These are the top twenty (20) most popular poems of Anna Akhmatova.
From Requiem to White Night.
If you want to know her greatest poems of all time, then this poetry collection is for you.
Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected –
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
During 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]
Mountains 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.
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.
You 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 gather
To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy (1)
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
[1935. Autumn. Moscow]
Silent 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.
It 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. . .
Giggling, poking fun, everyone’s darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (2)
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you –
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses (3), 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. . .
For 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.
Weeks 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.
The 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 (4)]
You 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]
Madness 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
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 storms
Nor 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]
Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.
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]
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
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.
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]
1 An elite guard which rose up in rebellion
against Peter the Great in 1698. Most were either
executed or exiled.
2 The imperial summer residence outside St
Petersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years.
3 A prison complex in central Leningrad near the
Finland Station, called The Crosses because of the
shape of two of the buildings.
4 The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived.
And I grew up in patterned tranquility,
In the cool nursery of the young century.
And the voice of man was not dear to me,
But the voice of the wind I could understand.
But best of all the silver willow.
And obligingly, it lived
With me all my life; it’s weeping branches
Fanned my insomnia with dreams.
And strange!–I outlived it.
There the stump stands; with strange voices
Other willows are conversing
Under our, under those skies.
And I am silent…As if a brother had died.
I Taught Myself To Live Simply
I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life’s decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.
Along the Hard Crust…
Along the hard crust of deep snows,
To the secret, white house of yours,
So gentle and quiet – we both
Are walking, in silence half-lost.
And sweeter than all songs, sung ever,
Are this dream, becoming the truth,
Entwined twigs’ a-nodding with favor,
The light ring of your silver spurs…
As a White Stone
As a white stone in the well’s cool deepness,
There lays in me one wonderful remembrance.
I am not able and don’t want to miss this:
It is my torture and my utter gladness.
I think, that he whose look will be directed
Into my eyes, at once will see it whole.
He will become more thoughtful and dejected
Than someone, hearing a story of a dole.
I knew: the gods turned once, in their madness,Anna Akhmatova
Men into things, not killing humane senses.
You’ve been turned in to my reminiscences
To make eternal the unearthly sadness.
In Memory Of M. B.
Here is my gift, not roses on your grave,
not sticks of burning incense.
You lived aloof, maintaining to the end
your magnificent disdain.
You drank wine, and told the wittiest jokes,
and suffocated inside stifling walls.
Alone you let the terrible stranger in,
and stayed with her alone.
Now you’re gone, and nobody says a word
about your troubled and exalted life.
Only my voice, like a flute, will mourn
at your dumb funeral feast.
Oh, who would have dared believe that half-crazed I,
I, sick with grief for the buried past,
I, smoldering on a slow fire,
having lost everything and forgotten all,
would be fated to commemorate a man
so full of strength and will and bright inventions,
who only yesterday it seems, chatted with me,
hiding the tremor of his mortal pain.
Although this land is not my own,
I will remember its inland sea
and the waters that are so cold
the sand as white
as old bones, the pine trees
strangely red where the sun comes down.
I cannot say if it is our love,
or the day, that is ending.
You Will Hear Thunder
You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.
That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
when, for the last time, I take my leave,
And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.
Celebrate our anniversary – can’t you see
tonight the snowy night of our first winter
comes back again in every road and tree –
that winter night of diamantine splendour.
Steam is pouring out of yellow stables,
the Moika river’s sinking under snow,
the moonlight’s misted as it is in fables,
and where we are heading – I don’t know.
There are icebergs on the Marsovo Pole.
The Lebyazh’ya’s crazed with crystal art…..
Whose soul can compare with my soul,
if joy and fear are in my heart? –
And if your voice, a marvellous bird’s,
quivers at my shoulder, in the night,
and the snow shines with a silver light,
warmed by a sudden ray, by your words?
I have enough treasures from the past
to last me longer than I need, or want.
