Anna Akhmatova


Selected Poems


Including ‘Requiem’

 
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Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005, 2012 All Rights Reserved.

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

 


 

Contents

   

From: Evening, 1912. 8

Love. 9

At Tsarskoye Selo. 10

‘Now the pillow’s,’ 12

Reading Hamlet 13

‘Hands clasped under the dark veil.’ 14

‘Memory of sun ebbs from the heart.’ 15

‘A grey cloud in the sky overhead,’ 16

Song of the Last Meeting. 17

‘Drink my soul, as if with a straw’ 18

‘I’ve written down the words’ 19

‘I came here, in idleness.’ 20

White Night 21

Evening Room.. 22

Legend on An Unfinished Portrait 23

Imitation of Innokenty Annensky. 24

‘I pray to the ray from the window-pane’ 25

‘He loved three things, alive:’ 26

From: Rosary, 1914. 27

A Ride. 28

‘I won’t beg for your love.’ 29

Evening. 30

‘Here we’re all drunkards and whores,’ 31

‘…And no-one came to meet me’ 32

‘My imagination, obediently,’ 33

‘We shall not sip from the same glass,’ 34

‘Always so many pleas from a lover!’ 35

‘For the last time, we met,’ 36

‘The high vault is bluer’ 37

For Mikhail Lozinsky. 38

Memory’s Voice. 39

8th November 1913. 40

‘Evening hours at the desk,’ 41

‘My heart beats smoothly, steadily,’ 42

‘As a silver, delicate strand’ 43

Venice. 44

The Guest 45

For Alexander Blok. 46

From: White Flock, 1917. 47

Solitude. 48

‘My voice is weak, but not my will’ 49

‘The sky’s blue lacquer grows dim,’ 50

‘Oh, and the day was cold,’ 51

‘There’s a secret border in human closeness,’ 52

‘To lose the freshness of speech, the simplicity of feeling,’ 53

Reply. 54

‘How can you bear to view the Neva,’ 55

The road by the seaside garden darkens, 56

‘Like one betrothed I receive’ 57

‘Because somewhere there’s simplicity and light,’ 58

Flight 59

‘I rarely think of you now’ 60

‘Already the maple leaves’ 61

‘Drowsiness returns me’ 62

‘All I see is hilly Pavlovsk,’ 63

‘Why pretend to be’ 64

‘I’ll be there and weariness will vanish.’ 65

‘The evening light is broad and yellow,’ 66

‘I don’t know if you’re alive or dead –’ 67

‘I’ll erase this day from your memory,’ 68

‘Is my destiny so changed,’ 69

‘Like a white stone in a well’s depths,’ 70

‘I was not born too early or too late,’ 71

‘It was not mystery or grief,’ 72

‘How I loved, and love, to look’ 73

From: Plantain, 1921. 74

‘I asked the cuckoo’ 75

‘Earthly fame is smoke,’ 76

‘I hear the oriole’s ever-mournful voice,’ 77

‘Is this century worse than those before?’ 78

‘You should appear less often in my dreams’ 79

‘No one sung about that meeting,’ 80

‘Now no one will listen to my songs.’ 81

‘A string of little beads at my neck,’ 82

‘Now farewell, capital,’ 83

From: Anno Domini MCMXXI, 1922. 84

Petrograd, 1919. 85

‘Everything’s looted, betrayed and traded,’ 86

Bezhetsk. 87

‘Don’t taunt your heart with earthly joys,’ 88

‘I’m not one of those who left their land’ 89

Dark Dream: 2. 90

‘Ice, resonant, floats by,’ 91

‘Why do you wander, restless?’ 92

‘To feel thoroughly ill, to sweat in delirium,’ 93

Lot’s Wife. 94

‘It’s fine here: the rustle and crackle;’ 95

‘Ah! You thought I’m the kind too,’ 96

‘Let the organ peal out once more,’ 97

‘A cast-iron fence,’ 98

‘The bridge of logs is black and twisted,’ 99

‘There I saw out’ 100

‘Yes, I loved those nocturnal gatherings – ’ 101

From: Reed, 1924-1940. 102

Inscription On A Book. 103

Muse. 104

To An Artist 105

‘Here Puskin’s exile began,’ 106

‘This city, beloved from childhood,’ 107

Incantation. 108

‘Has he sent no boat for me,’ 109

‘Some gaze into tender faces,’ 110

Pasternak. 111

Voronezh. 112

Dante. 113

Cleopatra. 114

Willow.. 115

‘When someone dies’ 116

Parting. 117

From: The Seventh Book, 1936-64. 118

From – Secrets of the Trade: I Creation. 119

From – Secrets of the Trade: VII Epigram.. 120

Shade. 121

Nox (Night) 122

‘The souls of those I love are on high stars.’ 123

Two Poems. 124

Fragment 126

Portrait On A Book of Poetry. 127

‘Fumbling in black memory you’ll find’ 128

In Memory Of The Poet 129

Sketch. 130

‘This remorseless black separation’ 131

In Memory of Valeriya Sreznevskaya. 132

In Memory of Mikhail Bulgakov. 133

Teacher – In Memory of Innokenty Annensky. 134

For Osip Mandelstam.. 135

A Belated Reply. 136

Thunder 137

Requiem.. 138

Instead of a Preface. 138

Dedication. 139

Prologue. 140

1. 141

2. 142

3. 143

4. 144

5. 145

6. 146

7. The Sentencing. 147

8. To Death. 148

9. 149

10. Crucifixion. 150

Epilogue. 151
 

 

 

 

 

 

From: Evening, 1912

 

The vines are in flower,

And I’m twenty this evening.

 

                                                    André Theuriet

 


Love

 

A snake, it coils

Bewitching the heart.

Day after day, coos

A dove on the white sill.

 

A bright flash in frost,

Drowsy night-scented stock…

Yet, sure and secret,

It’s far from peace and joy.

 

It knows how to weep sweetly

In the violin’s yearning prayer;

And is fearfully divined

In a stranger’s smile.

