Anna Akhmatova: ‘The Poet’


Helene Mass (German, born 1871). Woodblock Print. Private Collection.


Here is my English translation of Part 4 of Anna Akhmatova’s Russian poem ‘Tricks of the Trade’, which she composed at various times between 1936 and 1959. This section, entitled ‘The Poet’, was written in the summer of 1959. The poem as a whole deals with different aspects of the process of creation. My translations of the first three parts of the poem appear elsewhere on this blog.


The Poet

You may think this is work
But it’s a carefree life:
To overhear someone’s song
And pass it off as your own.

To take someone’s joyful scherzo
And lay it out in lines,
To swear that a pitiful heart
Groans amid the shining corn.

And then to listen in the forest
To the silent, nun-like pines
While everywhere the fog stands thickly
Like a screen, a curtain of smoke.

I take from left and right
And, even without feeling of shame,
A little from cunning life
And all from the silence of night.


4 comments on “Anna Akhmatova: ‘The Poet’

  1. Fascinating poem, and I love the woodcut – which reminds me of someone else’s work, I just can’t think whose!

  2. leifhendrik says:

    The woodcut reminds me of the work of the German-born American artist Gustave Baumann, who lived for many years in New Mexico. In any case, I love Helene Mass, too. She’s something of a mystery, and no one seems to know much about what happened to her after World War II.

  3. dappled says:

    eavesdropping on another’s songs and conversations, passing them through our mouths and onto the page. How hard we strain to hear, how bereft when all there is is silence.

    This Helene Maas is a find. Thanks for your posts.

  4. leifhendrik says:

    Yes, she’s tremendous. And I love what you’ve said here. It will stay with me.

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