1 - They took you at dawn...

They took you at dawn, I remember,

As though to the wake, I trailed,

Children wept in a darkened chamber,

By the icon, the candle grew frail.

Your lips kept the icon’s chill.

The deathly sweat – I remember it all!

Like the wives of the Streltsy, I will

Moan for you by the Kremlin wall.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian


Only the dead smiled, back in those days,

Being at peace and safe from abuse,

Leningrad hung by the prison gates, dazed,

As an appendage without any use.

The convicts passed by in endless platoons,

Maddened by torment, disheartened,

The train whistles bellowed a saddening tune,

The song of definitive parting.

Stars of death cast their gazes between us,

Guiltless Russia ached to her roots,

Beneath the tires of black marias,

And the weight of blood-splattered boots.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian


Faced with this grief, the mountains bend,

The mighty river stops its flow,

But iron bolts won’t even dent,

Behind them - “the convicts’ den”

And somber deathly woe.

Some people feel the soothing breeze,

For some the sun shines red –

For us, these wonders long have ceased,

We only hear the grinding keys

And soldiers’ heavy tread.

We rose, as though to early mass,

And crossed the capital in throngs,

More breathless than the ones who’ve passed,

In haze, the Neva’s overcast,

But hope continues with its song.

There’s the verdict… Tears burst loud,

She’s singled out, on her own,

As if her life has been ripped out,

As if she’s thrown onto the ground…

She’s staggers… stumbling… alone…

Where are the friends with whom I’ve shared

Two years of living in that hell?

What blizzards do they have to bear?

What visions in the lunar glare?

To them I’m sending this farewell.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian

Instead of a Preface

In the dreadful years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months standing in line in front of prisons of Leningrad. One day someone “recognized” me. Then, a woman standing behind me with blue lips, who, surely, has never heard my name in her life, came out of the trance that was common to all of us and whispered in my ear (everyone there spoke only in whispers):

- Can you depict this?

And I said:

- I can.

At that moment, something akin to a smile flashed by across what was once her face.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian

There's an owl sewn

There’s an owl sewn - don’t stir -

Onto the pillow near us,

O, gray Moorka, do not purr,

My grandfather will hear us.

Nanny, candles will not burn,

Mice are scratching, fearless,

Why was that owl ever sewn?

I’m scared of his appearance.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian

At the new moon

At the new moon, he walked out,

The friend I loved. I’ll be okay!

“Tightrope dancer,” He joked loud,

“How will you survive till May?”

As to a brother, I replied then,

Without gripes or jealousy,

But four new cloaks just aren’t likely

To replace this loss for me.

Let there be danger where I walk,

The way of grief fills me with dread…

The bottom of my shoes are chalked,

My Chinese parasol shines red!

The orchestra plays gleefully,

And lips are smiling with delight,

And yet the heart, the heart can see

The fifth lodge is unoccupied.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian

I cried and I even repented

I cried and I even repented,

Let the sky thunder and groan!

My dark heart just couldn’t stand it

In your forsaken vacant home.

I know a pain that is unbearable,

The shame of returning stunned…

How frightening it is, how terrible,

To the unloved, to the quiet one.

If I bend down by him, sparkling,

As my necklace jingles free;

He will only ask me: “Darling!

Where was it you prayed for me?”
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian

First return

A heavy shroud is placed onto the ground,

The bells are droning in a solemn show,

The spirit is again confused and troubled

By weary boredom of the Tsarskoe Selo.

Five years have passed. And all is dumb and dead here,

The world has reached the end, it seems.

The theme exhausted for all time is set here,

The palace rests now in a mortal dream.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian

And cursing each other

And cursing each other with brute

Passion, white-hot all through,

Neither one of us understood

How small the earth was for two,

That memory torments with spite,

Afflicting the most strong-hearted,

That one learns to plead in the night:

Where has my friend departed?

And as the choir voices rise,

Happy and menacing, that instant,

The same two stern and certain eyes

Survey the soul, persistent.
Anna Akhmatova
Read in English and Russian