And of my verses, the white flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire: seven poems by Anna Akhmatova

I Taught Myself to Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life’s decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.


Twenty-First. Night. Monday

Twenty-first. Night. Monday.
Silhouette of the capitol in darkness.
Some good-for-nothing — who knows why–
made up the tale that love exists on earth.

People believe it, maybe from laziness
or boredom, and live accordingly:
they wait eagerly for meetings, fear parting,
and when they sing, they sing about love.

But the secret reveals itself to some,
and on them silence settles down…
I found this out by accident
and now it seems I’m sick all the time.


You will hear thunder…

You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.

That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
when, for the last time, I take my leave,
And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.


I don’t know if you’re alive or dead…

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.
Can you on earth be sought,
Or only when the sunsets fade
Be mourned serenely in my thought?

All is for you: the daily prayer,
The sleepless heat at night,
And of my verses, the white
Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured
Me more, not
Even the one who betrayed me to torture,
Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.


Lying in me…

Lying in me, as though it were a white
Stone in the depths of a well, is one
Memory that I cannot, will not, fight:
It is happiness, and it is pain.

Anyone looking straight into my eyes
Could not help seeing it, and could not fail
To become thoughtful, more sad and quiet
Than if he were listening to some tragic tale.

I know the gods changed people into things,
Leaving their consciousness alive and free.
To keep alive the wonder of suffering,
You have been metamorphosed into me.


You Thought I Was That Type

You thought I was that type:
That you could forget me,
And that I’d plead and weep
And throw myself under the hooves of a bay mare,

Or that I’d ask the sorcerers
For some magic potion made from roots and send you a terrible gift:
My precious perfumed handkerchief.

Damn you! I will not grant your cursed soul
Vicarious tears or a single glance.

And I swear to you by the garden of the angels,
I swear by the miracle-working icon,
And by the fire and smoke of our nights:
I will never come back to you.


Grey-Eyed King

Hail to thee, o, inconsolate pain!
The young grey-eyed king has been yesterday slain.

That autumnal evening was stuffy and red.
My husband, returning, had quietly said,

“He’d left for his hunting; they carried him home;
They found him under the old oak’s dome.

I pity his queen. He, so young, passed away!
During one night her black hair turned to grey.”

He picked up his pipe from the fireplace shelf,
And went off to work for the night by himself.

Now my daughter I will wake up and rise
And I will look in her little grey eyes

And murmuring poplars outside can be heard:
Your king is no longer here on this earth.

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And of my verses, the white flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire: seven poems by Anna Akhmatova

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