Voronezh – Poem by Anna Akhmatova

And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath a glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
the painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s there are poplars, crows
there’s a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in the sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground.
The frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though it was our wedding, and the crowd
were drinking to our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of the coming dawn, has no knowledge.



И город весь стоит оледенелый.
Как под стеклом деревья, стены, снег.
По хрусталям я прохожу несмело.
Узорных санок так неверен бег.
А над Петром воронежским — вороны,
Да тополя, и свод светло-зеленый,
Размытый, мутный, в солнечной пыли,
И Куликовской битвой веют склоны
Могучей, победительной земли.
И тополя, как сдвинутые чаши,
Над нами сразу зазвенят сильней,
Как будто пьют за ликованье наше
На брачном пире тысячи гостей.

А в комнате опального поэта
Дежурят страх и Муза в свой черед.
И ночь идет,
Которая не ведает рассвета.



ANNA AKHMATOVA was born Anna Gorenko near Odessa on June 11, 1889. She grew up in St. Petersburg, where she mostly lived (except for brief absences before World War I in Western Europe and during part of World War II in Tashkent) until her death on March 5, 1966, the 13th anniversary of Stalin’s death.

She adopted the name “Akhmatova” from her mother’s family because her father did not wish to have his name “disgraced by poetry.” Throughout her career, she had a mythopoetic sense of acting, an understanding that enabled her to counter the myth of Stalin with a performance of Cassandra-like resistance. In “Requiem” (1935-1940) that responded to the Great Terror, she created a mythopoesis of witness: “your names were scattered,” she says of the millions who speak through her voice, but “for each of you I weave protections, a great covering/from the destitute, poor words I overheard.”

Akhmatova believed that her intimacy with Mandelshtam had not been dissolved by death. Her relationship to Tsvetaeva was distant, and to Pasternak more competitive; later in life, she told friends that he had twice asked to marry her. “Voronezh” was first published in 1940, but without the last quatrain for Mandelshtam; Akhmatova had visited him while he was living in exile in 1936.

Mythopoetic existence is never easy on companions, but as Joseph Brodsky says extraordinarily of Akhmatova, she was “someone who by her intonation alone transform[ed] you… Akhmatova transformed you into Homo sapiens with just the tone of her voice or the turn of her head… [you] became a human being in the Christian sense of the word, because you felt forgiven without asking, even when you did not know you’d been forgiven.”

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