Friday, August 21, 2009

I Taught Myself to Live Simply, a poem by Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966) was the pen name of Anna Andreëvna Gorenko, the celebrated Russian poet who bridged Tsarist and Revolutionary Russia. Although she was adored by the public and called "the soul of her time," she suffered greatly under Stalin's disfavor. Born in Odessa, she started writing at the age of 11 inspired by the poetry of Racine and Pushkin. Her father, however, didn't want to see her verses printed under his "respectable" name, so she adopted the surname of her Tatar grandmother as a pseudonym. The growing distaste which the personal and religious elements in her poetry aroused in Soviet officials forced her into long periods of silence before the poetic masterpieces of her later years were published abroad. Between 1921 and 1953, many of those closest to her emigrated or were killed or were imprisoned. In 1965, she was allowed to travel to Sicily and England, where she received the Taormina prize and an honorary doctoral degree from Oxford University. Before her death in Leningrad at the age of 76, Akhmatova was elected to the presidium of the Writers' Union, from which she had earlier been expelled in disgrace. Commenting on her troubled life, she said, "Why complain? Poetry is respected here. They kill you for it."

I Taught Myself to Live Simply by Anna Akhmatova

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.

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