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Anna Akhmatova
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The Monday Poem > Our Winter Poet: Anna Akhmatova (21st December - 20th March)

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message 1: by Jenny (last edited Dec 07, 2013 10:40AM) (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I thought it would be nice to pick a poet for the season for us to read together. Following the common instinct that winter equals Russia ;), this season poet will be Anna Akhmatova. Feel free to pick any selection of poetry by her and share your thoughts and poems here.

If you are interested in reading some more about Anna Akhmatova, the Poetry Foundation has an interesting short-biography of Anna Akhmatova as well as a few of her poems.


message 2: by Alannah (new)

Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 11206 comments Mod
I look forward to finding more about her and her work.


message 3: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments I'm looking forward to this. It'll be interesting to see the impact that different translations make. I used to have two books of her poems with two different translators. This led to extremely different versions of some of the poems. So I just kept the book I preferred! This is Selected Poems.


message 4: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Looking forward to this also. I have already bookmarked her poems online, but will also look at what my library has...

For those who might like to try out her poetry, you can read some of her work here


message 5: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Gill wrote: "I'm looking forward to this. It'll be interesting to see the impact that different translations make. I used to have two books of her poems with two different translators. This led to extremely dif..."

Gill, the very same thing happened to me with two German translations. I had fallen in love with a poem of hers and bought a selection of poetry that included said poem but I hadn't checked for the translator. Sadly the poem had lost all it's magic in the other translation.


message 6: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Jenny wrote: "Gill wrote: "I'm looking forward to this. It'll be interesting to see the impact that different translations make. I used to have two books of her poems with two different translators. This led to ..."

Interesting... I just checked my local library, which has one volume of Akhmatova's poems translated by Jane Kenyon. However, there are several other translations available in the system which I could request through interlibrary loan.

Gill, do you recall who did the translation you didn't like (so I can avoid it!)?


message 7: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments I think it was this one, Leslie, but I'm not sure. Selected Poems


message 8: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Today is the official start of the Anna Akhmatova season. Has anyone already decided on which selection of poetry they'll be reading?


message 9: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I was just thinking about this, literally two minutes ago! My local library has A Hundred White Daffodils: Essays, Interviews, the Akhmatova Translations, Newspaper Columns, and One Poem which has Kenyon's translation of Twenty Poems in it.


message 10: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I will be home over Christmas and try to find the Akhmatova translation I have in order to know what to avoid. ;)
Is there a consensus as to which is the best translation of her in English? Is it Kenyon? Or D.M. Thomas? I am tempted to read a few in English as well as in German translation. If we end up reading different translations of the same poems it might be really interesting to talk about the differences but also about what is truly Akhmatova about them and shines through all the translations.


message 11: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments The translation I'm using is by D M Thomas. I think I'm going to start with Requiem. It's a long poem, so I might read other ones as I go along.


message 12: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments This is AA's foreword to Requiem. It's dated 1 April 1957, Leningrad. As far as I can see, she wrote the first section of the poem in 1935, and the rest over the following years.
The reference to Yezhov is the official that Stalin entrusted with the 1937-38 purges. I found this very moving:

In the fearful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison queues in Leningrad. One day somebody 'identified' me. Beside me, in the queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never heard of me; but she suddenly came out of that trance so common to us all and whispered in my ear (everybody spoke in whispers there): 'Can you describe this?' And I said: 'Yes, I can.' And then something like the shadow of a smile crossed what had once been her face.


message 13: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Very moving passage Gill. I am looking forward to start the selection of poems I chose, I will make it a New Years present to myself I think.
I've also found out that Nadezhda Mandelstam (the wife of Osip Mandelstam who might be the better known of the two) wrote a book of memories about Anna Akhmatova. Unfortunately is hasn't been translated to English it seems, but I will be reading this as well some time during winter.

I would quite like to also read a little more about Russia during her time and the horrifying political climate that a lot of these poems are informed by. Moscow, 1937 is sitting on my shelf and tempting me to make this a Russian winter.


message 14: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments I'll have a think about any other books that you might find interesting, Jenny.


message 15: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Have you read Darkness at Noon? It really gives a feeling for the times and the issues. It's engrained in my memory.


message 16: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I haven't Gill, but it sounds really interesting, thank you for the recommendation!


message 17: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I will be starting on Kenyon's translation of Twenty Poems tomorrow...


message 18: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I have started dipping into Twenty Poems today - I am really into the imagery so far! I had only read one or two of her poems before this...


