I was asked to translate a few poems by Akhmatova for a memorial reading. I can't quite remember when it was, some eight or nine years ago, perhaps. Jo Shapcott read, and Elaine Feinstein, and Sasha Dugdale. These translations appeared somewhere, possibly in Poetry in Translation, but I have never done anything else with them. There is a cupboard full of such things. I'd like occasionally to ransack it.
Seven hundred years I’ve been away…
Seven hundred years I’ve been away
But nothing’s changed here, so to speak,
The same ineffable grace pouring
From the same impregnable peak
Same choirs of stars and waters
Same constellations, same black sky
Same seed in the same wind
Same mothers singing the same lullaby
My ancestral house stands firm
On Asian soil, why fret about it.
I’ll be back soon enough. Let hedges bloom,
Let fountains gush pure water. Let them spout it.
Despite all your promises…
Despite all your promises
You ran off with my ring
And abandoned me in the depths,
Helpless, without a thing..
So why last night’s spectral visitation?
Why send him to me?
Young he was, cute, red-headed and lean
Wailing like a hired mourner
And whispering insidiously
Of Rome, of Paris, and how
He really cannot do without me now.
Never mind shame, never mind the clink,
I’ll manage without him fine, I think.
There is a secret line…
There is a secret line between people who are close
Beyond which doting or desire may not tread,
However the heart shatters or explodes,
However the lips fuse in silent dread.
Friendship too is useless, however fierce
Or fiery the joy of it was long ago
When nothing bound the spirit to the body’s affairs
With that langorous afterglow.
It’s madness to approach that line, and the agony
Of touching it is more than we can bear,
So you will understand why my heart suddenly
Stops beating when you put your hand on it, right there.
I liked that 'right there' at the end. It implies the shock of the hand on the breast, and the ambiguity of the heart stopping, whether in excitement or rejection we don't know. Nor do I know if that is the full meaning in Russian but the line opened up under me and I wanted to go there.