 


At Tsarskoye Selo

 

I.

 

Horses along the ride,

Long waves of combed manes.

O enchanting town of enigmas,

I’m sad. I’m in love with you.

 

Strange to recall soul’s longing,

Suffocating, delirious death.

Now I’m simply a plaything,

Like the green parrot, my friend.

 

If you wish to, look in my eyes;

There’s no hint of pain in my heart;

But I dislike the hour before sunset;

Wind from the sea; the word ‘depart’.

 

II.

 

And then…there’s my marble double,

Lying under the ancient maple,

Giving his face to the waters,

Listening to rustling leaves.

 

While a bright rain laves

His clotted wound…

Cold one, white one, wait,

I’ll turn to marble too.


III - Pushkin

 

Dark-complexioned, he wandered these alleys,

Was sorrowful on this lake shore,

And a century later we cherish,

The faint stir of his footsteps.

 

A litter of pine needles,

Low stumps, a dense bristling mat…

Here lay his dog-eared copy of Parny,

And here, his tricorn hat.

 


‘Now the pillow’s,’

 

Now the pillow’s

Hot on both sides.

A second candle

Dies, the ravens cry

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.

Better perhaps, if I

Hadn’t accepted 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 soft 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,

With a yellow, indifferent, flame.

 


‘Drink my soul, as if with a straw’

 

Drink my soul, as if with a straw

I know it’s bitter, intoxicating taste.

I won’t disturb the torment with pleading,

Oh, for weeks now I’ve been at peace.

 

Tell me, when you’re done. No sadness,

That my soul’s no more of this world.

I’ll walk down that road nearby

And see how children play.

 

The gooseberries are in flower,

And they’re carting bricks by the fence,

Who are you, my brother, my lover,

I don’t know now, or need to know.

 

How bright it is here, and bare,

My body, tired, rests…

The passers-by thinking vaguely:

Yes, she was widowed yesterday.

 


 

‘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 certain, 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 narrow 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 curtailed,

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.

 


Imitation of Innokenty Annensky

 

And to you, my first vagary,

I said goodbye. The east was turning blue,

Though I didn’t know what you meant,

You said, simply: ‘I’ll not forget.’

 

Other faces appear and vanish,

Dear today, and tomorrow, done.

Why is at this page alone,

The corner is turned down?

 

Forever the book opens

To the very same place, strange:

It’s as if the years have not passed,

From the moment of farewell.

 

Oh, who said that the heart is stone?

I know: it is made of fire…

I’ll never understand: were you close

To me, or simply loved me?

 


‘I pray to the ray from the window-pane’

 

I pray to the ray from the window-pane –

It’s pale, thin, and straight.

All morning I was silent,

My heart – split in two.

The copper of my wash-basin

Is green with verdigris,

But sunlight plays there,

How joyously.

So simple it is, so innocent,

In evening quiet,

Yet in this bare shrine,

It’s a gold celebration,

A consolation, I find.

 


 

‘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.

 


From: Rosary, 1914

 

Well forgive me forever! But know,

That the names of two guilty parties,

Not simply one can be found

In my poems,

In these legends of love.

 

                                                            Baratynsky

 


A Ride

 

My feather brushed the carriage roof.

I was gazing into his eyes.

The pain, in my heart, I failed to know,

Caused by my own sighs.

 

The evening breathless, heavily-chained

Under a heavenly cloud-bank,

As in the Bois de Boulogne, 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 I help you?

I’ve no cure for happiness.

 


 

Evening

 

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.

 


‘My imagination, obediently,’

 

My imagination, obediently,

Conceives grey eyes.

In Tver, in my solitude,

It’s you I bitterly remember.

 

Happily captive in another’s arms,

On the left bank of the Neva,

My famed contemporary,

You have all that you desired;

 

You who told me: Enough,

Go now, quench your love!

And I weakly, waste away,

Though the blood beats more strongly.

 

If I die, who will write,

These poems to you,

Whose voice will ring

With my still unspoken words?

 


‘We shall not sip from the same glass,’

 

We shall not sip from the same glass,

No water for us, or sweet wine;

We’ll not embrace at morning,

Not gaze from the same sill at night;

You breathe the sun, I the moon,

Yet the one love keeps us alive.

 

Always with me, tender, true friend,

And your smiling friend’s with you.

But I know the pain in your grey eyes,

And my sickness is down to you, too.

In short, we mustn’t meet often,

To be certain of peace of mind.

 

Yet it’s your voice sings in my poems,

And in your poems my breath sighs,

O, beyond the reach of distance or fear,

There is a fire…

And if you knew how dear to me

Are those dry, pale lips of yours now.

 


‘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.

 


‘For the last time, we met,’

 

For the last time, we met,

On the embankment, as ever.

High water in the Neva,

Fear of flood in the city.

 

He talked of the summer and said,

How absurd – a woman poet!

I remember the Tsar’s great palace,

The Peter and Paul fortress! –

 

Then, the air was not ours,

But a gift from heaven – wondrous.

And I, in that moment, was granted,

The latest of all my mad songs.

 


‘The high vault is bluer’

 

The high vault is 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 Mikhail Lozinsky

 

It’s endless – the heavy, amber day!

Impossible grief, pointless waiting!

And the silver-voiced deer, again,

Under the Northern Lights, 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 that 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.

 


‘Evening hours at the desk,’

 

Evening hours at the desk,

The page irremediably white,

The mimosa’s scent is of Nice, warmth,

Over the moon some vast bird flies.

 

And, twining my braids for night,

As if I must wear them tomorrow,

I look from the window at sand-dunes, sea,

Free of sorrow.

 

How much power a man has

Who doesn’t ask for affection!

I can’t even lift my weary eyelids

When he chooses to speak my name.

 


‘My heart beats smoothly, steadily,’

 

My heart beats smoothly, steadily,

What are long years to me?

Under the Galernaya arch,

Our shadows, for eternity.

