Anna Akhmatova: ‘The Reader’


Anna Akhmatova and Her Son in 1925


Here is my English translation of the last part of Anna Akhmatova’s poem ‘Tricks of the Trade’. The Russian original was written in the summer of 1959.


The Reader

One must never be very unhappy,
Or secretive, least of all!
To be clear to those of her age
The poet flings all open wide.

And the footlights come up from below,
All is deathly, empty and bright,
While the limelight’s chilling flame
Has forever stamped her brow.

But each reader resembles a mystery,
A treasure deep in the earth,
Even he, most recent, unexpected,
Who keeps silence for all of his days.

There nature hides everything from us
When it pleases her alone.
There someone is helplessly weeping
At some predetermined hour.

And so many twilights and evenings
And shadows and chills are there;
There so many unknown eyes
Converse with me up until dawn.

For some things they all reproach me,
In others we all agree,
So flows the mute confession,
The warm conversation between.

Our time on the earth is fleeting
And tight the determined round,
But he is unchanging, eternal,
The poet’s still unknown friend.



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