You know as well as I . . . malevolent memory
won’t let go of half of them:
a modest church, with its gold cupola
slightly askew; a harsh chorus
of crows; the whistle of a train;
a birch tree haggard in a field
as if it had just been sprung from jail;
a secret midnight conclave
of monumental Bible-oaks;
and a tiny rowboat that comes drifting out
of somebody’s dreams, slowly foundering.
Winter has already loitered here,
lightly powdering these fields,
casting an impenetrable haze
that fills the world as far as the horizon.
I used to think that after we are gone
there’s nothing, simply nothing at all.
Then who’s that wandering by the porch
again and calling us by name?
Whose face is pressed against the frosted pane?
What hand out there is waving like a branch?
By way of reply, in that cobwebbed corner
a sunstruck tatter dances in the mirror.
So many stones have been thrown at me,
That I’m not frightened of them anymore,
And the pit has become a solid tower,
Tall among tall towers.
I thank the builders,
May care and sadness pass them by.
From here I’ll see the sunrise earlier,
Here the sun’s last ray rejoices.
And into the windows of my room
The northern breezes often fly.
And from my hand a dove eats grains of wheat…
As for my unfinished page,
The Muse’s tawny hand, divinely calm
And delicate, will finish it.
For Osip Mandelstam
And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath a glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
the painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peters there are poplars, crows
theres a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in the sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovos barbarian battleground.
The frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though it was our wedding, and the crowd
were drinking to our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of the coming dawn, has no knowledge.
And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.
Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—
Unless . . . Summer’s ardent rustlingAnna Akhmatova
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I’ve foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.
Memory Of Sun
Memory of sun seeps from the heart.
Grass grows yellower.
Faintly if at all the early snowflakes
Water becoming ice is slowing in
The narrow channels.
Nothing at all will happen here again,
Will ever happen.
Against the sky the willow spreads a fan
The silk’s torn off.
Maybe it’s better I did not become
Memory of sun seeps from the heart.
What is it? — Dark?
Perhaps! Winter will have occupied us
In the night.
Do not cry for me, Mother, seeing me in the grave.
This greatest hour was hallowed and thandered
By angel’s choirs; fire melted sky.
He asked his Father:”Why am I abandoned…?”
And told his Mother: “Mother, do not cry…”
Magdalena struggled, cried and moaned.
Peter sank into the stone trance…
Only there, where Mother stood alone,
None has dared cast a single glance.
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
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.
Why Is This Age Worse…?
Why is this age worse than earlier ages?
In a stupor of grief and dread
have we not fingered the foulest wounds
and left them unhealed by our hands?
In the west the falling light still glows,
and the clustered housetops glitter in the sun,
but here Death is already chalking the doors with crosses,
and calling the ravens, and the ravens are flying in.
And As It’s Going…
An as it’s going often at love’s breaking,
The ghost of first days came again to us,
The silver willow through window then stretched in,
The silver beauty of her gentle branches.
The bird began to sing the song of light and pleasure
To us, who fears to lift looks from the earth,
Who are so lofty, bitter and intense,
About days when we were saved together.
I Don’t Know If You’re Alive Or Dead
I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.
Can you on earth be sought,
Or only when the sunsets fade
Be mourned serenely in my thought?
All is for you: the daily prayer,
The sleepless heat at night,
And of my verses, the white
Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.
No-one was more cherished, no-one torturedAnna Akhmatova
Me more, not
Even the one who betrayed me to torture,
Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.
I haven’t locked the door,
Nor lit the candles,
You don’t know, don’t care,
That tired I haven’t the strength
To decide to go to bed.
Seeing the fields fade in
The sunset murk of pine-needles,
And to know all is lost,
That life is a cursed hell:
I’ve got drunk
On your voice in the doorway.
I was sure you’d come back.
These poems are really unique from all the poetry collections I’ve read. No wonder was one of the most significant Russian poets and was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize. She’s amazing!
Of course―I Taught Myself To Live Simply is my all-time favorite poem of hers. It’s direct but hits differently. I always remind myself to live simply and to stress over simple things too much.
What about you? What’s your most favorite poem of Anna Akhmatova?
Do you still want to add another of her poem to this list? Let me know in the comment section below! 😉