White Flock: Poetry of Anna Akhmatova


White Flock

Poetry of Anna Akhmatova



Translated by Andrey Kneller






Kneller, Boston, 2013

All rights reserved


For Len
and Sasha


“…The intensely personal lyricism of
White Flock
is tinged with the note that was destined to become her imprimatur: the note of controlled terror. The mechanism designed to keep in check emotions of a romantic nature proved to be as effective when applied to mortal fears. The latter was increasingly intertwined with the former until they resulted in emotional tautology, and
White Flock
mark the beginning of this process. With this collection, Russian poetry hit “the real, non-calendar twentieth century” but didn’t disintegrate on impact…”




-Joseph Brodsky

The Keening Muse

A Note About Translation


“Poetry is what is lost in translation” Robert Frost

“Poetry is what is gained in translation” Joseph Brodsky


A poet, by definition, is a translator. He takes the seemingly incomprehensible ramblings of the Muse and transforms them into a language that can be understood and enjoyed by his audience. One can argue that something is already lost in this process. No matter how good the poet, the audience won’t experience what he undergoes in his interaction with the Muse. Or, as another Russian poet,
Fyodor Tyutchev, writes in
: “A thought once uttered is untrue.” (as translated by V. Nabokov)


This is a challenge for all translation in general. Translating poetry from one language to another often becomes a game of telephone, where one whispered message gets passed down the line, before it is finally revealed, usually with accumulated inaccuracies. The Muse’s message gets lost somewhere in-between and what is left is a mere frame, in which the original can hardly be discerned. This experience leads people to say that one should avoid translated poetry altogether. If you subscribe to the absurdity of this logic, all poetry is doomed to fall short as it will never capture the essence of feelings and experiences.


I would like to propose a different approach. Bad translations should be disregarded, no less than bad poetry. Readers should be wary of them as art collectors are wary of forged paintings. Translators of poetry need to be held to a much higher standard than simply relaying the general message. Their work must retain as much semblance to the original as possible; in particular, translating rhyming poetry into blank verse should not be acceptable. The same principle should apply to rhyming translations that greatly distort the content, meaning and images of the poem for the sake of sound. Beyond this, good translations should effectively relay idioms, references and allusions in a way that doesn’t make them appear strained.


With this collection, I hope to show that such translations are possible. Great Russian poets, like Anna Akhmatova, deserve this much. And should I fall short in my attempts to reach the set standard, I would only be happy if another translator takes up the task and does it better than I.




Andrey Kneller


Table of Contents




We thought: we’re poor …"

“I’ll leave your
white house and your quiet garden …”

So many stones were cast …"

Song about a song

"My voice is weak …"

He was jealous, and anxious, and tender  …"

“Love’s memory - a heavy weight

The sky’s azure lacquer is waning …"

“Instead of wisdom – experience …”

"Ah! Here you come again …"

“The muse went on her way …”

"I’ve ceased to smile long ago …"

They soar, they are somewhere mid-flight …"

The breezy evening had commenced …"

It’s thus I prayed …"

In closeness, there’s a sacred line …"

“All’s tak
en away …”

Words’ ease and freshness …”


"Next to the river, this dark town …"




"Upon the Neva, dare you gaze …"

ber 9, 1913

Beneath this bare home’s frozen roof …"

All year long, you have always been near me …"

The ancient city seems neglected …"

The black road was winding slowly …"

How I love, how I loved to gaze endlessly …"

Here, human voice was never known …"


"The road of the seaside garden turns dark …"

God has no mercy on gardeners and reapers …"

We’re not in the forest, no need to bellow …"

“He was promised to me by it all …”

"Each and every day, I get …"

An angel of God, who betrothed us …"

Somewhere, without complications …"

“I don’t think of you often at all …”

“These squares are so spacious and wide …”


"When, with a firm but tired hand …"

Statue in Tsarskoye Selo

“The visions of Pavlovsk abound …”

"In drowsiness, once more astounded …"

"The immortelle is dry and rosy …"

"I concealed all my wo
rry inside me …"




May snow

"Why is it that you still beguile me …"

"The empty skies with a transparent gloss …"

July 1914 – I

July 1914 – II

That voice, with silence disputing …”

"We never quite learned to part …"


"Is thi
s why, for countless days …"


“Where, tall lady, is your gypsy child? …”

O, how often did I curse …”

Neither boat nor cart can go …”

I see, I see the crescent’s bow …"

"We paced the house, stricken …"

To my sister

Thus others to the wounded crane …”

In the churchyard, I’ll sleep soundly …”

Your spirit, by your arrogance obscured …”

"I come and I’m relieved of restlessness …"

“I dream of him less often with each night …”

"We’ll be together, dear, together …"

In memory of July 19, 1914




“There are such days before the spring …”

The fifth of the year’s seasons …”

I myself had all the say …”


White house

Through villages and fields, he’d go …”

The evening sky is gold and vast …”

“I don’t know if you’re dead or still living …”

No, tsarevich, it’s not I …”

Out of your memory, I will remove this day …”

He didn’t glorify or scold me …”

“My shadow remained and it pines there …”

“The twenty first. Monday. Night …”

The heavens sow a light rain …”

I know that you are my reward …”

“These meeting didn’t leave …”

To the beloved

“Was my fate altered to such an extent …”

Like a white stone at the bottom of the well …”

“First ray – Lor
d’s blessing, falling frail …”

“I was born neither
early nor late …”

“Best for me to boisterously yell chastushki out …”

“No bliss or happiness is needed …”

“The spring was still mysterious and gentle …”

The city’s gone…”

O, there are words that cannot be repeated …”










Думали: нищие мы, нету у нас ничего,

как стали одно за другим терять,

Так, что сделался каждый день

Поминальным днем,-

Начали песни слагать

О великой щедрости Божьей

Да о нашем бывшем богатстве.


12 апреля 1915



We thought: we’re poor and don’t have anything,

But as we started to lose one thing after another,

So much that each day became

remembrance day, -

We began to write songs

About God’s immense generosity

And the wealth we once had.


April 12, 1915


Твой белый дом и тихий сад оставлю.

Да будет жизнь пустынна и светла.

Тебя, тебя в моих стихах прославлю,

Как женщина прославить не могла.

И ты подругу помнишь дорогую

В тобою созданном для глаз ее раю,

А я товаром редкостным торгую -

Твою любовь и нежность продаю.





I’ll leave your
white house and your quiet garden.

May life become all bare and filled with light.

I’ll glorify you with a verse so ardent

More than a woman could’ve glorified.

As you recall your dear beloved’s eyes

In heaven you yourself have fashioned,

I’m trading with the rarest merchandise -

I’m selling off your tenderness and passion.




Так много камней брошено в меня,

Что ни один из них уже не страшен,

И стройной башней стала западня,

Высокою среди высоких башен.

Строителей ее благодарю,

Пусть их забота и печаль минует.

Отсюда раньше вижу я зарю,

Здесь солнца луч последний торжествует.

И часто в окна комнаты моей

Влетают ветры северных морей,

И голубь ест из рук моих пшеницу...

А не дописанную мной страницу -

Божественно спокойна и легка,

Допишет Музы смуглая рука.





So many stones were cast that I don’t cower

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