Anna Akhmatova: I'm Like A River

Poet Anna Akhmatova braved it out in Soviet Russia when she could have fled, as many others did, to Romantic, if impoverished, exile. She endured the Stalin years, and was terrorized and spied upon. Friends vanished, and her son was arrested and killed. In this severe little self-analytical poem, Akhmatova accuses and defends herself. She knows that her work was her life's end. This is my own adaptation from the Russian original.


I'm like a river
this heartless epoch turned
from its accustomed bed.
Strayed from its shores
this changeling life of mine
runs off into a channel.
What sights I’ve missed,
absent at curtain time,
nor there when the house lights dim.
A legion of friends
I never chanced to meet.
Native of only one abode —
city I could sleepwalk
and never lose my way —
my tears preventing eyes
from seeing the dreamt-of
skylines of foreigners!
And all the poems I never wrote
stalk me, a secret chorus
accusing me, biding the day
they’ll strangle me.
Beginnings I know,
and endings too,
and living death,
and that which I’ll not,
if you please, recall.
Now there’s a woman
who’s assumed my place;
usurping my name, she leaves
me only diminutives to end
my poems with: I’ll do the best I know with them.
Even the grave appointed me
is not my own.
Yet if I could escape my life,
looking straight back at what I am,
I should at last be envious.


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