Blok, Mandelstam, Akhmatova

Alexander Blok. A girl was singing.

A girl was singing in the choir with fervour

Of all who have known exile and sad distress,

Of all the vessels that have left the harbour,

Of all who have forgotten happiness.

Her voice soared up to the dome. Glistening,

A sunbeam brushed her shoulder in its flight,

And from the darkness all were listening

To the white dress singing in a beam of light.

It seemed to everyone that happiness

Would come back, that the vessels all were safe,

That those who had known exile and distress

had rediscovered a radiant life.

The voice was beautiful, the sunbeam slender,

But up by the holy gates, under the dome,

A boy at communion wept to remember

That none of them would ever come home.

August, 1905


Yes. This is the call of inspiration.

My daydreams constantly revert

To places of humiliation,

Darkness, poverty, and dirt . . .

Down there, down there, humbler, lower,

The other world can be better seen . . .

Have you seen the kids of Paris cower,

Or the tramps by the wintry Seine?

Open your eyes to all the blind

Horror of life, open them fast,

Before the great storm’s sudden blast

Strips the face of your native land –

Let righteous anger ripen in you,

Prepare your hands for the work to come . . .

Or if you cannot –then let boredom

And grief gather and burn in you . . .

But, without more ado, wipe off

The greasepaint mark of this sham life,

And like the timid mole dig down

From light into the earth –lie prone

and still, hating life fiercely,

despising all the world and –though

you cannot see the future clearly –

saying to the present: No.

September 1911

A few poems from Osip Mandelstam’s first book, Stone, published in 1913.


The careful and hollow sound

Of a fruit snapped from a tree

Amidst the neverending song

Of the deep forest silence . . .


To read only children’s books

To have only children’s thoughts,

To strew far away all grown-up things,

To rise from a deep sadness.

I am mortally weary of life,

From it I will accept nothing,

But I love my poor earth

Because I have seen no other.

In a far-off garden I swung myself

On a simple wooden swing,

And the tall dark fir trees

I remember in an obscure fever.


I have the present of a body –what should I do with it

So unique it is and so much mine?

For the quiet joy of breathing and of being alive,

Tell me, whom have I to thank?

I am the gardener and the flower,

In the dungeon of the world I am not alone.

On the glass of eternity has already settled

My breath, my warmth.

On it a pattern prints itself,

Unrecognizable of late.

Let the lees of the moment trickle down –

The dear pattern is not to be wiped out.


An inexpressible sadness

Opened two enormous eyes,

The vase of flowers woke up

And splashed its crystal out.

The whole room is invaded

By languor –sweet medicine!

Such a tiny kingdom

Has swallowed so much sleep.

Fragments of red wine

And sunny May weather –

And, breaking a thin biscuit,

The whiteness of the slenderest fingers.


It is transparent and dark in the great pool,

And a languorous window stands white;

But the heart –why does it so slowly,

So insistently grow heavy?

Now with its whole weight it sinks to the bottom,

Longing for the beloved silt,

Now like a straw, avoiding the depths,

It comes up effortlessly to the top.

Stand by your bedside with pretended tenderness

And lull yourself to sleep your whole life through,

Torment yourself with your own anguish as with a fairy tale

and with arrogant boredom be affectionate.

Anna Akhmatova

My night –feverish ravings about you,

By day –indifference: Let it be!

I smile at fate,

Sending this sorrow to me.

Yesterday’s smouldering was so strong.

I’ll soon burn out,

It seems this conflagration

Will not turn into dawn.

Must I struggle for long in the flames,

Mysteriously caged by someone far away? . .

You don’t even see me here,

In my dreadful snare.

1907, Kiev


The twenty-first. Night. Monday.
The outlines of the capital are in mist.
Some idler invented the idea
That there`s something in the world called love.

And from laziness or boredom,
Everyone believed it and here is how they live:
They anticipate meetings, they fear partings,
And they sing the songs of love.

But the secret will be revealed to the others,
And a hush will fall on them all . . .
I stumbled on it by accident
And since then have been somehow unwell.

1917, Petersburg


Don’t torment your heart with earthly joys,

Don’t cling to your wife or your home,

Take the bread from your child

To give to a stranger.

And be the humblest servant to the one

Who was your bitterest foe,

And call the beast in the forest brother,

And don’t ask God for anything, ever.

December, 1921, Petersburg


This city, beloved by me since childhood,

Seemed to me today

In its December silence

Like my squandered inheritance.

Everything that came easily,

That was so easy to give away:

Burning emotions, the sound of prayer,

And the blessing of the first song –

Everything flew off like transparent smoke,

Decayed in the depths of mirrors . . .

And then a noseless fiddler began to play

About the irrevocable.

But with a stranger’s curiosity,

Captivated by each novelty,

I watched how the sleds skimmed,

And listened to my native tongue.

Then with a freshness wild and strong,

Happiness fanned my face,

As if an old dear friend

Had just stepped onto the porch with me.



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