Speaking In Tongues
Scribbling In Voices

Anna Akhmatova

Translated by Alex Sitnitsky


Already she’d kissed her Anthony’s dead lips as well as
Before Augustus kneeling, she’d poured the tears. The Queen
Is betrayed by her servants. The eagle of Rome stands by the palace
And night’s murkiness creeps and the trumpets of victory din.
And the last one is entering, bewitched by her beauty,
Stately, tall man, he is whispering, taken aback,
«He will send you up front — as a slave — in his triumph — all’s futile...»
But so calm is that bow of her swan-like magnificent neck.
Those children of hers will be chained and expelled from the city.
What’s left to fulfill in this world? To joke with the man
And to place a small asp, like a farewell pity,
On her tawny breast with the nonchalant hand.

* * *

The dark veil hid my hands. He said, «I wish
To discern — why you’re pale today?»
It’s because my tart, poignant anguish
Made him drunk. He staggered away.
Can’t forget this: his painfully twisted,
Mouth trying to announce, «I hate...»
I ran down, not touching banisters,
I ran after him up to the gate.
Suffocating I cried, «Don’t be leery,
It’s a joke; if you leave, I’ll die.»
Smiling back to me calmly and eerie,
«Do not stand in the wind,» he replied.

The Muse

I can’t live with this burden, abuse.
Is it right to call her — The Muse?
People say, «What a strange attitude...»
And they say, «So divinely she babbles...»
More severe than a fever, she troubles.
And again, for a year turns mute.


When Jacob first saw his Rachel, his lass,
He bowed to the girl like a wanderer homeless.
Upon fields the herds raised the skin burning dust,
The spring was heaped up with the stone enormous.
He heaved off the stone and the spring was unlocked,
He gave pure water to the thirsty sheep's flock.

The heart in his chest grew with grief and complained,
It hurt like a wound in spite on his efforts.
They made the agreement -- he serves for a maid
Seven years at Laban's household as a shepherd.
O, Rachel! For one who would earn your gaze
Those years are like seven eyes-blinding days.

Laban is so wise, though with silver obsessed
And pity to him is unknown.
The lie would be pardoned by people, -- he says --
For Glory of Land that he owns.
And tender-eyed Liah - by her father's hard hand --
Is ushering into the marital tent.

And over the desert the lofty night flies
With dew, cooling down the air.
Laban's younger daughter bemoans and cries,
She tears her fleece braids in despair.
Her sister -- she curses, and God -- she condemns,
And Angel of Death to come -- she commends.
And Jacob sees dreams: his desired, sweet trice,
That spring and that lowland bosky.
And gleeful gazes of Rachel's dark eyes,
And that dove-like voice of her asking:
O, was it you, Jacob, who hold me so close
And kissed me and called me the black dove of yours?

The Poet

It is not hard work! We have here
Your careless living. Come on!
Some music you might overhear,
Pretending that it is your own.

With someone's gay, radiant scherzo
Some lines of a poem to fill,
To vow -- your poor heart moans; though
The wind does all that in the field.

Then to overhear the forest,
The seemingly reticent trees
Until the smoke-screen of the fog rests
Upon the accomplices-leas.

Right here and there at a distance,
I take it. No guilt and no harm.
A few -- from the wily existence.
A lot -- from the night and the calm.