 

Through half-closed eyelids,

I see, I see that you’re with me,

And forever held in your hand

Is my unopened fan.

 

Because we stood together,

In that blessed miraculous moment,

The instant of the rose-red moon

Lifting over the Summer Garden

 

I’ve no need to wait

At some hateful window,

Or grow weary with meeting –

My thirsty love is quenched.

 

You are free, and so am I,

Tomorrow will be better than yesterday –

Above the Neva’s dark waters,

Below the Emperor Peter’s

Cold smile.

 


‘As a silver, delicate strand’

 

As a silver, delicate strand

Is woven in my dark tresses –

Only you, silent nightingale,

Can understand this torment.

 

Your sensitive ear hears distance,

In the willow’s thin branches,

Ruffled, you gaze – without breathing –

If a strange song sounds.

 

But a moment ago, a moment,

The poplars suddenly stilled,

And your ineffable joy,

Rang out, your poisonous song.

 

 


Venice

 

Gold dovecote by waters,

Tender and dazzlingly green;

A salt-breeze sweeps away

The gondola’s narrow wake.

 

Such sensitive, strange eyes in the streets,

The bright toys in the shops:

A lion with a book, on a lace pillow,

A lion with a book, on a marble pillar.

 

As in an ancient, faded canvas,

The sky is a cool, dull blue…

But one’s not crushed in the crowd,

Nor stifled in this damp heat.

 


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 wish?’

He said: ‘To be with you in hell’.

I laughed: ‘Ah, sadly,

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 understand: to know, passionately

And intensely, is his delight,

That there’s nothing that he needs,

And 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.

 


From: White Flock, 1917

 

For grief, even at night, the road is light.

 

                                                            Annensky



Solitude

 

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 evade 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.

 


 

‘My voice is weak, but not my will’

 

My voice is weak but not my will,

It’s better even without love.

High skies and mountain winds,

And my thoughts now innocent.

 

Insomnia, my nurse, is elsewhere.

I’m not brooding by cold ashes.

And the curved hand on the tower clock,

Is no longer a deadly arrow.

 

How the past loses power over the heart!

Freedom is near. Everything’s simple,

See how the sunlight falls across

The wet ivy this spring.

 


‘The sky’s blue lacquer grows dim,’

 

The sky’s blue lacquer grows dim,

And louder the song of the flute,

It’s only a pipe of clay,

There’s no need for its complaint.

Who told it all my sins,

And inspired it to absolve me?...

Or is its voice repeating

Your last poems to me?

 


‘Oh, and the day was cold,’

 

Oh, and the day was cold,

In Peter’s wondrous city!

The sunset a crimson bonfire,

And slow shadows thickened.

 

Let him not long for my eyes,

Prophetic and unchanging,

He will have a lifetime of verse,

The prayers of my proud lips.

 


 

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

 

                                                                      For Nikolai Nedobrovo

 

There’s a secret border in human closeness,

That love’s being, love’s passion, cannot pass –

Though lips are sealed together in dreadful silence,

Though hearts break in two with love’s distress.

 

And friendship too is powerless, and years

Of sublime flame-filled happiness,

When the soul itself is free, a stranger,

To 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.

 


‘To lose the freshness of speech, the simplicity of feeling,’

 

To lose the freshness of speech, the simplicity of feeling,

Isn’t that, for us, like a painter losing the power of sight,

Or an actor, their voice and movement,

Or a lovely woman, her beauty?

 

But don’t try to keep to yourself

This gift the heavens have granted:

We’re condemned – you know it yourself –

To squander, not hoard, its wealth.

 

Go alone, and heal the blind,

To know, in the heavy hours of doubt,

The mockery of gloating followers,

The indifference of the crowd.

 


Reply

 

                              For Vasily Komarovsky

 

Such strange words

That quiet April day brought me.

You knew it was still alive in me,

That dreadful week of passion.

 

I heard no pealing of bells,

Floating in clear azure,

For seven days copper laughter chimed,

Silvery sorrow streamed.

 

And I, veiling my face,

As if for eternal parting,

Lay, awaiting there

The still-nameless torment.

 


‘How can you bear to view the Neva,’

 

How can you bear to view the Neva,

How can you bear to cross its bridges? ...

No surprise I’m marked for sadness,

Since that vision of you appeared.

Sharp, the black angels’ wings,

Soon, the judgement day;

And raspberry-coloured bonfires blossom

Like roses, in the snow.

 


The road by the seaside garden darkens,

 

The road by the seaside garden darkens,

The lights are a fresh yellow.

I’m at peace; but please, don’t talk

To me about him.

You’re kind and loyal, we’ll be friends…

Walk, kiss, and be old…

Coming days will fly over us,

Lightly, like snowy stars.

 


‘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,

Calmly promising

That what I dream will be. 

 


‘Because somewhere there’s simplicity and light,’

 

Because somewhere there’s simplicity and light,

Transparent, warm and joyous…

There a neighbour talks with a girl at twilight,

Over the fence, and only the bees hear,

The most tender of murmurings.

 

While we live with ceremony, difficulty,

Honouring the rites of our bitter meetings,

Where a sudden reckless gust

Breaks off the sentence begun –

 

But we’d not exchange for anything

This granite city of fame and misfortune,

The wide rivers of shining ice,

The sunless, gloomy gardens,

The barely audible voice of the Muse.

 


Flight

                    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

Scorched 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 rarely think of you now’

 

I rarely think of you now,

Not captured by your fate,

But our insignificant meeting’s trace

Has not vanished from my soul.

 

I purposely avoid your red house,

That red house on its muddy river,

But I know I bitterly disturb

Your sunlit heart at rest.

 

Though you never bent to my lips,

Imploring love,

Never immortalised my longing

In verse of gold –

 

I secretly conjure the future,

When evening shines clear and blue,

And foresee the inevitable meeting,

A second meeting, with you.

 


‘Already the maple leaves’

 

Already the maple leaves

Cover the swans’ pool,

And the blood-stained arms

Of late-ripening rowan.

