Today is the birthday of Anna Akhmatova; it’s also St John’s Eve (aka Midsummer Night’s Eve).
From The Voice of Another
Don’t torment your heart with earthly joys,
Don’t cling to your wife or your home,
Take the bread from your child
To give to a stranger.
And be the humblest servant of the one
Who was your bitterest foe,
And call the beast of the forest your brother,
And don’t ask God for anything, ever.
December 1921, Petersburg, p.262.
You are worshipping the Lord
In his holy courtyard.
God’s fool sleeps on the church porch,
And a star looks down at him.
And touched by an angel’s wing,
A bell begins to speak,
Not with alarm, with a voice of terror,
But saying farewell forever.
And the saints and miracle workers,
Leaving their ancient icon frames,
Come out of the cloister
Leaning on crutches.
Seraphim — to the woods of Sarov,
To shepherd the rural flocks,
Anna — no longer a princess,
To Kashin, to pull the prickly flax.
With them goes the Mother of God,
Wrapping her son in a shawl
Dropped by an old beggar woman
On the front steps of the Lord.
May 24, 1922, Petersburg, pp.275-276.
No, not under the vault of alien skies,
And not under the shelter of alien wings —
I was with my people then,
There, where my people, unfortunately, were.
How can I live with this burden?
And yet they call it the Muse.
They say: “You and she are in a meadow …”
They say: “The divine babble …”
More savagely than fever she attacks you,
Then for a whole year, not a syllable.
Summer, 1959, p.414.
From the First Notebook [Fragment]
In my room lives a beautiful
Slow black snake;
It is like me, just as lazy,
Just as cold.
In the evening I compose marvelous tales
On the rug by the fire’s red glow,
And with emerald eyes
It gazes at me indifferently.
At night the dead, mute icons hear
Resisting moans …
It’s true, I would desire another
Were it not for the serpent eyes.
But in the morning, submissive once more, I
Melt, like a slender candle …
And then from my bare shoulder
A black ribbon slides.
I’m not embarrassed by offensive remarks,
I don’t blame anyone for anything.
Just don’t give me a shameful ending
To my shameful life.
Decade of the 1910’s, p.635.
From you came uneasiness
And the ability to write verse.
Spring, 1914, p.639.
O God, for myself I could forgive everything,
But I would rather be a hawk clawing a lamb,
Or a serpent biting someone sleeping in the field,
Than to be a human and be forced to see
What people do, and from putrid shame,
Not dare to raise my eyes to the heavens on high.
In this church I heard the Canon
Of Andrey Krutsky one bleak day,
And from then on the Great Lent tolling,
All seven weeks, right up to Easter midnight,
Merged with chaotic shooting,
Everyone parted provisionally,
Never to meet again …
1917, Petersburg, p.650.
From the Cycle “Secrets of the Craft”
Don’t repeat — your soul is rich —
That which has been said before,
But perhaps poetry itself —
Is a single splendid quotation.
September 4, 1956, p.703.
These verses come from The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (Expanded Edition), Translated by Judith Hemschemeyer, edited by Roberta Feeder; Zephyr Press, 1997.
Finally, her last recorded verse …
Necessity herself has finally submitted,
And has stepped pensively aside.
February, 1966, p.769.
May her memory, and that of all artists who suffered under the Godless Authorities, be eternal!
Originally posted April 2005.
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