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Requiem Analysis

Author: Poetry of Anna Akhmatova Type: Poetry Views: 1262

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1935-1940Not under foreign skiesNor under foreign wings protected-I shared all this with my own peopleThere, where misfortune had abandoned us.[1961]INSTEAD OF A PREFACEDuring the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I

spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in

Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.

On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,

her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in

her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor

characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear

(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe

this?' And I answered - 'I can.' It was then that

something like a smile slid across what had previously

been just a face.

[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]DEDICATIONMountains fall before this grief,

A mighty river stops its flow,

But prison doors stay firmly bolted

Shutting off the convict burrows

And an anguish close to death.

Fresh winds softly blow for someone,

Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,

We are everywhere the same, listening

To the scrape and turn of hateful keys

And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.

Waking early, as if for early mass,

Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,

We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,

Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:

But hope still sings forever in the distance.

The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,

Followed by a total isolation,

As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,

Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,

But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.

Where are you, my unwilling friends,

Captives of my two satanic years?

What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?

What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?

I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.


[PRELUDE]It happened like this when only the dead

Were smiling, glad of their release,

That Leningrad hung around its prisons

Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.

Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang

Short songs of farewell

To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,

As they, in regiments, walked along -

Stars of death stood over us

As innocent Russia squirmed

Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres

Of the black marias.IYou were taken away at dawn. I followed you

As one does when a corpse is being removed.

Children were crying in the darkened house.

A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .

The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold


On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gatherTo wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy (<a href="#1"><sup>1</sup></a>)

Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.

[1935. Autumn. Moscow]IISilent flows the river Don

A yellow moon looks quietly on

Swanking about, with cap askew

It sees through the window a shadow of you

Gravely ill, all alone

The moon sees a woman lying at home

Her son is in jail, her husband is dead

Say a prayer for her instead.IIIIt isn't me, someone else is suffering. I couldn't.

Not like this. Everything that has happened,

Cover it with a black cloth,

Then let the torches be removed. . .

Night.IVGiggling, poking fun, everyone's darling,

The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (<a href="#2"><sup>2</sup></a>)

If only you could have foreseen

What life would do with you -

That you would stand, parcel in hand,

Beneath the Crosses (<a href="#3"><sup>3</sup></a>), three hundredth in


Burning the new year's ice

With your hot tears.

Back and forth the prison poplar sways

With not a sound - how many innocent

Blameless lives are being taken away. . .

[1938]VFor seventeen months I have been screaming,

Calling you home.

I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers

For you, my son and my horror.

Everything has become muddled forever -

I can no longer distinguish

Who is an animal, who a person, and how long

The wait can be for an execution.

There are now only dusty flowers,

The chinking of the thurible,

Tracks from somewhere into nowhere

And, staring me in the face

And threatening me with swift annihilation,

An enormous star.

[1939]VIWeeks fly lightly by. Even so,

I cannot understand what has arisen,

How, my son, into your prison

White nights stare so brilliantly.

Now once more they burn,

Eyes that focus like a hawk,

And, upon your cross, the talk

Is again of death.

[1939. Spring]VII

THE VERDICTThe word landed with a stony thud

Onto my still-beating breast.

Nevermind, I was prepared,

I will manage with the rest.I have a lot of work to do today;

I need to slaughter memory,

Turn my living soul to stone

Then teach myself to live again. . .But how. The hot summer rustles

Like a carnival outside my window;

I have long had this premonition

Of a bright day and a deserted house.

[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (<a href="#4"><sup>4</sup></a>)]VIII

TO DEATHYou will come anyway - so why not now?

I wait for you; things have become too hard.

I have turned out the lights and opened the door

For you, so simple and so wonderful.

Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in

Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me

Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.

Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,

Or, with a simple tale prepared by you

(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me

Before the commander of the blue caps and let me


The house administrator's terrified white face.

I don't care anymore. The river Yenisey

Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.

The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes

Close over and cover the final horror.

[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]IXMadness with its wings

Has covered half my soul

It feeds me fiery wine

And lures me into the abyss.That's when I understood

While listening to my alien delirium

That I must hand the victory

To it.However much I nag

However much I beg

It will not let me take

One single thing away:Not my son's frightening eyes -

A suffering set in stone,

Or prison visiting hours

Or days that end in stormsNor the sweet coolness of a hand

The anxious shade of lime trees

Nor the light distant sound

Of final comforting words.

[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]X

CRUCIFIXIONWeep not for me, mother.

I am alive in my grave.1.

A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,

The heavens melted into flames.

To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'

But to his mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'

[1940. Fontannyi Dom]2.

Magdalena smote herself and wept,

The favourite disciple turned to stone,

But there, where the mother stood silent,

Not one person dared to look.

[1943. Tashkent]EPILOGUE1.

I have learned how faces fall,

How terror can escape from lowered eyes,

How suffering can etch cruel pages

Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.

I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair

Can suddenly turn white. I've learned to recognise

The fading smiles upon submissive lips,

The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.

That's why I pray not for myself

But all of you who stood there with me

Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat

Under a towering, completely blind red wall.2.

The hour has come to remember the dead.

I see you, I hear you, I feel you:

The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;

The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar

soil beneath her feet;

The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,'I arrive here as if I've come home!'

I'd like to name you all by name, but the list

Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.


I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble


I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,

I will never forget one single thing. Even in new


Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth

Through which one hundred million people scream;

That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead

On the eve of my remembrance day.

If someone someday in this country

Decides to raise a memorial to me,

I give my consent to this festivity

But only on this condition - do not build it

By the sea where I was born,

I have severed my last ties with the sea;

Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump

Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;

Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours

And no-one slid open the bolt.

Listen, even in blissful death I fear

That I will forget the Black Marias,

Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman

Howled like a wounded beast.

Let the thawing ice flow like tears

From my immovable bronze eyelids

And let the prison dove coo in the distance

While ships sail quietly along the river.

[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]FOOTNOTES<a id="1" name="1">1</a> An elite guard which rose up in rebellionagainst Peter the Great in 1698. Most were eitherexecuted or exiled.

<a id="2" name="2">2</a> The imperial summer residence outside StPetersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years.

<a id="3" name="3">3</a> A prison complex in central Leningrad near theFinland Station, called The Crosses because of theshape of two of the buildings.

<a id="4" name="4">4</a> The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived.First published Sasha Soldatow Mayakovsky in Bondi

BlackWattle Press 1993 Sydney.


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