 

And, dazzlingly slender,

Crossed legs impervious to cold,

She sits on a northern stone,

And gazes at the road.

 

I felt a vague fear,

In front of this famous girl.

Rays of thinning light

Playing over her shoulders.

 

And how could I forgive her

Your delight, your enamoured praise…

Look there, elegantly naked,

It’s a joy to her to be sad.

 


 ‘Drowsiness returns me’

 

Drowsiness returns me

To our last starry paradise –

That city of pure fountains,

Golden Bakhchisarai.

 

There behind the striped fence,

By pensive waters,

We remembered with joy

The gardens of Tsarskoye Selo.

 

And suddenly we saw

Catherine’s eagle – there!

Swooping into the valley

From the wondrous gate of bronze.

 

To keep the song of the pain of parting

Alive in the memory,

Autumn in her dark skirt

Brought the red leaves.

 

Scattered them on the steps,

Where I said farewell,

Whence into the realm of shadows

You my consolation, fled.

 


‘All I see is hilly Pavlovsk,’

 

All I see is hilly Pavlovsk,

Meadow around, motionless water,

The most languid, the most shaded,

Most unforgettable spot.

 

When you drive through the gates,

A blessed tremor takes you,

Not just living, you’re mad, exultant,

Or alive in a different way.

 

In late autumn it’s fresh and biting,

Wandering breezes, joyful solitude.

Frosted white, the black fir-trees

Standing in melting snow.

 

And filled with fiery delirium,

The dear voice rings out in song,

On the lyre-player’s bronze shoulder,

Sits a bird with a scarlet breast.

 


‘Why pretend to be’

 

Why pretend to be

Now breeze, now stone, now a bird?

Why smile at me,

In sudden lightning from summer’s sky?

 

Don’t torture me further, and don’t touch me!

Leave me to my prophetic dreams…

A drunken flame reels

Over the dry grey marshes.

 

And the Muse in a ragged shawl,

Sings a long despondent song,

With a harsh youthful yearning,

With her miraculous strength.

 


‘I’ll be there and weariness will vanish.’

 

I’ll be there and weariness will vanish.

The cold of early morning will please.

There are villages, mysterious and dark –

Storehouses of immortal labour.

 

My calm and trusting love

Of that place will never be vanquished.

There’s a drop of Novgorod blood

In me – a sliver of ice in foaming wine.

 

And that can never be altered,

It’s un-melted by great heat,

And no matter what I may praise –

You shine quietly before me.

 


‘The evening light is broad and yellow,’

 

The evening light is broad and yellow,

Tender, the April chill.

You are many years late,

Yet I’m glad you are here.

 

Sit down now, close to me,

And look with joyful eyes:

Here it is, the blue notebook –

Filled with my childhood poems.

 

Forgive me that I lived in sorrow,

Rejoiced too little in the sun.

Forgive, forgive, that I mistook

Too many others for you.

 


‘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 so?

Or only in twilit thoughts instead,

Be mourned, in that peaceful glow?

 

All for you: the prayer by day,

The hot sleeplessness at night,

The white flock of poetry,

And the blue fire of my eyes.

 

No one was cherished more,

Or made me suffer: no, not

He who betrayed me to torment,

Nor he who caressed and forgot.

 


‘I’ll erase this day from your memory,’

 

I’ll erase this day from your memory,

So your vague helpless gaze will ask

Where you saw Persian lilac,

Swallows, and this wooden house.

 

Oh, how often you’ll remember

The sudden pain of unnamed longing,

And in townships seek in dream

For a street that isn’t on the map!

 

At the sight of every chance letter,

When a voice sounds from an open door,

You’ll think: ‘It’s she, who’s here

Bringing help to the non-believer.’

 


‘Is my destiny so changed,’

 

                              For Yunia Anrep

 

Is my destiny so changed,

Or the game really over?

Where are those winters I’d go to bed

At six in the morning?

 

Newly tranquil and severe,

I’m living on a wild coastline,

No longer able to utter

A single kind or idle word.

 

Can Christmas soon be here?

The steppe is touchingly green.

The sun glows. Lapping the shore

There’s a warm-looking wave.

 

When tired, languid from happiness,

I used to dream of such quiet,

With unutterable wonder,

And thus I imagined myself,

A posthumous, wandering soul.

 


‘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,

In memory, you changed into me.

 


‘I was not born too early or too late,’

 

I was not born too early or too late,

The time was uniquely blessed,

Only the Lord did not permit

My heart to live without illusion.

 

That’s why it’s dark in the living-room,

That’s why my friends,

Like sorrowful twilight birds,

Sing of past non-existent love.

 


‘It was not mystery or grief,’

 

It was not mystery or grief,

Nor the wise will of fate –

It was the impression of strife,

Our meetings always left behind.

 

From dawn I’d anticipate

The moment when you’d appear,

Feeling faint stabbing pains

All along my folded arms.

 

And with dry fingers I’d crumple

The table’s chequered cloth…

I knew then, already,

How small this earth truly is.

 


‘How I loved, and love, to look’

 

How I loved, and love, to look

At your chained shores,

At the balconies on which centuries

Never set foot.

And you are truly the capital,

For we who are mad and luminous;

But when those pure and special hours

Linger above the Neva,

And the wind in May sweeps round

The columns that edge the water,

You are like a sinner seeing, before death,

A sweetest dream of paradise.

 


From: Plantain, 1921

 

Hear, at least, the sounds

That once were dear.

                                       

                                        Pushkin


 

‘I asked the cuckoo’

 

I asked the cuckoo:

How many years will I live? …

The tips of the pine-trees quivered,

A yellow ray shone on the grass.

Yet no sound in the cool grove…

Now I am going home,

And a refreshing breeze

Kisses my burning brow.

 


‘Earthly fame is smoke,’

 

Earthly fame is smoke,

It’s not what I asked for.

I bring good fortune

To all my lovers.

One of them is alive,

In love with his darling.

