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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Note of Thanks to Anna Akhmatova

Last week while looking at the server log for the Lampoetry blog I noticed for the first time that our web site recorded more visitors from Russia than the United States.  Perhaps to explain this sudden surge in popularity to the East I found  this  link to a web site where the Lampoetry blog is being translated into Russian.

So a warm welcome to all our readers in Russia!  And an equally warm welcome to our readers in the Ukraine, as I also noticed we've received numerous visits from there too recently!

In a sense this brings me full circle.  My interest in poetry was initially sparked when my wife gave me (for my 45th birthday) a book of poems by Anna Akhmatova.  It was a Penguin edition with translations by D. M. Thomas.  Quite simply I have never been so profoundly moved by a book.  Reading the first dozen poems I felt myself in a writer's immediate presence more so than I had ever felt before.  It was as if I could hear Akhmatova's voice speaking to me directly.  It wasn't so much the translations by Thomas - which I recall as being perfectly serviceable - but it was the poet herself who addressed me.  For the first time I understood what it means to write a poem.

In fact, even though I know no more than a few words of Russian, I soon found myself correcting Thomas' translations, somehow intuiting where  he had missed some nuance or inflection in the original work.  Possessed of this insight, it wasn't too long before I decided to venture a translation of my own, or more precisely a re-translation of Thomas' prior work.

So here is the very first translation I ever ventured.  It is appropriately enough Akhmatova's great poem in tribute to Boris Pasternak.  Every time I read this poem I think to myself - that Pasternak must have been one hell of a fine poet to have inspired such admiration, but goddammit there is no one greater than Anna Akhmatova.  So I offer up my own small tribute to the great Akhmatova with this translation.

*  *  *  *  *

The Poet (for Boris Pasternak)

Who sees himself sidelong
Through eyes of the horse
By such divergent means
He recognizes instantly
How the puddles shine
Like melted diamonds
And the ice fractures
Intricate as lace

Or in lilac repose
By the station platform
Noticing the logs leaves
And clouds piled high
And the steam engine’s hiss
And the crunch of watermelon rind
How the lady holds scented glove
So delicately in hand

Or at thundering pace
Launching out
To beat against the surf
Then suddenly slowing
To let heartbeat subside
On entering the forest pavilion
Advancing cautiously so as
Not to disturb things sleeping
In such a sacred place

Mentally taking note
Of each stalk of grain
To the graveyard 
He quietly returns
With hoof downward sloping 
And gracefully paws the earth 

And how once more 
Amidst Moscow's throngs
It ill behooves him
This burning
At the back of his throat
Yet he tries to find 
A livable space
Hearing far off the peal
Of the deathly bell
Tolling for one
Who lost the way
Knee deep in snow
But only steps away
From the front door

And because he had
Presaged the rising  
Plumes of smoke
That would emerge one day
From the belly of
The Wooden Horse
And likewise because
He celebrated
Cemetery thistles
And braved the void
With the sound
Of his thoroughly
Original verse
A very mirror to the

He found reward
In childhood eternal
With generosity aplenty
A shining heart displayed
As a constellation and nightly
Presented to the earth
As an inheritance
To be shared