Cinque by Anna Akhmatova


Beyond the cock-eyed waters, you write.
- Osip Mandelstram


As on a borderland of clouds
I recall your conversation,

And my conversation with you
When night stood as light as day.

How, ripped from the earth,
Aloft we soared like stars.

Neither despondency nor shame,
Not now, not later, not then.

But awake to actuality,
Hear how I invite you back.

And the door you left ajar,
I lack the will to seize and slam.

27 November 1945


Sounds decay into the ether,
And dark closes upon dusk.
In a forever unfeeling world
Two voices alone speak: yours, mine.
And under the wind from Lake Lagoda,
Invisible, a sound almost like bells,
Into splendid and lightly woven rainbows
The night’s conversation was transformed.

1945. 20 Dec.


In bygone days I did not like
Anyone feeling sorry for me,
But with a drop of your pity
In my body I move like sunlight.
This is why, everywhere—dawn.
I move, and make miracles.
This is why!

1945. 20 Dec.


You know yourself, there is no peak of fame
For our meeting’s bitter day.
What drop of memory is left for you?
My shade—what’s a shade to you?
The dedication of a burnt drama,
From which there are no ashes?
Or stepping down from the frame
A New Year’s fearsome portrait?
Or barely audible
The sound of birch coals,
Or what I did not write down
To finish the tale of another’s affair?

1946. 6 Jan.


We had not breathed of heavy-lidded poppies
Yet, nor yet known our guilt.
But what did our stars already know
Of the heartache for which we were born?—
And what invisible glow
Had joined our minds in a single light?

1946. 11 Jan.

Note: This poem was written for Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), an English philosopher (born Jewish in Riga, raised in Petersburg, and became a British subject) who visited Akhmatova at the end of World War II.

Translated from the Russian by Don Mager.

ANNA AKHMATOVA (1889-1961) was sensationally popular during the teens and ‘20s of the 20th century, as part of the Acmeist movement, but after the Bolshevik revolution, her life and career went from crisis to crisis, and she was effectively barred from publishing. After Stalin’s death, she was gradually rehabilitated and her work was again widely published in the Soviet Union.

DON MAGER’s chapbooks include Drive Time and Russian Riffs. He is retired from his position as the Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University. In addition to scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech, and Russian. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.