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Akhmatova: Tributes to Writers

by John Cobley

Monday Aug 31st, 2020





To Aleksander Blok


I went to visit the poet.

Exactly at noon. On a Sunday.

It was quiet in the spacious room, 

And there was frost outside the windows.


And a raspberry sun

Above curls of blue-grey smoke…

How serenely my taciturn host

Surveys me!


He had the kind of eyes

That everyone remembers.

I had to be careful not to

Engage them at all. 


But I’ll remember the conversation,

The smoky noon, that Sunday

In the tall grey house

By the waterway of the Neva.








In memory of Innokenty Annensky


The one I consider my teacher

Passed by like a shade and left no shadow,

Drank all the poison, drank all the torpor,

And waited for fame, waited in vain,

Who was the portent, the omen,

Pitied everyone, breathed anguish into everyone—

And choked.





In Memory of M.B.

(Mikhail Bulgakov)


This is for you, instead of graveyard roses,

Instead of burning incense;

You lived so resolutely and maintained to the end

A magnificent disdain.

You drank wine and joked like no one else,

And suffocated behind stifling walls,

And you yourself let the terrible guest enter


And stayed alone with her.

And you are no more, and everyone is silent

About your distinguished and troubled life,

Only my voice, like a flute, will be heard

At your silent funeral.

Who would have dared believe that I,

Half-crazy, I the mourner of bygone days,

I, smouldering in a slow fire,

Having lost everything and forgotten everyone— 

I should be made to remember someone full of strength,

Brilliant ideas and will-power,

Who was talking to me as if it were just yesterday,

Hiding the tremor of mortal pain.





Mayakovsky in 1913


I didn’t know you in your glory days.

I remember only your stormy dawn,

But now perhaps I have a right to recall 

A day from those distant years.

How the sounds strengthened in your verse,

And new voices swarmed…

Those young hands weren’t idle;

You were erecting formidable scaffold.

Everything you touched seemed 

Unlike what had been before.                                     10

What you destroyed—was destroyed,

A verdict beat in every word.

Solitary and often dissatisfied, 

You knew that you would soon emerge

Buoyant and free for your great battle.

When you read to us, the rising tide

Of opinion could be heard,

Rain slanted its eyes angrily, 

You began a violent argument with the city.              20

And your then unknown name

Flew like lightning around the stuffy hall

So that now, sustained throughout the land,

It will begin to resound as a battle cry.





Boris Pasternak—The Poet


He who has compared himself to the eye of a horse

He peers, looks, sees, recognizes,

And right away the puddles shine 

Like molten diamonds, and the ice pines away.


Backyards slumber in a lilac haze,

Decks, logs, leaves, clouds.

A train whistle, the crunch of a watermelon skin,

A timid hand in a fragrant kid glove.


He rings out, thunders, grates his teeth, beats to the breakers,

Then suddenly is quiet—this means he

Is nervously tiptoeing over the pine needles

So that he won’t disturb the light sleep of the locale.  


This means he is counting the seeds

In empty ears; This means he

Has returned from some kind of funeral 

To a cursed and black Daryal gravestone*.


And again the Moscow languor burns;

Far off a small funeral bell is ringing…

Who gets lost two steps from home

Where the snow is waist-high and there’s no way out?         


Because he compared smoke to the Laocoon,

Glorified cemetery thistles,

Because he filled the world with a new sound

Of his verses resonating in new space,--


He has been blessed with enduring childhood,

Which has shone with generosity and perception,

And the whole world was his legacy

And he has shared it with everyone.




*Daryal Gravestone refers to Pasternak’s friendship with Georgian poets Tabidze and Yashvili. The Daryal Gorge runs into Georgia through the Caucasus mountains. 



To Boris Pilnyak


You alone can solve all this…

When the sleepless murkiness swirls all around,

That sunny, lily-of-the-valley wedge

Will burst into the darkness of a December night.

I’m coming to you along a path.

You are laughing with a carefree laugh.

But the pine forest and the reeds in the pond

Answer with some bizarre echo…

Oh, if by this I am awakening the dead

Forgive me,--I can’t do otherwise.

I grieve for you as for my own,

And I envy anyone who weeps,

Who at this awful hour can weep

For those who lie at the bottom of the ravine… 

The moisture boiled away before reaching my eyes.

And my eyes were not refreshed.





Belated Reply

                                                            My white-handed one, dark princess


(to Marina Tsvetaeva)


Invisible woman, double, mocker,

Why are you hiding in the bushes?—

You take refuge in a honeycombed nest,

You flash past the crosses of the buried. 

You cry out from the Marininka tower:

“I have returned home today.

Native fields, see what

Has happened to me because of this.

The abyss has sucked up my loved ones

And my parental home has been pillaged.”


Today we are with you, Marina,

Walking through the midnight capital,

And behind us are millions like us,

And there was never a procession more silent…

And all around are funeral bells,

And hoarse Moscow moans

With a blizzard that erases all traces of us.




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