“I’ll leave your home…” – A. Akhmatova

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 14/?

When Anna Akhmatova was asked which of her poems were addressed to Nikolai Gumilev, she named six. This is one of the six, and I’ve been pondering every word of it as to what a complicated relationship these two poets had even then.

The year 1913, when this poem was written, Gumilev himself spent many months in Abyssinia, leaving behind Akhmatova and their one-year-old son Lev. Earlier, he had had a brief affair with Olga Vysotskaya which resulted that October in the birth of a son, Orest, whom Gumilev may or may not have known about during his lifetime.

Akhmatova and Gumilev would end up divorcing in 1918, when the new post-Revolutionary government allowed divorce with the possibility of re-marriage, although according to sources, their relationship had soured long before.


(In the original, the first line is “white home/house and quiet garden,” and I’ve wrestled for a long time with how to fit “white” into the verse without messing up the rhythm, and finally decided to cut it. Again, compromises.)

I’ll leave your home and garden quietly lying.
Let life be empty, filled with only light.
You in my poems I’ll be glorifying,
I’ll bring you glory as no woman might.
And in the heaven you made just for her gazing
Your dear friend you will remember well,
While I, rare goods for buyers I’ll be praising —
Your love and tenderness I go to sell.

Anna Akhmatova, 1913; translated by me, July 2016

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