The First Bombardment of Leningrad (Первый дальнобойный в Ленинграде), Anna Akhmatova

RIA Novosti archive, image #324 / Boris Kudoyarov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
RIA Novosti archive, image #324 / Boris Kudoyarov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
This was written in 1941. The horrors of war brought a strange freedom. Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony is, of course, about the siege – but it allowed the composer no less to express his feelings about the purges that preceded them. Here, as the siege begins, Akhmatova speaks of a son she might lose in the bombardment – but her son, Lev Gumilev, had already been in the Gulag for three years.

And now in motley human crush
A sudden change was found.
But this was neither city’s rush,
Nor rural idyll’s sound.
Oh yes, the distant thunder rolled
Just like a brother, truth be told,
But in the thunderous steam
Of high fresh clouds the rain soon yields
And quenches arid gasping fields
With torrent’s jolly stream.
But this was truly dry as hell
And battered ears that heard its knell
Were not by it beguiled –
For as now grew its raging fray
It thoughtless came to take away
My own beloved child.


И в пестрой суете людской
Все изменилось вдруг.
Но это был не городской,
Да и не сельский звук.
На грома дальнего раскат
Он, правда, был похож, как брат,
Но в громе влажность есть
Высоких свежих облаков
И вожделение лугов –
Веселых ливней весть.
А этот был, как пекло, сух,
И не хотел смятенный слух
Поверить – по тому,
Как расширялся он и рос,
Как равнодушно гибель нес
Ребенку моему.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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