A Poem For a Thursday | Anna Akhmatova #RUSpoem

Photo | Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

Anna Akhmatova was a Russian modernist poet (11th June 1889 Odessa – 1966 Moscow). She was part of the Acmeist group of poets in Russia from about 1910, ‘their ideals were compactness of form and clarity of expression‘ (wikipedia). Other Acmeist poets were Nikolay Gumilev (Anna’s husband for a while), Sergei Gorodetsky, Osip Mandelstam, Mikhail Kuzmin, and Georgiy Ivanov.

Thanks to my recent reading of Otherland | Maria Tumarkin, I discovered Anna and several other Russian poets that were favourites of Tumarkin when she was growing up in the Soviet Union. I’m all for brevity and precision in poetry, so I was keen to check out some of their work.

Unfortunately, I could not find any details on when Sunbeam was written or first published, or who the translator was. It may have been a poem in her first published collection, Vecher/Вечер (Evening) 1912.

Sunbeam

I pray to the sunbeam from the window;
It is pale, thin, straight.
Since morning I have been silent,
And my heart; is split.
The copper on my washstand
Has turned green,
But the sunbeam plays on it
So charmingly.
How innocent it is, and simple,
In the evening calm,
But to me in this deserted temple
It's like a golden celebration,
And a consolation.
  • This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.

7 thoughts on “A Poem For a Thursday | Anna Akhmatova #RUSpoem

  1. She’s my all time favourite poet. Many thanks for this. It it helps, I have a copy of Judith Hemschemeyer’s translation of Akhmatova’s complete poems. The poem you quote is listed as an addition to Evening which may mean it was added to a later edition. Hemshemeyer cites Viktor Zhirmunsky (1881-1971) as the publisher of her first five collections: ‘Evening’, ‘Rosary’, ‘White Flock’ Plaintain and Anno Domini MCMXXI

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  2. I’ve got over all my problems with your site, except I’m not allowed to press Like. You’ll just have to takes it as read. (I am reading not one, but two books of poems at the moment, one of which I have undertaken to review before the end of the year)

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  3. Hi,
    Anna Akhmatova composed and published the poem in 1909. It comes from her book Vecher (Evening) and was part of her First Kiev Notebook. The book opens with this poem. In Russian it has no title but often the first line: Molyus’ okonnomu luchu (I pray to the sunbeam in the window) is used as a title. The original poem has thirteen lines. The first eight line form two quatrains with ABAB endrhyme pattern. The third stanza has five lines with the endrhyme patterm: ABAAB. The English translation is good and captures the meaning and the mood well but the poem, as it often happens with Russian poems, fails to voice the sounds, what I call the sound-world of the poem. When I read the poem in Russian aloud I can feel the sounds of each syllable in my mouth. The sound-world is an integral part of the poem and for acmeist poets were very important.
    I haven’t as yet found the name of the translator of this poem. I have on my shelf English translations of Akhmatova’s poem. The poems have been translated by D. M. Thomas. The book is part of the series: Penguin International Poets. The title is Anna Akhmatova: Selected Poems (1988). Unfortunately the ‘Sunbeam’ isn’t included in it. But it is in my opinion one of the best English translations of her poems.
    I hope this helps.
    With best wishes,
    Subhash

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