Russian poems on ice

Anna Akhmatova was a Russian poet, activist, and overall badass who protested against Stalinism in the first half of the twentieth century. As a young woman she attended law school (like another future law student and talented poet whose last name rhymes with Bosco) and was a founding member of the anti-Symbolist Acmeist movement. She was married three times (one husband was executed, while another died in a labor camp), and Akhmatova herself was often threatened by government opposition. Jane Kenyon has a great book of translations, Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova — here’s one.

The memory of sun weakens in my heart,
grass turns yellow,
wind blows the early flakes of snow
lightly, lightly.

Already the narrow canals have stopped flowing;
Water freezes.
Nothing will ever happen here—
Not ever!

Against the empty sky the willow opens
A transparent fan.
Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not
Your wife.

The memory of sun weakens in my heart.
What’s this? Darkness?
It’s possible. And this may be the first night
Of winter.

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2 responses to “Russian poems on ice

  1. My god. Everything points back to Russia in the 20th century somehow. I will try to respond to this tomorrow because tonight I have no words for this. In the meantime, if you don’t believe me go read Mayakovsky and Bulgakov.

  2. This poem tells me something about its own opacity. The source of opacity, I think, is in trying to express something which is subtle but implicit in all kinds of everyday life. Seasonal and natural imagery are powerful for this because they move in slow cycles like life does, and their meaning is not clear, but the change and its accompanying tonal repercussions are unmistakable. I think immediately of haiku, in which natural miniatures are used to describe life more vividly than what is normally considered “transparent” language. From the first moment of this poem, I see a similar style. On the one hand, it’s muffled and inarticulate. On the other hand, the images themselves are so strong that the work of the poem is still accomplished. It’s a beautiful poem.

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