The other turned to bronze

In the snowy square.

 


‘I hear the oriole’s ever-mournful voice,’

 

I hear the oriole’s ever-mournful voice,

And welcome the rich summer’s losses.

Through the grain, packed tightly ear on ear,

The sickle slices, with its snake’s hiss.

 

And the short skirts of the slim reapers,

Fly like festive flags in the breeze,

Now, the sound of bells would be joyful,

And a long gaze from under dusty lashes.

 

It’s not caresses I want, nor flattery,

In premonition of some pressing darkness,

But come with me and gaze at paradise,

Where we were innocent and blessed.

 


‘Is this century worse than those before?’

 

Is this century really worse than those before?

Perhaps, in that dazed by fear and grief,

It touched a blackest sore

It could not heal.

 

In the west the earthly sun shines yet,

And city roofs gleam in its light,

But here the white one marks doors with crosses,

Summons the crows, and the crows are in flight.

 


‘You should appear less often in my dreams’

 

You should appear less often in my dreams,

Since we meet so frequently;

Yet only in night’s sanctuary

Are you sad, troubled, and tender.

And sweeter than seraphic praise

Is your lips’ dear flattery…

Ah, in dreams you won’t mistake my name,

Or gently sigh, as you do here.

 


‘No one sung about that meeting,’

 

No one sung about that meeting,

Sadness faded with never a song.

A cool summer it was,

Like a new life begun.

 

The sky seems a vault of stone,

Wounded by yellow fire,

And more than my daily bread

I need some word of him.

 

Dew-wet grass

Refresh my soul with news –

Not for passion, or for pleasure,

But for deep love of this earth.

 


 ‘Now no one will listen to my songs.’

 

Now no one will listen to my songs.

The prophesied days have come to pass.

Last poem of mine, earth has lost its magic.

Don’t break my heart, don’t resound.

 

Not long ago, free as a swallow,

You accomplished your morning flight.

Now you’ve become a starving beggar,

Don’t go knocking at the stranger’s door.

 


‘A string of little beads at my neck,’

 

A string of little beads at my neck,

In a broad muff I hide my hands,

The eyes stare vacantly,

They never shed a tear.

 

And the face appears pale,

Against the lavender silk,

My straight bangs

Almost reach my eyebrows.

 

And how dissimilar to flight

Is my halting step,

As if it were a raft beneath my feet,

Not these wooden parquet squares.

 

And the pale lips are slightly parted,

The breathing laboured and uneven,

And over my heart tremble

The flowers of a non-existent meeting.

 


‘Now farewell, capital,’

 

Now farewell, capital,

Farewell, my spring.

Karelia’s earth,

Already, yearns for me.

 

Fields and gardens,

Tranquil and green,

The waters there still deep,

The heavens pale.

 

The marsh water-nymph,

Mistress of those spaces

Gazes, sadly sighing,

At the bell-tower’s cross.

 

And the oriole, my friend

Of innocent days,

Flew north yesterday,

And cries, among the branches,

 

That it’s shameful to stay

Till May in the city,

Stifle in the theatres,

Be bored on the islands.

 

Though the oriole can’t know,

The nymph can’t understand,

How sweet it is for me,

Kissing him!

 

And yet, this evening,

In the day’s quiet decline,

I shall leave. God’s country,

Take me in!

 


From: Anno Domini MCMXXI, 1922

 

In those legendary years.

 

                       Tyutchev

 


Petrograd, 1919

 

Caged in this savage capital,

We have forgotten forever

The townships, the lakes, the steppes,

The dawns, of our great motherland.

In the circuit of blood-stained days and nights,

A bitter languor overcomes us…

No one wishes to come to our aid,

Because we choose to remain here,

Because, in love with our city,

More than the wings of liberty,

We preserved to ourselves,

Its palaces, flames, and waters.

 

Now another time draws near,

The wind of death chills the heart,

And Peter’s sacred city,

Will be our unsought monument.




‘Everything’s looted, betrayed and traded,’

 

Everything’s looted, betrayed and traded,

Black death’s wing’s overhead.

Everything’s eaten by hunger, un-sated,

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.

 


Bezhetsk

 

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.

 

Note: Bezhetsk is about 140 miles north of Moscow in the Tverskaya Oblast Region. The poem is dated 26th December 1921.

 


Don’t taunt your heart with earthly joys,’

 

Don’t taunt your heart with earthly joys,

Don’t cleave to your wife and home,

Take the bread from your child’s mouth,

So you can give it to a stranger.

 

Be the humblest servant of the man

Who was your bitterest enemy,

Call the woodland creatures kin,

And don’t ask God for anything.

 


 ‘I’m not one of those who left their land’

 

I’m not one of those who left their land

To the mercy of the enemy.

I was deaf to their gross flattery.

I won’t grant them my songs.

 

But to me the exile’s always wretched,

Like a convict, or a patient.

Wanderer your road is dark,

And the bread of strangers tastes bitter.

 

But in the blinding smoke, the flames,

Destroying the remains of youth,

We have refused to evade

A single blow against ourselves.

 

And we know that in the final reckoning,

Each hour will stand justified…

No people on earth shed fewer tears,

Are simpler, or more filled with pride.

 


Dark Dream: 2

 

You are always new and mysterious,

I am obedient to you each day.

But your love, my severe one,

Is a trial by steel and flame.

 

I’m forbidden to sing or smile,

Forbidden long ago to pray.

But nothing matters now to me

Except not to part from you!

 

So, exiled from heaven and earth,

I no longer sing, yet am still alive,

As if you barred my errant soul,

From both hell and paradise.

 


‘Ice, resonant, floats by,’

 

Ice, resonant, floats by,

The sky is hopelessly pale,

Oh, why do you punish me?

What crime am I guilty of?

 

If you wish – then murder me,

But don’t be so harsh with me.

With me you don’t want children,

And you don’t like my poetry.

 

As you would have it, let it be!

True to my vow, I give my life

To you. But my sadness

I’ll take to the grave with me.

