I’ve been reading and so much enjoying the poetry of Anna Akhmatova all weekend and thought I would share a few of my favorites. The edition I have is The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova from Zephyr Press and translated by Judith Hemschemeyer. I highly recommend this edition because of the wonderful photographs and the introduction by Roberta Reeder.
The first I will share is one of many poems in which she uses classical themes. From “Sweetbrier in Blossom” poem 11:
I abandoned your shores, Empress,
against my will.
—Aeneid Book 6
Don’t be afraid—I can still portray
What we resemble now.
You are a ghost—or a man passing through,
And for some reason I cherish your shade.
For awhile you were my Aeneas—
It was then I escaped by fire.
We know how to keep quiet about one another.
And you forgot my cursed house.
You forgot those hands stretched out to you
In horror and torment, through flame,
And the report of blasted dreams.
You don’t know for what you were forgiven…
Rome was created, flocks of flotillas sail on the sea,
And adulation sings the praises of victory.
Her poems about Russia are full of disappointment and sadness as she witnesses the terror of Stalin and the siege of Leningrad. She was tempted, like other artists and writers to flee her motherland, but was proud of the fact that she chose to stay. From “The Wind of War” poem 4:
The birds of death are at the zenith,
Who will rescue Leningrad?
Be quiet—it is breathing,
It’s still living, it hears everything:
How at the bottom of the Baltic Sea
Its sons groan in their sleep,
How from its depths come cries: “Bread!”
That reach to the firmament…
But this solid earth is pitiless.
And staring from all the windows—death.
September 28, 1941
(On the airplane)
I have especially enjoyed Akhmatova’s poems about love. It is no surprise that there are many on this theme; she was married a few times and had many love affairs—the poet Osip Mandelstom was one of her lovers. From her collection “Evening” the first poem is simply entitled “Love”:
Now, like a little snake, it curls into a ball,
Bewitching your heart,
Then for days it will coo like a dove
On the little white windowsill.
Or it will flash as bright frost,
Drowse like a gillyflower…
But surely and stealthily it will lead you away
From joy and from tranquility.
It knows how to sob so sweetly
In the prayer of a yearning violin,
And how fearful to divine it
In a still unfamiliar smile.
November 24, 1911
Also from her collection “Evening” an untitled poem:
And when we had cursed each other,
Passionate, white hot,
We still didn’t understand
How small the earth can be for two people,
And that memory can torment savagely.
The anguish of the strong—a wasting disease!
And in the endless night the heart learns
To ask: Oh where is my departed lover?
And when, through waves of incense,
The choir thunders, exulting and threatening,
Those same eyes, inescapable,
Stare sternly and stubbornly into the soul.
Have you read any Akhmatova? What are your favorite poems of hers?