Anna Akhmatova.REQUIEM

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Not under foreign skies

Nor under foreign wings protected -

I shared all this with my own people

There, where misfortune had abandoned us. 




During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I

spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in

Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.

On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,

her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in

her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor

characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear

(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe

this?' And I answered - 'I can.' It was then that

something like a smile slid across what had previously

been just a face.

[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]




Before this grief, bend mountains,

Stops the flow of the great river,

But can’t break strong prison bars

And behind them “prisoners’ burrows”

And deadly anguish.


For whom fresh wind blows

For whom the setting sun consoles; we don't know.

We are everywhere the same, listening

To the scrape and turn of hateful keys

And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.

Waking early, as if for early mass,

Walking through the capital run wild

There we met, lifeless dead; 

Sun beneath and Neva foggy,

But hope still sings forever in the distance.

The verdict. Immediately, a flood of tears,

Followed by a total isolation,

As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,

roughly overturned backwards,

But she still manages to walk, unsteady, alone.

Where are you, my nameless friends,

Captives of my two satanic years?

What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?

What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?

I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.


[March 1940]






It happened like this when only the dead

Were smiling, glad of their release,

That Leningrad hung around its prisons

Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.

Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang

Short songs of separation

To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,

As they, in regiments, walked along -

Stars of death stood over us

As innocent Russia squirmed

Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres

Of the black marias.



You were taken away at dawn. I followed you 

As one does when a corpse is being removed. 

Children were crying in the darkened house. 

A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .

The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold sweat

On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather


To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy

Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.

[1935. Autumn. Moscow]



Quietly flows quiet Don,

Yellow moon enters the house.

Enters with crooked cap

The yellow moon sees a shadow


This woman is sick.

This woman is alone.

Husband in tomb, son in prison

Pray for me.



No, it isn’t me, it’s someone else’s suffering.

I can’t take what happened.

Cover it with a black cloth, 

Let the lanterns be removed. . .




Giggling, poking fun, 

The love of all friends,

The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo ,

If only you could have foreseen

What life would do with you -

That you would stand, parcel in hand,

Beneath the Crosses, three hundredth in line,

Burning the new year's ice

With your hot tears.

Back and forth the prison poplar sways

With not a sound - how many innocent 

Blameless lives are being taken away. . .




For seventeen months I have been screaming,

Calling you home.

I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers

For you, my son and my horror.

Everything has become muddled forever -

I can no longer distinguish

Who is an animal, who a person, and how long

The wait can be for an execution.

There are now only dusty flowers,

The chinking of the thurible,

Tracks from somewhere into nowhere.

And, staring me in the face

And threatening me with swift annihilation,

An enormous star.




Weeks fly lightly by. 

What happened, I cannot understand.

How, my son, into your prison

White nights stare so brilliantly.

Now once more they looked like a hawk

Apon your tall cross,

And speak about death.

[1939. Spring]



The word landed with a stony thud

Onto my still-beating breast.

Nevermind, I was prepared,

I will manage with the rest.


I have a lot of work to do today;

I need to slaughter memory,

Turn my living soul to stone

Then teach myself to live again. . .


But how. The hot summer rustles

Like a carnival outside my window;

I have long had this premonition

Of a bright day and a deserted house.


[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (4)]






You will come anyway - so why not now?

I wait for you—it is too hard.

I have put out the lights and opened the door

For you, so simple and so marvellous. 

Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in like

A poisonous shot. Sneak up

like an experienced bandit with heavy weapons.

Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,

Or, with a simple tale prepared by you

(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me 

Before the commander of the blue caps and let me glimpse 

The house administrator's terrified white face.

I don't care anymore. Yenisey Swirls on. 

The Pole star blazes.

The blue sparks of those beloved eyes

Close over and cover the last horror.

[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]



Madness with its wings

Has covered half my soul,

It feeds me fiery wine

And lures me into the black abyss.


That's when I understood 

While listening to my alien delirium

That I must hand the victory

To it.


However much I nag,

However much I beg,

It will not let me take

One single thing away:


Nor my son's frightening eyes -

A suffering set in stone,

Or prison visiting hours,

Or days that end in storms,


Nor the sweet coolness of a hand,

The agitated shade of lime trees,

Nor the light distant sound

Of final comforting words.

[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]






“Weep not for me, mother.

I am alive in my grave.”


A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,

And heaven melted into flames.

To Father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'

And to Mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'

Magdalena smote herself and wept,

Favourite disciple turned to stone,

And there, where silent Mother stood,

Not one person dared to stare .

[1943. Tashkent]






I have learned how faces fall,

How terror looks like under lowered eyelids,

How suffering can etch cold pages 

Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.

I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair

Can suddenly turn white,

How smile fades upon submissive lips,

How fears tremble inside a hollow laugh.

And I pray not for myself alone,

But for all of you who stood there with me

Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat

Under a towering, completely blind red wall.



The hour has come to remember the dead.

I see you, I hear you, I feel you:


The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;

The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar

soil beneath her feet;


The one shaking her beautiful head, replied,

'I arrive here as if I've come home!'


I'd like to call you all by name, but the list

Has been taken away and nowhere to learn.



So,I have woven you this wide shroud 

out of the humble words I overheard you use. 


Everywhere, forever and always,

I will never forget one single thing,

Even in new grief.


Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth

Through which one hundred million people scream;


That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead

On the eve of my remembrance day.


If someone someday in this country 

Decides to raise a memorial to me,


I give my consent to this festivity

But only on this condition - do not build it


By the sea where I was born,

I have severed my last ties with the sea;


Nor in the Tsar's Park by the treasured stump

Where an inconsolable shadow searches for me;


Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours

And for me bars weren’t opened.


Listen, even in blissful death I fear

That I will forget the noise of Black Marias,


Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman

Howled like a wounded beast.


Let the thawing ice flow like tears

From my immovable bronze eyelids.


And let the prison dove coo in the distance

While ships sail quietly along the river.


[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom] 

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