Friday, April 06, 2007

Poem: Anna Akhmatova

A few weeks ago, while participating at a reading at Notre Dame, I had an opportunity to spend an afternoon hanging out with Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon (one of whose poems I featured a few poests ago). Lyrae suggested we go to Notre Dame's bookstore, and we quickly gravitated to the poetry section, where we ended up lucubrating for a few hours, just reading, taking notes, writing parts of poems. One of the books I pulled off the shelf was a fairly recent collection of Russian poetry, and the following poem, by one of the greatest poets in the Russian language, Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), which Paul Schmidt translated.

I have always been a fan of Akhmatova's poetry, but didn't remember this one, which manages to convey the suffering she endured when, from 1924 to 1952 she was publicly condemned and declared a social and political persona non grata (and the similar proscription that befell her friend, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich) and banned from publishing her work, and to show music's transcendent power, beyond (despite the idealogues) ideology or creed. Its brevity and simplicity immediately struck me, and so I copied it down and read it aloud to Lyrae. For a little while that afternoon I could get it out of my head.

(To Dmitri Shostakovich)

Something miraculous burns in music;
As you watch, its edges crystallize.
Only music speaks to me
When others turn away their eyes.

When fearful friends abandoned me
music stayed, even at my grave,
and sang like earth's first shower of rain,
of flowers suddenly everywhere alive.

Copyright © Anna Akhmatova

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