message 19: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Leslie, I was wondering which poems are included in the twenty. It'd be interesting to look at them in the translation that I have


message 20: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Gill wrote: "Leslie, I was wondering which poems are included in the twenty. It'd be interesting to look at them in the translation that I have"

Most of them don't have titles but here is the list of the ones that do:
The Guest
N.V.N.
Tale of the Black Ring
On the Road


9 of the untitled poems came from Plantain (1921). I particularly liked this one (#12 of the 20) written during WWI (1917):

All day the crowd rushes one way, then another;
its own gasping frightens it still more,
and laughing skulls fly on funereal banners,
prophesying from the river's far side.
For this I sang and dreamed!
They have torn my heart in two.
How quiet it is after the volley!
Death sends patrols into every courtyard.

My favorite though I think is #17 (undated but later):

Wild honey has the scent of freedom,
dust--of a ray of sun,
a girl's mouth--of a violet,
and gold--has no perfume.

Watery--the mignonette,
and like an apple--love,
but we have found out forever
that blood smells only of blood.


message 21: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Like them a lot, particularly the latter!


message 22: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Started reading yesterday and I though I meant to just read a couple, I found myself reading many more and got drawn into it.
I think it is interesting how much the political situation of the time is present in almost all her poems, even the one's that on first sight are simple love poems. I find that though the poems are very emotional, there is something very cool and almost cristaline (? could be making up words again) about her language. I wonder whether it is really the language or the formal composition of the poems.

I think reading her poems could easily lead to a chain of follow-up reads, for political background as well as for poets she's mentioning or adressing in/through her poems. One name in particular comes up often Osip Mandelstam, who's a poet I really wanted to read this year anyhow.


message 23: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I think that there is something crystalline (yes, that is a word!) about her poems, something beautiful but orderly and even sharp at times. Excellent image Jenny! They almost remind me of snowflakes - cold, ephemeral, and all similar but still unique. But she had a lot of wintery images in the poems in my collection so I am probably influenced by that...


message 24: by Jenny (last edited Jan 12, 2014 02:14PM) (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments It's interesting what you say about being similar, because I ended up reading the collection a bit as if I was reading a novel. They are of a very similar vibe and a small range of subjects and become unique by the subtle differences more than the big shifts I think.
Also in my collection it seems to be winter a lot, which somehow added to the feel of reading a cryptic novel, as if they were all puzzle pieces to a snow-coverd St. Petersburg or Moscow in Stalin's Russia.


message 25: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments From 'Requiem'

1/
They took you away at daybreak. Half wak-
ing, as though at a wake, I followed.
In the dark chamber children were crying,
In the image case, candlelight guttered.
At your lips,the chill of an ikon,
The deathly sweat of your brow.
I shall go creep to our wailing wall,
Crawl to the Kremlin towers.


2/
Gently flows the gentle Don,
Yellow moonlight leaps the sill,

Leaps the sill and stops aston-
ished as it sees the shade

Of a woman lying ill,
Of a woman stretched alone.

Son in irons and husband clay.
Pray. Pray.

These are the first two poems from the longer poem 'Requiem' by Akhmatova.
The first refers to the arrest of Nicolai Punin, a friend of hers, in 1935.

In the second poem 'husband clay' refers to Akhmatova's husband, Nicolai Gumilev, shot in 1921. I think it is a fabulous translation.


message 26: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I'm arriving halfway through this, but her poetry seems to be incredibly moving.

I would definitely have gone for a D. M. Thomas translation, but cannot find such on Kindle. The preferred translator there seems to be Andrey Kneller, but his (her?) author page just has a list of other books. There's also a selection translated by Graeme Davis, but he doesn't seem to do much translating of Russian apart from this at all.

Did you reach a consensus on this? Has anyone read either of these two versions?


message 27: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Jean, I don't think that we reached a consensus. If you end up getting one of those translations, we should see if we can find a common poem to compare. I found that fascinating when Gill and I compared Kenyon and Thomas's translations...


message 28: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Jean, my D M Thomas copy is a paperback that I've had for years, that I've been using a magnifier with. I'd never be able to read a whole book that way, but it works for me on poems.


message 29: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments I've got the Graeme Davis one also; it seems fine to me. He's done two other short volumes for kindle on Bryusov (whom I've not heard of) and Mandlestam. They each have a short introduction.


message 30: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments And here is his blog!

http://graemedavis.blogspot.co.uk/


message 31: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) That's really helpful, thank you Gill! It does look from both of these pages as if his main focus is Genealogy, but since you say his translation seems fine I've downloaded the 15 poems by Anna Akhmatova to try.

