One of the great Russian poets of the 20th century, Anna Akhmatova, would have celebrated her birthday this past Saturday. She also happens to be one of my personal favorites, discovered in my otherwise bleak second year Russian classes at college.
There’s a gorgeous passage in Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses, in which Fr. Arseny describes the poets of the Silver Age and their religious influences. Prior to monasticism, Fr. Arseny was a professor of art history who was also extremely well versed in Russian literature. He describes Akhmatova as being a true believer and that her belief strongly influenced her work. See for yourself:
From The Voice of Another
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 of the one
Who was your bitterest foe,
And call the beast of the forest your brother,
And don’t ask God for anything, ever.
December 1921, Petersburg
You are worshipping the Lord
In his holy courtyard.
God’s fool sleeps on the church porch,
And a star looks down at him.
And touched by an angel’s wing,
A bell begins to speak,
Not with alarm, with a voice of terror,
But saying farewell forever.
And the saints and miracle workers,
Leaving their ancient icon frames,
Come out of the cloister
Leaning on crutches.
Seraphim — to the woods of Sarov,
To shepherd the rural flocks,
Anna — no longer a princess,
To Kashin, to pull the prickly flax.
With them goes the Mother of God,
Wrapping her son in a shawl
Dropped by an old beggar woman
On the front steps of the Lord.
May 24, 1922, Petersburg
Poetry is taken from Fr. Joseph Honeycutt‘s post on Saturday.Thanks to him for both the reminder and the translations of two of my favorites!
I personally prefer editions with the Russian original and English translation side by side, but if that isn’t important to you, check out more of her poetry here.