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The BlueIris Semi-Nightly Poetry Break, 3/23/08 (this one's personal and was hell to post; read it!)

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BlueIris Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 10:41 AM
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The BlueIris Semi-Nightly Poetry Break, 3/23/08 (this one's personal and was hell to post; read it!)
Edited on Sun Mar-23-08 11:05 AM by BlueIris

No, not far beneath a foreign sky then,
Not with foreign wings to shelter me,
I was with my people then, close by them,
Where my luckless people chanced to be.

By Way of a Preface

In the terrible years of the Yezhovshchina, I spent seventeen months in the prison queues in Leningrad. Somehow, one day, someone "identified" me. Then a woman standing behind me, whose lips were blue with cold, and who, naturally enough, had never even heard of my name, emerged from that state of torpor common to us all and, putting her lips close to my ear (there, everyone spoke in whispers), asked me:
And could you describe this?
And I answered her:
I can.
Then something vaguely like a smile flashed across what had once been her face.

1 April 1957


Mountains bow beneath that boundless sorrow,
And the mighty river never stops its flow.
But those prison bolts are tried and thorough,
And beyond them, every "convict's burrow"
Tells a tale of mortal woe.
Someone, somewhere, feels the cool wind, bracing,
Sees the sun go nestling down to rest
We know nothing, we together facing
Still the sickening clank of keys, the pacing
Of the sentries with their heavy steps.
We'd rise, as for early Mass, each morning.
Cross the callous city, wend our way,
Meet, more lifeless than the dead, half mourning,
But watch the sun sink, the Neva mist forming,
But with hope still singing far away.
Sentenced...And at once the tears come rolling,
Cut off from the world, quite on her own,
Heart reduced to shreds, and almost falling,
Just as if some lout had sent her sprawling,
Still...she staggers on her way...Alone...
Where are now the friends of my misfortune,
Those that shared my own two years of hell?
What doe the Siberian snow-winds caution,
What bodes the moon circle for their fortunes?
Their's be this, my greeting and farewell.


It was when no one smiled any longer
Save the dead, who were glad of release.
And when Leningrad dangled, incongruous,
By its prisonsa needless caprice.
And when, out of their minds with sheer suffering,
The long lines of the newly condemned
Heard the engines' shrill whistles go sputtering
A brief song of farewell to their friends.
Stars of death stood above us, and Russia,
In her innocence, twisted in pain
Under blood-spattered boots, and the shudder
Of the Black Marias in their train.


It was dawn when they took you. I followed,
As a widow walks after the bier
By the iconsa candle, burnt hollow;
In the bed-roomthe children, in tears.
Your lipscool from the kiss of the icon,
Still to think, the cold sweat on your brow. . .
Like the wives of the Streltsy, now I come
To wail under the Kremlin's gaunt towers.


Silent flows the silent Don,
Yellow moon looks quietly on,

Cap askew, looks in the room,
Sees a shadow in the gloom.

Sees this woman, sick at home,
Sees this woman, all alone,

Husband buried, then to see
Son arrested...pray for me.


No, this is not me, this is somebody else that suffers.
I could never face that, and all that has happened:
Let sackcloth and ashes enshroud it,
And see all the lamps removed...


You, my mocking one, pet of society,
And gay sinner of Tsarskoe Selo:
Had you dreamt, in your sweet notoriety,
Of the future that lay in store
How you'd stand at the Crosses, three-hundredth
In the queue, each bleak New Year,
Hug your precious parcel of comforts,
Melt the ice with your bright, hot tears.
There, the poplar, used to imprisonment,
Sways aloft. Not a sound. But think
Of the numbers rotting there, innocent...


For seventeen long months my pleas,
My cries have called you home.
I've begged the hangman on my knees,
My son, my dread, my own.
My mind's mixed up for good, and I'm
No longer even clear
Whos man, who's beast, nor how much time
Before the end draws near.
And only flowers decked with dust,
And censers ringing, footprints thrust
Somewhere-nowhere, afar.
And, staring me straight in the eye
And warning me that death is nigh
One monumental star.


Weeks fly past in light profusion,
How to fathom what's been done:
How long those white nights, dear son,
Watched you in your prison cell's seclusion.
How once more they watch you there,
Eyes like hawks' that burn right through you,
Speak to you of death, speak to you
Of the lofty cross you bear.



And the word in stone has fallen heavy
On my breast, which was alive till now.
Never mind, for mark you, I was ready,
I shall get along somehow.

So much to be done before tomorrow:
Crush the memory till no thoughts remain,
Carve a heart in stone, immune to sorrow,
Teach myself to face life once again,

And if not...The rustling heat of summer
Fills my window with its festive tone.
I long since foresensed that there would come a
Sunny day like thisand empty home.


To Death

You'll come in any casethen why not right away?
Im waitinglife has dragged me under.
I've put the lamp out, left the door to show the way
When you come in your simple wonder.
For that, choose any guise you like: Burst in on me,
A shell with poison-gas container,
Or, bandit with a heavy weight, creep up on me,
Or poison me with typhus vapor.
Or be a fable, known ad nauseum
To everyone denounced in error,
So I may see the top of the blue cap, and scan
The face of the house-porter, white with terror.
But nothing matters now. The Yenisey swirls by,
The Pole star shines above the torrent.
And the blue glint of those beloved eyes
Conceals the last, the final horror.


