Sunday, January 3, 2010

Anna Akhmatova - My Winter Poet

I have borrowed the idea from Carolyn Forche to read one really important poet each season. The idea is to immerse oneself in the poems, life, criticism, and context of the times. My bedside table is covered in different translations of the poet's work. My winter poet, the poet of my grandparents country, the poet who I've been drawn to for  such a long time is Anna Akhmatova.  The Poems of Akhmatova translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward is my favorite book thus far. It also seems to be available on Google books.  I'm also reading two of the biographies. For now, let me just post this one poem. The poet is in her fifties at this point...

"This Cruel Age Has Deflected Me ..."

This cruel age has deflected me,
like a river from its course.
Strayed from its familiar shores,
my changeling life has flowed
into a sister channel.
How many spectacles I've missed:
the curtain rising without me ,
and falling too. How many friends
I never had the chance to meet.
Here in the only city I can claim,
where I could sleepwalk and not lose my way;
how many foreign skylines can I dream,
not to be witnessed though my tears.
And how many verses have I failed to write!
Their secret chorus stalks me
close behind.One day, perhaps,
they'll strangle me.
I know beginnings, I know endings, too,
and, life-in-death, and something else
I'd rather not recall just now.
And a certain woman
has usurped my place
and bears my rightful name,
leaving a nickname for my use,
with which I've done the best I could.
The grave I go to will not be my own.
But if I could step outside myself
and contemplate the person that I am,
I should know at last what envy is.

---- Leningrad, 1944


  1. This sounds like a terrific practice, Susan - thanks for sharing, and for the poem...

  2. Great idea! I am going to do the same one-poet-a-season thing, or at least attempt to. I was thinking I would do Ellen Bass.

  3. What a good idea, I"m going to think about this.

  4. The second part of this a la Carolyn is to keep a book of contemporary poetry in the bathroom and change it every week. That way, by the end of the year, you've also read 52 collections of contemporary writers. It makes sense, but I don't know about all that bathroom reading. I haven't signed on to that part yet, but thought I'd share CF's complete idea.

  5. what a wonderful surprise to find Anna Akhmatova's poem on your blog.. thanks for sharing!!!

  6. I'm a great fan of Akhmatova. Glad you like her, too!