“The city, always my beloved” (“Тот город, мной любимый с детства”), Anna Akhmatova

Akhmatova's coat hangs in her flat in the House on the Fontanka
Akhmatova’s coat hangs in her flat in the House on the Fontanka

The city, of course, is St Petersburg. Akhmatova could not tear herself from it, in spite of the suffering it visited on her. This was written in 1929, at the end of the decade that had seen the execution of her former husband, Nikolai Gumilev.

The city, always my beloved,
In its December silence seemed
Today as on it I reflected
The sum of all in vain I’d dreamed.

For all that it to me has given
Was easy now to give away,
The sound of prayer, my passion driven,
The blessing of my first song’s sway –

It all was claimed by glassy vapour,
In depths of mirrors’ sheen consumed…
It all became a useless caper –
A faceless fiddler’s scraping, doomed.

But fresh discoveries now embracing,
In thrall to every novel thing,
I looked at how the sledge was racing,
And heard my native language ring.

And with an animated vigour
Unbridled joy breathed in my face,
A friend formed by the ages’ rigour,
Held me on porch in its embrace.


Тот город, мной любимый с детства,
В его декабрьской тишине
Моим промотанным наследством
Сегодня показался мне.

Все, что само давалось в руки,
Что было так легко отдать:
Душевный жар, молений звуки
И первой песни благодать –

Все унеслось прозрачным дымом,
Истлело в глубине зеркал…
И вот уж о невозвратимом
Скрипач безносый заиграл.

Но с любопытством иностранки,
Плененной каждой новизной,
Глядела я, как мчатся санки,
И слушала язык родной.

И дикой свежестью и силой
Мне счастье веяло в лицо,
Как будто друг, от века милый,
Всходил со мною на крыльцо.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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