turn my heart to stone,

I must try living, again.


And then….Hot summer whispers,

as if for a Black Sea holiday.

Long, long ago, I foresaw this

this empty house, this shining day.


                                        Summer, 1939.



8. To Death


You’ll come regardless – why not today? 

I await you – life is very hard.

I’ve killed the lights, cleared the way

for you, so simple, such a marvel.

Take on any shape you wish,

burst in like a poisoned shell,

sidle in like a slick bandit,

or a typhus germ from hell.

Or a fairy-tale you’ve invented,

always sickeningly familiar –

where I see policemen’s heads,

and a concierge white with fear.

It’s all one now. The Yenisey swirling,

while the Pole star’s alight.

And in final terror closing

blessed eyes, blue and bright.


                              19th August 1939

                              The House on the Fontanka,





Already madness hovers

                    obscuring half my mind,

                    I drink its wine: its fires

bring on darkness, blind.


I realise, I must yield,

the victory to it now,

must listen to it speak,

strange fever on my brow.


And I must take nothing

with me that’s my own

(how I am begging,

how I am disowned!):


not my son’s fearful eyes –

suffering, turned to stone,

not the day, that storms rise,

nor the prison meeting-room,


nor the blessed cool of his hands,

the lime-trees’ shady agitation,

nor the slender distant sounds

of his final consolation.


                                        4th May 1940

                                        The House on the Fontanka. 



                    10. Crucifixion.


                                                            ‘Mother, do not weep for me,

                                                            who am in the grave.




Angelic choirs, the mighty hour of glory,

and heaven confused in the fiery deep.

To the Father: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me!

But to the Mother: ‘O, do not weep…’




Magdalene beat her breast and wept,

the beloved disciple turned to stone,

but there, no one dared, no one looked

where the Mother stood, still, and alone.








I learned to know how faces fall apart,

                    how fear, beneath the eye-lids, seeks,

how strict the cutting blade, the art

that suffering etches in the cheeks.

How the black, the ash-blond hair,

in an instant turned to silver,

learned how submissive lips fared,

learned terror’s dry racking laughter.

Not only for myself I pray,

but for all who stood there, all,

in bitter cold, or burning July day,

beneath that red, blind prison wall.




Once more, the remembered hour draws near.

I see you, I feel you, and I hear:


you, they could barely carry into line,

and you, whom earth claimed before your time,


and you, who shook your lovely head of hair,

saying: ‘As if this were home, I’m here’.


I’d like to summon you all by name,

But the lists are lost, un-found, again.


I’ve woven a great shroud for all, here,

out of poor words I chanced to overhear.


Remembering them always, everywhere,

unforgotten in each new terror’s care,


and if they shut my tormented lips, shut my

mouth where a hundred million people cry,


let them remember me, as well, today,

on the eve of my remembrance day.


And if ever in this my native country

they think to erect a statue to me,


I agree to that ceremonial honour,

but only on one condition – not there


beside the sea-shore, where I was born:

my last ties with it so long outworn,


nor in the Imperial Garden, by that dead tree

where an inconsolable shade looks for me,


but here, where I stood three hundred hours,

where no one ever opened the doors,


lest I forget in death’s blessed oblivion

the Black Maria’s screaming hum,


forget the terrible clang, the gates that hail

like a wounded beast, the old woman’s wail.


And from my eyelids, bronze, unmoving,

may snowflakes fall like tears, melting,


and the prison pigeons coo far from me,

and, on the Neva, ships sail silently.


                                                            March, 1940





Anna Akhmatova with her son, Lev Gumilev, 1913

Anna Akhmatova with her son, Lev Gumilev,





Lev Gumilev

Lev Gumilev, 1949





Lev Gumilev, 1951

Lev Gumilev, 1953





Translated by Yevgeny Bonver



Translated by Sasha Soldatow


Anna Akhmatova, 1940

Anna Akhmatova, 1940




Not under foreign skies protection
Or saving wings of alien birth –
I was then there – with whole my nation –
There, where my nation, alas! was.



In the awful days of the Yezhovschina I passed seventeen months in the outer waiting line of the prison visitors in Leningrad. Once, somebody ‘identified’ me there. Then a woman, standing behind me in the line, which, of course, never heard my name, waked up from the torpor, typical for us all there, and asked me, whispering into my ear (all spoke only in a whisper there):
“And can you describe this?”
And I answered:
“Yes, I can.”
Then the weak similarity of a smile glided over that, what had once been her face.

