Friday, 21 January 2011

Favourite Poetry - Akhmatova

I first came across Akhmatova when reading The Life of Isaiah Berlin by Michael Ignatieff, and was interested in his veneration of her both for her poetry and for keeping alive 'the soul of Russia' through the darkest days of the revolution and the years of Stalin's terror. He wrote: 'The widespread worship of her memory in Soviet Union today, both as an artist and as an unsurrendering human being, has, so far as I know, no parallel. The legend of her life and unyielding passive resistance to what she regarded as unworthy of her country and herself, transformed her into a figure...not merely in Russian literature, but in Russian history.' 
She is also a favourite poet of my daughter Kei, who can appreciate her poetry as it should be read, in Russian.
No, not under a foreign sky,
no not cradled by foreign wings –
Then, I was with my people, I,
with my people, there, sorrowing.


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

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.

I'm now keen to read Valeri Grossman's Life and Fate, which covers the same ground, in prose form, and is thought to the equal of War and Peace.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:29 pm

    Amazing ... thanks a lot !