In the Evening, Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) was unusual for a poet of the Silver Age in surviving to old age. But her life was full of tragedy. Her first husband, the poet Nikolai Gumilev, was executed in 1921; their son, Lev, spent years in the Gulag, where her lover, Nikolai Punin, perished. Her greatest poem, Requiem, describes these experiences in agonising detail. This early poem, from 1913, is lighter, describing the young Akhmatova’s early flirtations, presumably with Gumilev.

I have been hesitant to tackle this greatest of twentieth century Russian poets. I have again striven to stick with her metre and rhyme scheme – with the resulting – and perhaps desperate – “hooked on/Me”, and the native Londoner’s slip in rhyming “smother” with “lover”. Sometimes metre requires additions in translation – there’s no “scraping” in the original, for example, but at least the onomatopoeia reflects “скрипок”. For comparison, here’s a translation that makes no attempt to reproduce form and rhyme. In theory, accuracy is served by such an approach – which begs the question of how “slim ladies on horseback” become “well-built circus riders”…

In garden rang out music’s sound,
Untellable its grieving motion.
The fresh astringent waft of ocean
On icy plate of oysters found.

He said to me: “I’m lasting friend!”
And gingerly his hand touched skirt’s edge.
It’s not the same as hugging forage –
These hands, so tentative in trend.

It’s how you stroke a cat or bird,
Or ladies slim on horseback looked on…
His laughing eyes so languid hooked on
Me, lashes gold and fair bestirred.

And mournful, scraping violin’s voice
Accompanies the smoke drift’s smother:
“To heaven thanks give and rejoice –
For first occasion with your lover”.


Звенела музыка в саду
Таким невыразимым горем.
Свежо и остро пахли морем
На блюде устрицы во льду.

Он мне сказал: «Я верный друг!»
И моего коснулся платья.
Как не похожи на объятья
Прикосновенья этих рук.

Так гладят кошек или птиц,
Так на наездниц смотрят стройных…
Лишь смех в глазах его спокойных
Под лёгким золотом ресниц.

А скорбных скрипок голоса
Поют за стелющимся дымом:
«Благослови же небеса –
Ты первый раз одна с любимым».

Translation by Rupert Moreton

4 thoughts on “In the Evening, Anna Akhmatova

  1. Beautiful translation! Akhmatova is my most beloved poet. Thanks for linking to the other translation – I enjoyed reading the translator’s thoughts on the poem, but I prefer your translation, especially the line “His laughing eyes so languid hooked on
    Me, lashes gold and fair bestirred.”


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