Excerpts from Requiem by Anna Akhmatova
Before such trials all mountains crumble,
A mighty river ceases to flow to the sea,
Yet a dungeon’s barred gates remain rigid,
Beyond which gape the prisoners’ cells
And the deathly isolation of loneliness.
This occurred when only a dead man
Would smile, taking pleasure in rest.
And like a useless appendage Leningrad
Swayed in the vicinity of its prisons.
When, bereft of mind from torture,
Marched divisions already condemned,
The short and sweet song of parting
And the trains’ railing whistles,
The stars of death hanging over us,
Writhing in pain, innocent Russia
Under the bloody soles of the boots…
They led you away before sunrise.
After you, as at a bearing out, I trudged,
In the dim chamber children whimpered,
And Mary’s candle was snuffed out.
This woman is not well,
This woman is all alone.
Husband in the grave, son jailed,
Please offer a prayer for me.
For seventeen months straight I scream,
Calling for you to come home, please,
Throwing myself at the executioner’s feet;
You are my son and also my nightmare.
Now, everything is confused for the ages.
Now I will never manage to untangle
Who is an animal and who a human being,
Nor how long I’ll wait till the death sentence
Is carried out.
The lighthearted weeks are flying by,
What’s happened, I’ll never understand.
How did the white nights, my dear son,
Peek through the window of your cell,
And now how again they glance
With their inflamed predator eyes
At your cross, set there on the high place,
And mutter about the end of your days.
No, not my son’s terrifying eyes –
Suffering that has become stone,
Not the day the thunder arrived,
Not the hour of the prison visit…
So that now I pray not for myself alone
But for all of us, who stood there with me
In the intense cold and in July’s heat
Under that red and blinded wall.
Translated from Russian by Alex Cigale