 


‘Why do you wander, restless?’

 

Why do you wander, restless?

Why stare, unable to breathe?

Surely you understand, our two

Souls have been welded as one.

 

You, you’ll be solaced by me

In a way no one could dream,

And when wild words wound –

It’s you who’ll feel it the most.

 


‘To feel thoroughly ill, to sweat in delirium,’

 

To feel thoroughly ill, to sweat in delirium,

To meet everyone known again,

To roam the broad paths of a sea-side garden,

Filled with the wind and sun.

 

Today, even the dead, the exiled,

Choose to enter my home.

You are leading a child by the hand,

I have longed for him so.

 

I’ll eat blue grapes with my dear ones,

I’ll drink the ice cold wine,

And watch how the grey waterfall drops

Into moist, flinty depths.

 


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 lives entered in.’

 

She looked, and was transfixed by pain,

Unsure 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 can never forget,

How, for one look, she gave up her life.

 

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

 


‘It’s fine here: the rustle and crackle;’

 

It’s fine here: the rustle and crackle;

A hard frost every day,

On the bush bowed with white fire,

Icy, dazzling roses.

And on the formal magnificent snow

Tracks of skis, like memories,

Of how, in some far-off century,

You and I were here, together.

 


‘Ah! You thought I’m the kind too,’

 

Ah! You thought I’m the kind too,

To cry ‘how could you forget me’,

And praying and sobbing, throw myself

Under the horses’ hooves.

 

Or that I’d ask the sorceress

For some enchanted root in water,

And send you a fatal gift –

My secretly-scented handkerchief.

 

I’d rather be damned. Not a look or sigh

Will reach your accursed soul,

But I swear by the angelic garden,

I swear by the miraculous icon,

And by our nights of fiery passion –

I’ll never return to you.

 


‘Let the organ peal out once more,’

 

Let the organ peal out once more,

Like a first spring thunderstorm;

From behind your bride’s shoulder,

My half-closed eyes will gaze.

 

Farewell, goodbye, be happy my friend,

I return you your sweet vow,

But don’t let your passionate one

See my inimitable ravings –

 

That would inject a burning venom

Into your blessed, joyful union…

And I go to claim a marvellous garden

Where grass rustles, the Muse declaims.

 


‘A cast-iron fence,’

 

A cast-iron fence,

A bed of pine,

How sweet that I no longer

Need to be jealous.

 

A bed’s made for me

With sobbing and prayer;

Now go wherever on earth

You wish, God bless you!

 

Now your ears won’t burn

With frenzied speech,

Now a candle won’t flicker

Till the dawn.

 

We’ve achieved a peace,

And immaculate days…

You weep – I’m not worth

A single one of your tears.

 


‘The bridge of logs is black and twisted,’

 

The bridge of logs is black and twisted,

The burdocks stand shoulder high,

And a thick forest of nettles sings

Of how the bright sickle will never reap here.

At evening over the lake there’s a sighing,

And rough moss creeps along the walls.

 


‘There I saw out’

 

There I saw out

My twenty-first year,

Sweet in the mouth

The dark, sultry honey.

 

On the twigs I tore

My white silk dress,

In the bowed pine,

The nightingale never rested.

 

At the cry of convention,

It flies from its perch,

Like a woodland spirit,

Like a tender sister.

 

Swiftly climbing the hill,

Swimming over the river,

Yes, and later,

Don’t tell: leave me be.

 


‘Yes, I loved those nocturnal gatherings – ’

 

Yes, I loved those nocturnal gatherings –

The iced glasses on the little table,

A fine steam from the black, fragrant coffee,

The red fire roaring, the winter heat,

The laughter at caustic literary jokes,

And a stranger’s gaze, helpless and dreadful.

 


From: Reed, 1924-1940

 

In all five acts, I take the stage.

 

                                           Pasternak


Inscription On A Book

 

                                                                                For Mikhail Lozinsky

 

From an almost after-world shade

In this hour when worlds collapse,

Accept this gift of the spring

In return for the best of gifts,

So the one beyond the seasons,

The one enduring, and true,

The soul’s high freedom,

They call friendship –

Might smile on me as gently

As thirty years ago…

And the grilles of the Summer Garden

And snowy Leningrad

Might rise, as in this text,

From the mist of magic mirrors,

And over the pensive Lethe

The reed revived might sing.

 


Muse

 

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, gazes 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 clear 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.

 


‘Here Puskin’s exile began,’

 

Here Puskin’s exile began,

And Lermontov’s ended.

Here a light fragrance of mountain herbs,

And once I caught a glimpse

By the lake, in dense plane-trees’ shade,

In the cruel, evening hour,

Of shining dissatisfied eyes,

Of Tamara’s immortal lover.

 


‘This city, beloved from childhood,’

 

This city, beloved from childhood,

In its December silence,

Seemed to me today,

Like my squandered inheritance,

 

All that came easily to hand,

All that was easy to give away:

Burning emotion, the sound of prayer,

And the blessing of those first songs –

 

All flew off like transparent smoke,

Decayed in the mirrors’ depths…

And a faceless fiddler played

The tune of the dispossessed.

 

Yet with a stranger’s curiosity,

Enchanted by every novelty,

I watched the sleds as they raced,

I listened to my native tongue.

 

And happiness breathed in my face,

With a wild and powerful freshness,

As if some dear friend of old

Stood here, on the porch, with me.

 


Incantation

 

 

Through the tall gates,

From beyond the Okhta marshes,

On the un-travelled track,

Through the un-mown meadow,

Past the cordon of night,

At the chime of Easter bells,

Uninvited,

Un-promised:

Come; sit to the table with me.

 

Note: Dated 15th April 1936, the anniversary of Gumilyov’s birth.

 


‘Has he sent no boat for me,’

 

Has he sent no boat for me,

Not even a black raft, or a swan?

In the spring of 1916

He promised he’d soon be here.

In the spring of 1916

He said I’d fly like a bird

Through darkness and death to his bed,

And brush his shoulder gently with my wings.

