Don Mager – Six Translations of Akhmatova


После ветра и мороза было
Любо мне погреться у огня.
Там за сердцем я не уследила,
И его украли у меня.

Новогодний праздник длится пышно,
Влажны стебли новогодних роз,
А в груди моей уже не слышно
Трепетания стрекоз.

Ах!  не трудно  угадать мне вора,
Я его узнала по глазам.
Только страшно так, что скоро, скоро
Он вернет свою добычу сам.

Январе 1914 


After facing the wind and the frost
I basked in the warmth of the fire,
But did not keep my eyes on my heart,
Which was stolen by somebody near.

The New Year party is grand,
The New Year rose stems are moist,
And fluttering dragonfly wings
Are invisible in my breast.

Oh, it’s not hard to know this thief,
I spot him by his eyes, but quick,
Quick, a dreadful reverse,
He gives the stolen goods back.

January 1914 



И ты ко мне вернулась знаменитой.
Темио-зеленой веточкой повитой,
Изящна, равнодушна и горда . . .
Я не такой тебя когда-то знала,
И я не для того тебя спасала
Из месива кровавого тогда.
Не буду я делить с тобой удачу,
Я не ликую над тобой, а плачу,
И ты прекрасно знаешь почему.
И ночь идет, и сил осталось мало,
Спаси ж меня, как я тебя спасала,
И не пускай в клокочущую тьму.

6 января 1944.  Сочельник


And your travels bring you fame.
Wreathed with dark green sprigs,
Elegant, indifferent and proud . . .
I do not recognize you now
Nor was it for this that I salvaged you
From that blooded debris.
I will not share my luck with you,
Nor be glad for you, just weep,
And you know the reason why.
As night arrives my strength departs,
So rescue me as I rescued you,
And do not leave me in seething dark.

6 January 1944.  Epiphany Eve.



И это станет для людей
Как времена Веспаснен,
А было это—только рана
И муки облачко над ней,

18 декабря 1964.  Ночь.


And for people this will be seen,
Like the age of Vespasian,
To be merely this—a wound
With a small cloud of torment above it.

18 December 1964.  Night.



Высо́ко в небе облачко серело,
Как беличья рассмеленная шкурка.
Он мне сказал: «Не жаль, что ваше тело
Растает в марте, хрупкая Снегурка!»

В пучистой муфте руки золодели.
Мне стало страшно, стало как-то смутно.
О, как вернуть вас, быстрые недели
Его любви, воздушной и мниутной!

Я не хочу ни горечи, ни мщенья,
Пускай умру с последней белой вьюгой,
О нем гадала я в канун Крещенья,
Я в январе была его подругой.
Весна 1911
Царсеое Село


High in the sky a small cloud, turning gray,
Was like a spread out squirrel pelt.
He said to me:  “Is it not a pity, Snow Maiden
That in March your frail body will melt!”

Hands grew cold in the furry muff.
It was fearful to me, like something unclear.
O, how to regain you, the swift passing weeks
Of his love, momentary, mere air.

I want neither bitterness nor vengeance,
Let me die in the last white storm and wind.
On Epiphany Eve§ I’d cast his fortune,
And in January I’d been his friend.

Spring 1911
Tsarskoe Selo



Гр<афу> В. А. Комаровскому

Какие странные слова
Принес мне тихий день апреля.
Ты знал, во мне еще жива
Страстная страшная неделя.

Я не слыхала звонов тех,
Что плавали в лазури чистой.
Семь дней звучал то медный смех,
То плач струился серебристый.

А я, закрыв лицо мое,
Как перед вечною разлукой,
Лежала и ждала ее,
Еще не названную мукой.

Апрель 1914
Царское Село


To Count V. A. Komarovskii

Such erratic words came
To me that quiet April day.
You knew within me lives
A fearsome passionate week.

I did not hear those bells
Adrift in the pristine blue.
Seven days, brazen laughter rang,
Silver lamentations flowed.

But I, veiling my face,
As if for eternal departure,
Lay and waited for it,
An, as yet, unnamed agony.

April 1914
Tsarskoe Selo


Анне Ахматовой («Вечер» и «Четки»)

Граф Впсили Алексеевич Комаровску

В полуночи, осыпанной золою,
В условии сердечной тесноты,
Над темною и серою землею
Вам эвкалипт раскрыл свои цветы.

И утренней порой голубоокой
Тоской весны еще не крепкий ствол,
Он нежностью, исторгнутой жестоко,
Среди камней недоуменно цвел.

Вот славы день.  Искусно или больно
Перед людьми разбито на куски
И что взято рукою богомольно,
И что дано бесчувствием руки.

(«Аполлон».  1916.  № 8)

To Anna Akhmatova (Evening and Rosary)

by Count Vasilii Komarovskii

At midnight, studded with cinders,
Over the dark gray earth,
Cordial and warm, you described
The color of eucalyptus.

And at dawn the shy columbine
Once again bloomed among stones
Along a rough tree trunk,
Its frailty driving off the gloom.

This, the day’s glory, comes before
People, some strong, some weak, break
What they take with a devout hand
And give back with a callous one.

(Apollon. 1916 No.8.)

Author’s Statement on Beauty

Beauty in translating poems of historic and/or aesthetic importance in their original languages comes down to words, syntax and the patterning of lines. Translators have no control over subject, poetic persona or even the sequencing of ideas and imagery. If the resulting English poem is not foremost an authentic poem in its own right, with resonances and flows, it has no claim on beauty. I’m ignoring poems in English often loosely based on poems in other languages, called “imitations.” A translator’s word choices must simultaneously be idiomatic and natural in their English connotations while also rendering the startling “umph” that a great poem has in its original language. The English syntax and patterning of words must not twist through hoops of awkwardness but—and here’s the cunningness of a translator—they should as much as possible reflect the original poem’s order of key images and striking verbs. These elements enter a reader’s imagination in a particular order. That order, which is the original poet’s design not the translator’s, should be honored in the translation. Translating for the translator is a matter of patting one’s head while rubbing one’s stomach, or tapping each foot to a different rhythm at the same time. But for the reader, a translation should simply lift from the page into her imagination in no way calling attention to how it was made, only how it sits in all its ravishment. If the translation’s beauty is authentic, the poem may sit in her memory as well.



Anna Akhmatova (1889-1961) Akhmatova’s early Acmeist poems were sensationally popular during the teens and 20s of the twentieth century. After the Bolshevik revolution her personal life and public career went from crisis to crisis. She was effectively barred from publishing. She continued to write “for the bottom of her chest” as she said. Her third husband and adult son were imprisoned and sent to Siberia during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. Her great poem “Requiem” reflects this experience. It circulated among friends and later in samizdat, but was not published in the Soviet Union until the “thaw” in the 1950s. This was followed by a second long political poem “The Way of All the World.” In 1942 she began her long masterpiece Poem Without a Hero, which occupied her for much of the rest of her life. After Stalin’s death, she was gradually rehabilitated and her work was again widely published in the Soviet Union. In 1998 Ellis Lak Publishers began a comprehensive collected edition of her works including, drafts, sketches and variant. The eighth and final volume came out in 2005. It supersedes all previous editions both in the West and in Russia.


Don Mager’s chapbooks and volumes of poetry are: To Track the Wounded One, Glosses, That Which is Owed to Death, Borderings, Good Turns and The Elegance of the Ungraspable, Birth Daybook Drive Time and Russian Riffs. He is retired with degrees from Drake University (BA), Syracuse University (MA) and Wayne State University (PhD). He was the Mott University Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University from 1998-2004 where he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (2005-2011). As well as a number of scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech and Russian. He lives in Charlotte, NC.