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.
Jane Keyon translated many of her poems some of which I share below:
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.
(I especially like the lines “what power a man has/ who doesn’t ask for tenderness!”)
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.
(The last two lines! )
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.
(“With the hissing of a snake the scythe cuts down
the stalks, one pressed hard against another.” ah, perfection!)
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.)