And his eyes still laugh into mine,

And now it’s the sixteenth spring.

What will I do? The angel of night

Speaks with me till the dawn.

 

Note: Dated February 1936. Gumilyov was executed in the spring of 1921.

 


Some gaze into tender faces,’

 

Some gaze into tender faces,

Others drink till the dawn sun,

But I speak all night

With my indomitable conscience.

 

I say: ‘I’ve carried your heavy burden

For you know how many years.’

But conscience exists beyond time,

In a world that’s beyond space.

 

Once again, the black, Carnival night.

The sinister park, the horse’s slow pace,

And a wind filled with joy and happiness

Swooping on me from heaven’s height.

 

And over me peacefully, a twin-horned

Witness stands…There, oh, there,

On the ancient road below the Caprice,

Where there’s dead water, swans.

 


Pasternak

 

Oh, he who compared himself to the eye of a horse,

Peers, looks, sees, recognises,

And suddenly ice pines away,

Puddles shine like melted diamonds.

 

The backyards drowse in a lilac haze,

With platforms, logs, leaves, clouds.

The engine’s whistle, the crunch of melon rind,

In a perfumed glove, a timid hand…

 

It rings, thunders, grates, breaks like surf,

And suddenly there’s silence. This means

He’s stepping softly on pine-needles,

So as not to trouble the light sleep of space.

 

It means he’s counting the grains

From bare stalks, it means,

He’s reached dark accursed Darya’s Gorge,

Back to the tomb, from some other funeral.

 

And once more Moscow tedium burns,

Far off a fatal sleigh-bell chimes…

Someone is lost two steps from the house,

Up to their waist in snow, all ways blocked.

 

For seeing smoke as like to the Laocoön,

For making a song of graveyard thistles,

For filling the world with the fresh sound

Of his poetry echoing in unknown space –

 

He was granted a kind of eternal childhood,

His generosity, his keen sight shone.

The whole earth was his inheritance,

And so he shared it with everyone.

 


Voronezh

 

                                        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.

 


Dante

 

del mio bel San Giovanni.

 

             Dante Alighieri: Inferno XIX:17

 

Even after his death, he did not return

To his ancient Florence.

To he who leaving never looked back,

I sing this song.

Torches, night, a last embrace,

Beyond the threshold the wild howl of fate.

From hell he sent his curses to her,

In paradise could not forget her –

But he never walked in a hair-shirt

Barefoot, with a lighted candle,

Through that city –beloved,

Perfidious, base, and longed for…

 

 


Cleopatra

 

Alexandria’s palaces

Covered with sweet shadows.

                                          

                                           Pushkin

 

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…will be led 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.

 


Willow

 

And a worn-out cluster of trees.

 

                                 Pushkin

 

In the cool nursery of the young century,

I was born to a patterned tranquility,

The voice of man was not sweet to me,

But the wind’s voice I could understand.

I loved burdocks and nettles,

But the silver willow best of all.

And, obligingly, all my life it lived

With me, and its weeping branches

Fanned my insomnia, with dreams.

But – strangely – I’ve outlived it.

There’s a stump, with strange voices,

Other willows are conversing,

Under these, under our skies.

I’m silent…as if a brother had died.

 


‘When someone dies’

 

When someone dies

Their portraits change.

The eyes gaze at you otherwise.

The lips smile a different smile.

I noticed this returning

From a certain poet’s funeral.

Since then I’ve seen it frequently,

And my theory’s proved true.

 


Parting

 

I

 

Not weeks, not months we spent – but years

Parting. And now at last

The chill of real freedom,

And the grey wreath over the brow.

No more treason or betrayal,

And you’ll not listen till the dawn

To my flow of evidence,

To my tale of perfect innocence.

 

II

 

And as ever in the days of final separation,

The ghost of our first days knocked at the door,

And in burst the silver willow

In a grey magnificence of branches.

 

To us, the frenzied, scornful, bitter,

Not daring to lift our eyes from the ground,

A bird sang in a blissful voice,

Of how we cherished one another.

 

 

III 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.

 


From: The Seventh Book, 1936-64

 

The seventh misty veil fell –

The one followed by spring.

 

                                 Tatyana Kazanskaya

 


From – Secrets of the Trade: I Creation

 

It is like this, a kind of languor,

The endless chiming of a clock,

The distant dying peal of thunder.

Somehow I sense the sorrow, the groans

Of unknown, captive voices,

A kind of hidden circle tightens;

Yet in the depths of whispers, chimes,

One victorious song rises,

Surrounded by such perfect silence,

You can hear grass grow in the forest,

Hear how misery tramps the earth…

But now words come to the ear,

The tinkling signal of light rhymes –

Then I begin to understand:

And the simple dictated lines

Take their place on the snowy page.

 


From – Secrets of the Trade: VII Epigram

 

Could Beatrice have written like Dante;

Or Laura have glorified love’s flame?

I taught women how to utter….

But Lord, how to silence them again!



Shade
 

‘What does a certain woman know

Of the hour of her death?’

 

                                 Mandelstam


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!

 


Nox (Night)

 

Little ‘Nox’

With your sleepless owl,

Wreathed in stars,

And funereal poppies! …

Little daughter, whom we hid

Beneath the garden soil!

Empty are the Dionysian beakers,

The love-gaze dim with tears…

While above our city now,

Your dreaded sisters pass.

 

Note: The statue of Night in the Summer Garden was preserved during hostilities by burying it in the soil near its base.

 


‘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

 

                            I

 

Desolate the victories

Of mysterious non-meeting,

Phrases unspoken,

Voiceless words.

Un-meaning 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.

 


 

                    II

 

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

                                                                               

                                           Annensky

 

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, so pure.

 


Fragment

 

And it seemed to me those fires

Were about me till dawn.

And I never learnt –

The colour of those eyes.

 

Everything was trembling, singing;

Were you my friend or enemy,

And winter was it, or summer?

