Poetry Hit: Requiem by Anna Akhmatova

Reading poetry in translation is a weird exercise; there are so many more levels or people between you and the text. This is the first part of this poem, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer as it appears in The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova. You can read the full poem translated differently by Yevgeny Bonver on Poetry Lover or elsewhere on the web, translator uncredited (which is why I’m not linking. How could you not credit the translator??) or other versions translated by the same author but with different words (different versions from different years? Like I said, poetry in translation is weird.)

from the beginning of Requiem
by Anna Akhmatova

No, not under the vault of alien skies,
And not under the shelter of alien wings–
I was with my people then,
There, where my people, unfortunately, were.

INSTEAD OF A PREFACE

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror, I spent
seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad.
Once, someone “recognized” me. Then a woman with
bluish lips standing behind me, who, of course, had
never heard me called by name before, woke up from
the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and
whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):
“Can you describe this?”
And I answered: “Yes, I can.”
Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.

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