Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Anna Akhmatova: I am not one of those who left the land 

I am not one of those who left the land

to the mercy of its enemies.

Their flattery leaves me cold.

My songs are not for them to praise.

 

But I pity the exile’s lot.

Like a felon, like a man half-dead,

dark is your path, wanderer;

wormwood infects your foreign bread.

 

But here, in the murk of conflagration,

where scarcely a friend is left to know,

we, the survivors, do not flinch

from anything, not from a single blow.

 

Surely the reckoning will be made

after the passing of this cloud.

We are the people without tears,

straighter than you…more proud…

 

(1922)


 

Translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward. Included in Vox Populi for educational purposes only.

Anna Andreyevna Gorenko 1889 – 1966), better known by the pen name Anna Akhmatova was one of the most significant Russian poets of the 20th century.  Her work ranges from short lyric poems to intricately structured cycles, such as Requiem (1935–40), her tragic masterpiece about the Stalinist terror. Her style, characterised by its economy and emotional restraint, was strikingly original and distinctive to her contemporaries. The strong and clear leading female voice struck a new chord in Russian poetry. Her writing can be said to fall into two periods – the early work (1912–25) and her later work (from around 1936 until her death), divided by a decade of reduced literary output. Primary sources of information about Akhmatova’s life are relatively scant, as war, revolution and the totalitarian regime caused much of the written record to be destroyed. For long periods she was in official disfavour and many of those who were close to her died in the aftermath of the revolution. Akhmatova’s first husband, Nikolay Gumilyov was executed by the Soviet secret police, and her son Lev Gumilyov and her common-law husband Nikolay Punin spent many years in the Gulag, where Punin died. [bio adapted from Wikipedia]

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Akhmatova in 1922 (portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin)

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