Leslie, they are:

• Song of the Last Meeting
• I see the faded flag over the customs house
• A Room at Evening
• The Prayer
• Verses about St Petersburg
• When in suicidal depression
• How is this century worse than those which went before?
• We thought that we were poor
• The Memory of the 19th July 1914
• May Snow
• Comfort
• Petrograd 1919
• In the Evening
• All has been looted, betrayed, sold
• July 1914

If you'd like to choose one from your reading so far, it might be a good idea to compare them, yes :)


message 32: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Also, if you search for 'final meeting' in the Kindle store you see a book by Kneller.


message 33: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Yes! Thank you :)


message 34: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments It's great to have you joining in Jean! (and I bet you are all dying to compare the poems to my German translation, aren't you? ;)


message 35: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Gill wrote: "From 'Requiem'

1/
They took you away at daybreak. Half wak-
ing, as though at a wake, I followed.
In the dark chamber children were crying,
In the image case, candlelight guttered.
At your lips,th..."


I wish my selection had Requiem too!

I will have look in the university library for an English translation as well, because it is interesting to see the different nuances that different languages may capture. I am really hoping to find a selection with Requiem in it too.


message 36: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments I think Requiem and also Poem without a Hero, are both seen as important poems. I hope you can find a copy, Jenny.


message 37: by Gill (last edited Jan 13, 2014 12:48PM) (new)

Gill | 5720 comments http://bryantmcgill.com/wiki/poetry/a...

This link has Requiem in a variety of languages inc German, though it's not set out as a poem in most of them.


message 38: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Oh wow! Thank you!

Oh darn, I think the German is translated by Google translator. LOL!

But thank you very much anyway Gill, I will try to get hold of a copy somehow.


message 39: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments It seemed too good to be true!

Ok, this one is a wow! Akhmatova reciting, in Russian, her poem 'The Muse..'
It was recorded in the sixties.
http://youtu.be/htW5XzUD24k


message 40: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Oh wow, I imagined her voice to be much different. Less dark somehow and different all together!


message 41: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I now discover those 15 poems are all very early, so have ordered the D. M. Thomas version from the library (will use your tip Gill - as you say, it's not too bad that way with short pieces).

Hope it comes soon; they're usually pretty good :)


message 42: by Andrey (last edited Jan 17, 2014 03:10PM) (new)

Andrey Kneller Hi All,

I happened to stumble on this discussion by searching for my name. I glad that my book is in consideration. I've actually dedicated a website to the work of Anna Akhmatova that I've put together recently. (www.annaakhmatova.com) You can preview/download my ebooks of her work for free, as well as read a little about her and about the translation process. If I can be of any help, or if you have any questions, please let me know.

Andrey Kneller


message 43: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments Hi Andrey

Nice to have you join us. I'll have a look at your website over the weekend. I'm specially interested to see your views on translating poetry.


message 44: by Gill (new)

Gill | 5720 comments A question about translation, Andrey. Do you look at other people's translations at any stage in the process?


message 45: by Jenny (last edited Jan 18, 2014 06:50AM) (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Andrey, nice to have you with us!

We've been spending quite a bit of time looking at the different translation of her poems.
Since I couldn't find a good translation of her 'Requiem' in German I looked up several of the English interpretations, so far by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward as well as by D.M. Thomas. Today I stumbled over your translation as well here: https://sites.google.com/site/poetrya... and was very happy to find a few of your translations of Alexander Blok as well, since apart from Osip Mandelstam, that is a name that I kept stumbling over while reading Akhmatova's poetry.


message 46: by Andrey (new)

Andrey Kneller Hi Gill, I do often consult other translations as it often helps with a particular word choice. While working on Akhmatova, I looked at a lot of translations by Hemschmeyer, for example. My problem with many other translators is that they often ignore the meter and rhyme of the original poems. What makes Russian poetry especially beautiful to me is the richness of the language, the way it flows and how seemingly natural it sounds as if Akhmatova spoke in rhymes all of her life. All of this gets lost in other translations, I try my best to preserve it.


message 47: by Andrey (new)

Andrey Kneller Hi Jenny, I'm glad you were able to find my other website. Though it is in serious need of updates, you can find a pretty good selection of Russian poetry from the silver age. Besides Blok, take a look at the work of Marina Tsvetaeva. She is probably my favorite Russian poet, although her work is incredibly difficult to translate. Her command of language is just amazing. I'm curious what you thought of my version of the Requiem. If there are any questions that I can answer for you, please don't hesitate to ask.


message 48: by Jenny (last edited Jan 19, 2014 07:24AM) (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I sat down again last night with all three Requiem translations that I have gathered in English (and finally found a good German one as well) and just looked at a fraction in the beginning of it, the same one that Gill had shared before. Strangely, I like all three of them, for very different reasons though. It made me realize that since I don't know the original, I can't actually ever judge the quality of translation, I can only judge the poetic value of the 'new' poem. I've read somewhere, that it is in translation that a poet shows his real poetic powers. I wonder if that is true?