April 1, 1957; Leningrad


The high crags decline before this woe,
The great river does not flow ahead,
But they’re strong – the locks of a jail, stone,
And behind them – the cells, dark and low,
And the deadly pine is spread.
For some one, somewhere, a fresh wind blows,
For some one, somewhere, wakes up a dawn –
We don’t know, we’re the same here always,
We just hear the key’s squalls, morose,
And the sentry’s heavy step alone;
Got up early, as for Mass by Easter,
Walked the empty capital along
To create the half-dead peoples’ throng.
The sun downed, the Neva got mister,
But our hope sang afar its song.
There’s a sentence… In a trice tears flow…
Now separated, cut from us,
As if they’d pulled out her heart and thrown
Or pushed down her on a street stone –
But she goes… Reels… Alone at once.
Where are now friends unwilling those,
Those friends of my two years, brute?
What they see in the Siberian snows,
In a circle of the moon, exposed?
To them I send my farewell salute.


In this time, just a dead could half-manage
A weak smile – with the peaceful state glad.
And, like some heavy, needless appendage,
Mid its prisons swung gray Leningrad.
And, when mad from the tortures’ succession,
Marched the army of those, who’d been doomed,
Sang the engines the last separation
With their whistles through smoking gloom,
And the deathly stars hanged our heads over
And our Russia writhed under the boots –
With the blood of the guiltless full-covered –
And the wheels on Black Maries’ black routes.


You were taken away at dawn’s mildness.
I convoyed you, as my dead-born child,
Children cried in the room’s half-grey darkness,
And the lamp by the icon lost light.
On your lips dwells the icon kiss’s cold
On your brow – the cold sweet … Don’t forget!
Like a wife of the rebel of old
On the Red Square, I’ll wail without end.


The quiet Don bears quiet flood,
The crescent enters in a hut.

He enters with a cap on head,
He sees a woman like a shade.

This woman’s absolutely ill,
This woman’s absolutely single.

Her man is dead, son – in a jail,
Oh, pray for me – a poor female!


No, ‘tis not I, ‘tis someone’s in a suffer –
I was ne’er able to endure such pain.
Let all, that was, be with a black cloth muffled,
And let the lanterns be got out ... and reign
just Night.


You should have seen, girl with some mocking manner,
Of all your friends the most beloved pet,
The whole Tsar Village’s a sinner, gayest ever –
What should be later to your years sent.
How, with a parcel, by The Crosses, here,
You stand in line with the ‘Three Hundredth’ brand
And, with your hot from bitterness a tear,
Burn through the ice of the New Year, dread.
The prison’s poplar’s bowing with its brow,
No sound’s heard – But how many, there,
The guiltless ones are loosing their lives now…


I’ve cried for seventeen long months,
I’ve called you for your home,
I fell at hangmen’ feet – not once,
My womb and hell you’re from.
All has been mixed up for all times,
And now I can’t define
Who is a beast or man, at last,
And when they’ll kill my son.
There’re left just flowers under dust,
The censer’s squall, the traces, cast
Into the empty mar…
And looks strait into my red eyes
And threads with death, that’s coming fast,
The immense blazing star.


The light weeks fly faster here,
What has happened I don’t know,
How, into your prison, stone,
Did white nights look, my son, dear?
How do they stare at you, else,
With their hot eye of a falcon,
Speak of the high cross, you hang on,
Of the slow coming death?



The word, like a heavy stone,
Fell on my still living breast.
I was ready. I didn’t moan.
I will try to do my best.

I have much to do my own:
To forget this endless pain,
Force this soul to be stone,
Force this flesh to live again.

Just if not … The rustle of summer
Feasts behind my window sell.
Long before I’ve seen in slumber
This clear day and empty cell.



You’ll come in any case – why not right now, therefore?
I wait for you – my strain is highest.
I have doused the light and left opened the door
For you, so simple and so wondrous.
Please, just take any sight, which you prefer to have:
Thrust in – in the gun shells’ disguises,
Or crawl in with a knife, as an experienced knave,
Or poison me with smoking typhus,
Or quote the fairy tale, grown in the mind of yours
And known to each man to sickness,
In which I’d see, at last, the blue of the hats’ tops,
And the house-manager, ‘still fearless’.
It’s all the same to me. The cold Yenisei lies
In the dense mist, the Northern Star – in brightness,
And a blue shine of the beloved eyes
Is covered by the last fear-darkness.


