JULY 1914, by Anna Akhmatova
I heard a great poem on Radio 3 last night. It was part of a programme that preceded a late night promenade concert during which, at 10pm, people across the country were invited to turn their lights out and place a candle in their window as an act of remembrance. From what I could see, not many in my street bothered, but I did…
The poem I heard was written by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova on the eve of her country’s entry into World War 1. It’s actually just the first part of a poem called JULY 1914 (the capitalization is deliberate). It perfectly captures that sense of foreboding she felt as the clouds gathered, and the hot weather we’ve been having made it all the more effective:
It smells of burning. For four weeks
The dry peat bog has been burning.
The birds have not even sung today,
And the aspen has stopped quaking.
The sun has become God’s displeasure,
Rain has not sprinkled the fields since Easter.
A one-legged stranger came along
And all alone in the courtyard he said:
“Fearful times are drawing near. Soon
Fresh graves will be everywhere.
There will be famine, earthquakes, widespread death,
And the eclipse of the sun and the moon.
But the enemy will not divide
Our land at will, for himself;
The Mother of God will spread her white mantle
Over this enormous grief.”
by Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966).Follow @telescoper