Another thing is, that her poetry reads very different to me when reading in German and in English translation, because since every language has a character itself, it accentuates different aspects of the poetry. In German for example the crystalline character of her language that I was talking about before, that sort of coolness despite the emotional language strikes me more than in English. But that might also be due to the fact that I have a much more natural feel for my own language than for another.

Since some of the translations of her poetry sound very modern and some much more in tune with her time I wonder which translation is closest to her sound. And whether a translator while trying to stay close, also has to make a decision what to prioritize. Rhythm and meter of the poem, or words and images, or whether it is actually possible to do both equal justice.

I've noticed something when looking at all three translations of the beginning of Requiem:

This is the the one by D.M. Thomas, and to me there's quiet a strong difference between the meter of first and second stanza, so much so that the first actually sounds like free verse. I also noticed the way he breaks words in half.

1/
They took you away at daybreak. Half wak-
ing, as though at a wake, I followed.
In the dark chamber children were crying,
In the image case, candlelight guttered.
At your lips,the chill of an ikon,
The deathly sweat of your brow.
I shall go creep to our wailing wall,
Crawl to the Kremlin towers.


2/
Gently flows the gentle Don,
Yellow moonlight leaps the sill,

Leaps the sill and stops aston-
ished as it sees the shade

Of a woman lying ill,
Of a woman stretched alone.

Son in irons and husband clay.
Pray. Pray.



Both you Andrey and the other translation I have, worked much more consistently in terms of meter and rhyme, and I also noticed that you seperated 'I' and 'II' into two stanza's each which none of the other two seem to have done (apart form Thomas, who chose for a different seperation of 'II' though.)

here's the same bit by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward

I)

At dawn they came and took you away.
You were my dead: I walked behind.
In the dark room children cried,
The holy candle gasped for air.
Your lips were chill from the ikon's kiss,
Sweat bloomed on your brow - those deathly
flowers!
Like the wives of Peter's troopers in Red
Square
I'll stand and howl under the Kremlin towers.

II)

Quietly flows the quiet Don;
Into my house slips the yellow moon.
It leaps the sill, with its cap askew,
And balks at a shadow, that yellow moon.
This woman is sick to her marrow-bone,
This woman is utterly alone,
With husband dead, with son away
In jail. Pray for me. Pray.



and by you Andrey:

I)

They took you at dawn, I remember,
As though to the wake, I trailed,
Children wept in a darkened chamber,
By the icon, the candle grew frail.

Your lips kept the icon’s chill.
The deathly sweat – I remember it all!
Like the wives of the Streltsy, I will
Moan for you by the Kremlin wall.

II)

The Don runs softly in the night,
The yellow crescent walks inside.
It enters, with its hat askance –
And sees a shadow in a trance.

It’s a woman, who needs help,
It’s a woman, by herself,
Her spouse - dead, her son – in jail.
I am she. Please, say a prayer.



I know this is plenty to ask, but I would love to get a sense of the gentle or strong adjustments made, to see what the individual translations focussed on.


message 49: by Jenny (last edited Jan 19, 2014 07:33AM) (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments And by the way, the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva is beautiful. Thank you for the recommendation! I get the feeling I'll be spending much time on this site reading my way through Russian poets, half of them new to me.


message 50: by Andrey (new)

Andrey Kneller Just for comparison, here's another version of the two sections from the Requiem, this one by Judith Hemschemeyer.

I

They led you away at dawn,
I followed you, like a mourner,
In the dark front room the children were crying,
By the icon shelf the candle was dying.
On your lips was the icon's chill.
The deathly sweat on your brow... Unforgettable! -
I will be like the wives of the Streltsy,
Howling under the Kremlin towers.

II

Quietly flows the quiet Don,
Yellow moon slips into a home.

He slips in with cap askance,
He sees a shadow, yellow moon.

This woman is ill,
This woman is alone,

Husband in the grave, son in prison,
Say a prayer for me.


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