So madness now has wrapped its wings
Round half my soul and plies me, heartless,
With draughts of fiery wine, begins
To lure me towards the vale of darkness.

And I can see that I must now
Concede the victoryas I listen,
The dream that dogged my fevered brow
Already seems an outside vision.

And though I go on bended knee
To plead, implore its intercession,
There's nothing I may take with me,
Its countenances no concession:

Nor yet my son's distracted eyes
The rock-like suffering rooted in them,
The day the storm broke from clear skies,
The hour spent visiting the prison,

Not yet the kind, cool clasp of hands,
The linden shadows' fitful darting,
The far light call across the land
The soothing words exchanged on parting.



Weep not for Me, Mother,
that I am in the grave.


The angels hailed that solemn hour and stately,
The heavens dissolved in tongues of fire. And He
Said to the Father: "Why didst Thou forsake Me!"
And to His Mother: "Weep thou not for Me."


Magdalena sobbed, and the disciple,
He whom Jesus loved, stood petrified.
But there, where Mother stood in silence,
No one durst so much as lift their eyes.



I've learned how faces droop and then grow hollow,
How fear looks out from underneath the lids,
How cheeks, carved out of suffering and of sorrow,
Take on the lines of rough, cuneiform scripts.
How heads of curls, but lately black or ashen,
Turn suddenly to silver overnight,
Smiles fade on lips reduced to dread submission,
A hoarse dry laugh stands in for trembling fright.
I pray, not for myself alone, my cry
Goes up for all those with me therefor all,
In heart of winter, heat-wave of July,
Who stood beneath that blind, deep-crimson wall.


The hour of remembrance is with us again.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you as then:

There's one they scarce drag to the window, and one
Whose days in the land of her forebears are done,

And one tossed her beautiful head back when shown
Her corner and said, "It's like being back home!"

I'd like to remember each one by her name.
But they took the list, and there's no more remain.

I've worked with them a funeral shroud from each word
Of pain that escaped them, and I overheard.

I'll think of them everywhere, always, each one.
I shall not forget them in dark days to come.

And should they once silence my mortified lips,
Let one hundred millions for whom my voice speaks

Let them take my place, and remember each year
Whenever my day of remembrance draws near.

And should they one day, in this country, agree
To raise a memorial somewhere, to me,

I'd willingly give up my consent to their plan,
But on one condition, which isthat it stand,

Not down by the sea, where I entered this world
(I've cut the last links that once bound us of old),

Nor yet by the tree stump in old Tsarsky Sad,
Whose shade seeks me still with disconsolate love,

But here, where they let me stand a hundred hours,
And never so much as unbolted the doors.

For even in death I still fear to forget
The grim Black Marias, their thundering tread,

The sickening slam of that loathsome cell-door,
The old womans howl, like a wounded beast's roar.

And may the snow, melting, well forth clear and strong,
Like tears from my eye-lids, unmoving, like bronze,

And may the lone prison dove coo from afar,
And boats travel silently down the Neva.

Anna Akhmatova (translated from the Russian by Robin Kemball)
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BlueIris Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 10:45 AM
Response to Original message
1. Anna Akhmatova's Wiki entry:
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CaliforniaPeggy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 11:50 AM
Response to Original message
2. My dear BlueIris...
How magnificent, how complex!

And how very appropriate...

I'm sure I could spend weeks studying this one...

It seems to be a mixture of the stories of Mary, and this Russian woman, and their sons...

Very compelling images...

And confusing...

But still, I thank you...

I wonder too, what is so personal in it for you? But I don't require an answer...

Unless you feel like it, of course...

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BlueIris Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:17 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. Thanks for reading, C-Peg! It's personal because...
Akhmatova's life post-Stalin is something of a parallel to my life post-Bush, minus the imprisonment, murder of family members and surveillance (?). My work explores similar themes and Akhmatova's challenges as an artist and a woman remind me of mine.

I found this poem at 17, when an American dictator was as far away as the moon, and fell in love with it. Little did I know how much significance it would take on for me a decade later. Sometimes, I think before we know, we know.
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ThomCat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:26 PM
Response to Original message
4. The Russian History class I took in college
Edited on Sun Mar-23-08 07:27 PM by ThomCat
would have been much more interesting if it included something like this to give perspective. Wow!

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BlueIris Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:42 PM
Response to Reply #4
6. Studying Russian history without studying Russian poetry is like studying human anatomy
Edited on Sun Mar-23-08 07:50 PM by BlueIris
without studying the heart.
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BlueIris Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:36 PM
Response to Original message
5. Awwww, look at all the views! You guys out-viewed GD! You are awesome.
Edited on Sun Mar-23-08 07:38 PM by BlueIris
Oh, and by the way, my college Russian professor, whose excellent class on Russian Poets of the Silver Age covered Akhmatova at length, reminded us all when we were done reading the five or six translations of "Requiem" she'd given us that she didn't consider anyone, particularly a student of the humanities, truly educated unless that person had studied "Requiem." I can't disagree. So, now you're all educated!
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