 


Portrait On A Book of Poetry

 

It’s not sombre or funereal,

It’s nearly as transparent as smoke,

This newlywed’s obsolete

Filmy, black and white hat.

And the aquiline profile beneath,

The satin of Parisian bangs,

And an eye, oblong and green,

And an eye, sharp and intense.

 


‘Fumbling in black memory you’ll find’

 

Fumbling in black memory you’ll find

Those same long gloves,

A Petersburg night. And the air,

Close and sweet, of some dark box.

 

And a wind from the gulf. And there,

Between the lines, the cries on-stage,

Blok smiling scornfully at you,

He, the tragic tenor of his age.

 


In Memory Of The Poet

 

Echo answers like a bird.

 

                                 Pasternak

 

The inimitable voice ceased yesterday,

He’s abandoned us, the talker with groves.

He’s become the life-giving ear of grain,

Or the softest rain of which he sang.

And all the flowers of this world,

Blossomed to signify his death.

And suddenly it’s quiet on this planet

That bears the humble name of…Earth.

 


Sketch

 

O Muse of Tears…

 

                       Tsvetaeva

 

…I turned away from everything,

From earth’s every blessing.

The stump in the water became

The guardian spirit of this place.

 

We are akin to guests on this planet,

To live – is simply a habit.

In the air I seem to hear

Two voices exchanging thought.

 

Two? ...But by the eastern wall,

Among its tangle of raspberries,

There’s a branch of elder, fresh and dark.

Ah! It’s a message from Marina.

 


‘This remorseless black separation’

 

‘This remorseless black separation’

I bear equally with you.

Why cry? Rather, give me your hand,

Promise to visit me in dream.

You and I – are like two mountains.

You and I – not meeting in this world.

If only sometimes, at midnight,

You’d send me a greeting through the stars.

 


In Memory of Valeriya Sreznevskaya

 

Almost, it cannot be: you were always there:

In the shade of blessed lime-trees, the hospital, the siege,

The prison-cell, and where there were evil birds,

Copious grasses, dreadful tides.

How all has changed, yet you were always there,

And it seems they have taken half my soul,

The half that was you –by which I knew

Why both existed. And now, I have forgotten…

Yet your clear voice calls out to me, and tells me

Not to grieve, but wait for death as for a miracle.

What can I do! I’ll try.

 


In Memory of Mikhail Bulgakov

 

This I give you, instead of graveyard roses,

Instead of burning sticks of incense:

You died as staunchly as you lived,

With that magnificent disdain.

You drank wine and joked, the wittiest,

Though suffocating behind stifling walls,

You yourself let in the dreaded guest,

And stayed with her all alone.

Now you’re gone. There’s no more talk

Of your noble and sorrowful life.

Only, at your silent funeral,

My voice, like a flute, sounds out.

Oh, who would have believed that I,

Thrown to smoulder on a slow fire,

I, the half-mad mourner of buried days,

Who have lost and forgotten everything –

Would commemorate one so full of strength,

And purpose, and splendid schemes,

Who spoke to me, but yesterday it seems,

Hiding the tremor of your mortal illness.

 


Teacher – In Memory of Innokenty Annensky

 

And the one whom I think of as the teacher

Passed like a shade and left no shadow.

He drank all the torpor, all the poison,

And waited himself in vain for fame.

He who was the omen, and the portent,

Had compassion for all, breathed their torment,

He himself, endlessly suffocated…..

 


For Osip Mandelstam

 

I bow to them as if over a cup,

Those innumerable precious lines –

This is the black, tender news

Of our youth stained with blood.

 

The air is the air I breathed

That night above the abyss,

That night of iron emptiness,

When all calls and cries were vain.

 

How rich the scent of carnations,

That came to me once in dream –

There where Eurydice circles,

The bull bears Europa through the foam.

 

Here the shades go flowing by,

Over the Neva, the Neva, the Neva,

The Neva that splashes on the stairs –

And here’s your pass to immortality.

 

Here are the keys to that place,

About which there’s never a word…

Here’s the sound of the mysterious lyre,

Guest in the meadow beyond this world.

 


A Belated Reply

 

My white-fingered one, my dark princess.

 

                                 Marina Tsvetaeva

 

My double and my jester, unseen,

You who hide at the heart of bushes,

Who nestle in the house of the stare,

Who flit among cemetery crosses.

Who call from the Marinkina Tower:

‘Here I am, I’m home today.

Cherish me, my own fields,

Because of everything I suffered.

My loved ones lost in the abyss,

My native country despoiled.’

Today we are together, Marina,

Crossing the midnight capital,

With all those millions behind us,

And never a more voiceless crew,

Walking to the sound of funeral bells,

And to the savage, Moscow moaning

Of wind and snow, erasing our steps.

 


Thunder

 

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.

 


                             

Requiem

 

                                                  No, not under a foreign sky,

                                                  No not cradled by foreign wings –

                                                  Then I was with my people, I,

                                                  With my people, there, sorrowing.

 

                                                                                          1961

 

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).

 


Dedication

 

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

 


Prologue

 

Those days, when only the dead

Smiled, 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.

 


                    1.

 

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.

                                         

                                                  1935.


2.

 

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.

 


3.

 

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…

                                                  Night.

 


                              4.

 

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…

 


                              5

 

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.

 


                    6.

 

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.

                                       

                                                  1939.


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,

                              Leningrad.


9.

 

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.

 

                                                  I

 

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…’

 

                              II

 

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.

 

                                                  1940-1943

 


 

Epilogue

                                       

                                               I

 

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.

 

                              II

 

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 them here,

Out of poor words I chanced to overhear.

 

Remembering them always, everywhere,

Unforgotten in every new terror’s care,

 

And if they shut my tormented lips, shut my

Mouth, where a hundred million people cry,

 

Let them still remember me, today,

On the eve of my remembrance day.

 

And if ever in this my native country

They choose to erect a statue for me,

 

I agree to that ceremonial honour,

But on one condition – don’t set it 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