Anna Akhmatova: Half-Nun, Half- Harlot

Anna Akhmatova, a Russian poet's, majestic profile. "...Not touched by single of all glorifications, ~   Forgetful of the sins’ existing host, ~   Bend o’er our sleepless bed-heads, with dark passion, ~   She murmurs verses, desperate and cursed." - excerpt from her poem, 'And the Last', 1963:

Anna Akhmataova was a Russian poetess who wrote many of her poems under the Soviet Regime. She  was a wife and mother although had many failed marriages (four in all I believe) and even more love affairs. She also, thought herself unfit for motherhood. Despite (or perhaps because of?) her failed marriages she captures the masculine and feminine natures rather well. She was well known for her poems but to make a living she relied on translating which she called an act of “eating one’s own brain.” She was described in a literary magazine once as “a frantic fine lady flitting between the boudoir and the chapel. . . half-nun, half- harlot.” and while this comment was meant to denounce her and her writings, I think it a fitting description of her poetry.

"...Your sorrow, unperceived by all the rest, / Immediately drew me close, / And you understood that yearning / Was poisoning and stifling me. ...":

Jane Keyon translated many of her poems some of which I share below:

1.

Evening hours at the desk.

And a page irreparably white.

The mimosa calls up the heat of Nice,

A large bird flies in a beam of moonlight.

 

And having braided my hair carefully for the night

as if tomorrow braids will be necessary,

I look out the window, no longer sad,-

at the sea, the sandy slopes.

 

What power a man has

who doesn’t ask for tenderness!

I cannot lift my tired eyes

when he speaks my name.

(1913)

(I especially like the lines “what power a man has/ who doesn’t ask for tenderness!”)

 

The Guest

Everything’s just as it was: fine hard snow

beats against the dining room windows,

and I myself have not changed:

even so, a man came to call.

 

I asked him: “What do you want?”

He said, “To be with you in hell.”

I laughed: “It seems you see

plenty of trouble ahead for us both.”

 

But lifting his dry hand

he lightly touched the flowers.

“Tell me how they kiss you,

tell me how you kiss.”

 

And his half-closed eyes

remained on my ring.

Not even the smallest muscle moved

in his serenely angry face.

 

Oh, I know it fills him with joy-

this hard and passionate certainty

that there is nothing he needs,

and nothing I can keep from him.

(1914)

(The last two lines! )

 

15.

I hear the always-sad voice of the oriole

and I salute the passing of delectable summer.

With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down

the stalks, one pressed hard against another.

 

And the hitched-up skirts of the slender reapers

fly in the wind like holiday flags. Now if only

we had the cheerful ring of harness bells,

a lingering glance through dusty eyelashes.

 

I don’t expect caresses or flattering love-talk,

I sense unavoidable darkness coming near,

but come and see the Paradise where together,

blissful and innocent, we once lived.

(1917)

 

(“With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down

the stalks, one pressed hard against another.” ah, perfection!)

 

17.

Wild honey has the scent of freedom,

dust- of a ray of sun,

a girl’s mouth – of a violet,

and gold- has no perfume.

 

Watery- the mignonette,

and like an apple – love,

but we have found out forever

that blood smells only of blood

 

(Of course, I love this one. I have a soft spot for honeybees.)

 

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