Anna Akhmatova: In the Summer of 1917


Arkhip Kuindzhi. ‘Steppe. Cornfield’, 1875. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Here is my translation of a poem written by Anna Akhmatova in July 1917, just a few months into the Russian Revolution, when her entire world seemed to be falling apart. I have attempted to keep something of Akhmatova’s  rhyme scheme, something I don’t usually do when translating poetry. But the Russian original just seems so filled with music that I had to try. I include Akhmatova’s text after my own.


I hear the orioles’ falling, mourning song
And greet the summer’s magnificent decline,
While through the grain the sickles move along,
Slicing the wheat and commingled columbine.

Now the skirt of a thin and lovely reaper
Flies in the wind like a flag on holiday,
Now the sound of bells grows ever deeper,
A long and dusty gaze comes carefully my way.

Smiles and caresses, a lover’s gentle praise
Are nothing whatever–quickly comes the night.
Come then, remember that paradise of days
Where guiltless and blessed we wandered in the light.


Я слышу иволги всегда печальный голос
И лета пышного приветствую ущерб,
А к колосу прижатый тесно колос
С змеиным свистом срезывает серп.

И стройных жниц короткие подолы,
Как флаги в праздник, по ветру летят.
Теперь бы звон бубенчиков веселых,
Сквозь пыльные ресницы долгий взгляд.

Не ласки жду я, не любовной лести
В предчувствии неотвратимой тьмы,
Но приходи взглянуть на рай, где вместе
Блаженны и невинны были мы.


2 comments on “Anna Akhmatova: In the Summer of 1917

  1. This is so, so beautiful! I want to explore Akhmatova some more.

    • leifhendrik says:

      It really is an amazingly lyrical, suggestive and evocative poem. There are some great editions of Akhmatova in English and plenty of biographical material too. Zephyr Press did a really fine two-volume edition of Akhmatova’s verse, cloth cover, excellent in every way. Thanks for your comments, as always.

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