"REQUIEM" TRANS. LYN COFFIN
No, it wasn't under a foreign heaven,
It wasn't under the wing of a foreign power,—
I was there among my countrymen,
I was where my people, unfortunately, were.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
In the awful years of Yezhovian horror, I spent sev-
enteen months standing in line in front of various pris-
ons in Leningrad. One day someone "recognized" me.
Then a woman with blue lips, who was standing behind
me, and who, of course, had never heard my name,
came out of the stupor which typified all of us, and
whispered into my ear (everyone there spoke only in
—Can you describe this?
And I said:
Then something like a fleeting smile passed over what
once had been her face.
April 1, 1957
N. I. Yezhov: head of the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police from
1936 to 1938, was noted for his ferocity. He presided over the great
purges, and the period of 1936-1938 is therefore known as
Faced with this grief, mountains sink down,
The great river has to languish,
But the hasps-of the prison are made of iron,
And behind them the "concentration den"
And deadly anguish.
Cool winds are stroking someone's hair,
And the sun is shining on someone's head—
We don't know, we're the same everywhere,
The gnashing of keys is all we hear
And the soldiers' booted tread.
We get up as if there were priests to assist,
We cross the rebrutalized city squares,
More breathless than the dead, we come to the tryst,
The sun is lower and the Neva's all mist,
And far off, the song of hoping flares.
Sentence . . . And at once the tears will start,
How different from the others one's already grown,
It's as if they took the life out of the heart,
Like being thrown backwards on a jolting cart,
. . . She's coming. . . Staggering. . . Alone. . .
Where now are all the chance-met people,
Friends during those two years in hell?
Of which Siberian storms are they full?
What phantoms do they see in the lunar circle?
It's to them I am sending this farewell.
This happened when only the dead wore smiles—
They rejoiced at being safe from harm.
And Leningrad dangled from its jails
Like some unnecessary arm.
And when the hosts of those convicted,
Marched by—mad, tormented throngs,
And train whistles were restricted
To singing separation songs.
The stars of death stood overhead,
And guiltless Russia, that pariah,
Writhed under boots, all blood-bespattered,
And the wheels of many a black maria.
No, this isn't me, someone else suffers,
I couldn't stand it. All that's happened
They should wrap up in black covers,
The streetlights should be taken away . . .
They should have shown you, girl of the clever hello
And the scoffing darling of many a friend,
The happy sinner from Tsarskoe Selo,
What would happen to your life before the end—
Carrying bundles, the three-hundredth soul
Waiting at the Cross Prison door,
And your warm tear would burn a hole
In the new year's icy floor.
The prison poplar continues to bend,
There's not a sound to be heard—but how many
Innocent lives are coming to an end. . .
For months I've filled the air with pleas,
Trying to call you back.
I've thrown myself at the hangman's knees,
You are my son and my rack.
From now on, categories spill,
And I no longer have any solution—
Who's a beast, who's human still,
How long I must wait for the execution.
Besides dusty flowers, there is also
The ringing of censers, and tracks that go
From somewhere into nowhere fast.
And straight ahead, there's this to see:
A gigantic star, threatening me
With death when a day or two have passed.
I've seen how a face can fall like a leaf,
How, from under the lids, terror peeks,
I've seen how suffering and grief
Etches hieroglyphs on cheeks,
How ash-blonde hair, from roots to tips,
Turns black and silver overnight.
How smiles wither on submissive lips,
And in a half-smile quivers fright.
Not only for myself do I pray,
But for those who stood in front and behind me,
In the bitter cold, on a hot July day
Under the red wall that stared blindly.
Again the memorial hour's drawing near.
You are the one I see and feel and hear:
Who was barely able to come to the window and stand,
The one who does not tread her native land.
Who looked at me and tossed her beautiful head,
And "Coming here is coming home," she said.
I'd like to call each one by name, in turn,
But someone took my list away to burn.
For them I've woven a wide shroud today
Of insufficient words I heard them say.
I've thought about them everywhere I've been,
I won't forget them in the new misfortune.
Someone might close my lips, I have no doubt,
Through which a hundred million people shout,
Let them remember me the selfsame way,
On the eve of my memorial day.
And if it ever be this land's intent
To honor me with any monument,
I give permission to that future nation,
With one condition, for the celebration:
Don't put it in my birthplace, ocean-battered,
My last connection with the sea's been shattered,
Nor in the Czar's park by the hallowed tree,*
Where an inconsolable spirit looks for me,
But here where for three hundred hours I had to wait,
And still they didn't open that certain gate.
Because even in blissful death I'd be afraid
To forget the clatter black marias made,
To forget the way the hated door slammed shut
And an old lady wailed like a wounded creature, but
Let from the lids of bronze, unmoving eyes
Snow melt and stream like the tears each human cries,
And let in the distance the prison pigeons coo,
While along the Neva, ships pass quietly through.
*This tree or stump in Tsarskoe Selo often figures in Akhmatova's
poetry. It connects her with Pushkin, symbolizes her ties to Russian
poetic tradition, etc.