Already madness, with its wing,
Covers a half of my heart, restless,
Gives me the flaming wine to drink
And draws into the vale of blackness.

I understand that just to it
My victory has to be given,
Hearing the ravings of my fit,
Now fitting to the stranger’s living.

And nothing of my own past
It’ll let me take with self from here
(No matter in what pleas I thrust
Or how often they appear):

Not awful eyes of my dear son –
The endless suffering and patience –
Not that black day when thunder gunned,
Not that jail’s hour of visitation,

Not that sweet coolness of his hands,
Not that lime’s shade in agitation,
Not that light sound from distant lands –
Words of the final consolations.



Don’t weep for me, Mother,
seeing me in a grave.


The angels’ choir sang fame for the great hour,
And skies were melted in the fire’s rave.
He said to God, “Why did you left me, Father?”
And to his Mother, “Don’t weep o’er my grave…”


Magdalena writhed and sobbed in torments,
The best pupil turned into a stone,
But none dared – even for a moment –
To sight Mother, silent and alone.



I’ve known how, at once, shrink back the faces,
How fear peeps up from under the eyelids,
How suffering creates the scriptural pages
On the pale cheeks its cruel reigning midst,
How the shining raven or fair ringlet
At once is covered by the silver dust,
And a smile slackens on the lips, obedient,
And deathly fear in the dry snicker rustles.
And not just for myself I pray to Lord,
But for them all, who stood in that line, hardest,
In a summer heat and in a winter cold,
Under the wall, so red and so sightless.


Again a memorial hour is near,
I can now see you and feel you and hear:

And her, who’d been led to the air in a fit,
And her – who no more touches earth with her feet.

And her – having tossed with her beautiful head –
She says, “I come here as to my homestead.”

I wish all of them with their names to be called;
But how can I do that? I have not the roll.

The wide common cover I’ve wov’n for their lot –
From many a word, that from them I have caught.

Those words I’ll remember as long as I live,
I’d not forget them in a new awe or grief.

And if will be stopped my long-suffering mouth –
Through which always shout our people’s a mass –

Let them pray for me, like for them I had prayed,
Before my remembrance day, quiet and sad.

And if once, whenever in my native land,
They’d think of the raising up my monument,

I give my permission for such good a feast,
But with one condition – they have to place it

Not near the sea, where I once have been born –
All my warm connections with it had been torn,

Not in the tsar’s garden near that tree-stump, blessed,
Where I am looked for by the doleful shade,

But here, where three hundred long hours I stood for
And where was not opened for me the hard door.

Since e’en in the blessed death, I shouldn’t forget
The deafening roar of Black Maries’ black band,

I shouldn’t forget how flapped that hateful door,
And wailed the old woman, like beast, it before.

And let from the bronze and unmoving eyelids,
Like some melting snow flow down the tears,

And let a jail dove coo in somewhat afar
And let the mute ships sail along the Neva.



Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.




During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.' It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.

[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]


Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.

[March 1940]



It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.


You were taken away at dawn. I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold
On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather

To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy (1)
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.

[1935. Autumn. Moscow]


Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.


It isn't me, someone else is suffering. I couldn't.
Not like this. Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed. . .


Giggling, poking fun, everyone's darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you -
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses
(3), three hundredth in
Burning the new year's ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound - how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away. . .



For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever -
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.



Weeks fly lightly by. Even so,
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.

[1939. Spring]



The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.

I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .

But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.

[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (4)]



You will come anyway - so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in
Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me
The house administrator's terrified white face.
I don't care anymore. The river Yenisey
Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.

[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]


Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.

That's when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
To it.

However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:

Not my son's frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms

Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.

[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]



Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.

A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
But to his mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'

[1940. Fontannyi Dom]

Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.

[1943. Tashkent]



I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I've learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That's why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,

'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears

From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.

[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]



1 An elite guard which rose up in rebellion
against Peter the Great in 1698. Most were either
executed or exiled.
2 The imperial summer residence outside St
Petersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years.
3 A prison complex in central Leningrad near the
Finland Station, called The Crosses because of the
shape of two of the buildings.
4 The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived.




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