Anna Akhmatova: There Are Three Periods of Memory (From Russian)

There Are Three Periods of Memory
By Anna Akhmatova
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

There are three periods of memory.
The first of them is like a yesterday,
The soul basks in the blessings of their vault,
The body takes its glory in their shade.
Laughter has not yet passed away, tears gush,
The blot is not yet bleached out of the desk,
The kiss, like a heart's seal, is terminal,
Is singular and unforgettable...
But this does not last long before the vault
Has vanished overhead. And in some backwoods
Neighborhood, in a solitary house
Where summers leave the winters' chill warmed over,
Where spiders weave, where all things are in dust,
Where lovestruck letters lead a crumbling half-life,
Sly portraits change into their different selves
Where people go as if to their own grave,
Soaping their fingers pure as they go back
Wiping a fleeting fear out like a sty
From laden eyes, breathing a burdened sigh...
But time, the clock, is ticking and one spring
Yields to another as the skies are flushed,
The cities roll through names, and none remain
As witnesses to what exactly happened.
Gone are the folk we'd weep or reminisce with.
And slowly then the shades go off from us,
Shades we no longer care to summon back,
Whose reemergence would be terrible.
And once we wake we note how we've forgotten
The path back to that solitary house
And, gasping from the anger and the shame,
We bolt there but (as usual in dreams)
It has all changed: the folk, the walls, the things,
And no one knows us there where we are foreign.
A wrong turn took us elsewhere. God almighty!
We come to the most caustic thought of all:
We come to know that we could never fit
The past into the margins of this life,
A past almost as alien to us
As to the folk next door, we do not know
The dear departed from a stranger, people
That God saw fit to separate from us
Did fine without us. Now we even know
That all is for the best....

The Original:

Есть три эпохи у воспоминаний

Есть три эпохи у воспоминаний.
И первая - как бы вчерашний день.
Душа под сводом их благословенным,
И тело в их блаженствует тени.
Еще не замер смех, струятся слезы,
Пятно чернил не стерто со стола -
И, как печать на сердце, поцелуй,
Единственный, прощальный, незабвенный...
Но это продолжается недолго...
Уже не свод над головой, а где-то
В глухом предместье дом уединенный,
Где холодно зимой, а летом жарко,
Где есть паук и пыль на всем лежит,
Где истлевают пламенные письма,
Исподтишка меняются портреты,
Куда как на могилу ходят люди,
А возвратившись, моют руки с мылом,
И стряхивают беглую слезинку
С усталых век - и тяжело вздыхают...
Но тикают часы, весна сменяет
Одна другую, розовеет небо,
Меняются названья городов,
И нет уже свидетелей событий,
И не с кем плакать, не с кем вспоминать.
И медленно от нас уходят тени,
Которых мы уже не призываем,
Возврат которых был бы страшен нам.
И, раз проснувшись, видим, что забыли
Мы даже путь в тот дом уединенный,
И задыхаясь от стыда и гнева,
Бежим туда, но (как во сне бывает)
Там все другое: люди, вещи, стены,
И нас никто не знает - мы чужие.
Мы не туда попали... Боже мой!
И вот когда горчайшее приходит:
Мы сознаем, что не могли б вместить
То прошлое в границы нашей жизни,
И нам оно почти что так же чуждо,
Как нашему соседу по квартире,
Что тех, кто умер, мы бы не узнали,
А те, с кем нам разлуку Бог послал,
Прекрасно обошлись без нас - и даже
Все к лучшему...

1 comment:

  1. Two poems more, by Anna Akhmatova, on ancient times--I translated them as prose poems--partial and tendentious yet highly to the topic--

    "Death of Sophocles"

    “…And then the King understood that Sophocles had died.”

    (from a legend)

    By night, the Eagle descended on the house of Sophocles,

    and chorus of cicadas began to ring so mournful.

    At the moments, the genius was going to Beyond,

    through the enemy’s camp at the walls of his home city.

    At the hour, the King had a strange dream:

    God Dionysus told him to raise the wartime siege

    let any noise disturbed the funeral,

    in order that Athenians could honor

    his adorable poet.


    I guess, the young King looked formidable, when frowning

    and saying this: “Go to destroy the city.”

    His old general observed the magnificent Thebes,

    as he used to know the city, of old.

    It all must be burnt down. The King enumerated

    the towers, gates, the temples--the wonders of the world.

    And now, he paused and said, with clearing brow:

    “Take care of the Poet’s house. It must be safe.”