This week, I’m departing from Shakespeare only to find him again in a short poem, “While Reading Hamlet” (1909), by Anna Akhmatova, the foremost Russian poet of the twentieth century. She’s perhaps best known for her long cycle Requiem, an outcry against Stalinist oppression, which claimed the lives of two of her three husbands.
This little poem is much lighter in tone, though the menace of the cemetery lingers. I wrestle with reading poems in translation, because to me it tends to feel almost like voyeurism, peeking in at something I don’t really have the right to know about or understand. No-one can speak all languages, though, polyglots notwithstanding, and so I must resign myself to translation if I want to read Milosz or Szymborska or Rimbaud or the great Anna Akhmatova.
I’m reading from my copy of the Norton edition of Akhmatova’s poems translated by Lyn Coffin; you can find it here.
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