Why is this age worse than all the others? Perhaps
in this: it has touched the point of putrefaction,
Touched it in a rush of pain and sorrow,
But cannot make it whole.

In the west the familiar light still shines
And the spires of cities glow in the sun.
But here a dark figure is marking the houses
and calling the ravens, and the ravens come.

—Anna Akhmatova, 1919

Every poem is a love-child,
A penniless first-born
Bastard, set by the roadside
To beg from the winds.

Heart’s poison, heart’s adoration,
Heart’s paradise, heart’s grief.
His father may have been an emperor—
May have been a thief.

—Marina Tsvetaeva, August 14, 1918

I’d like to live with you
in some small town,
in never-ending twilight
and the endless sound of bells.

And in the little town’s hotel
the thin chime of an antique clock,
like little drops of time.
And sometimes, evenings, from some attic room,
a flute,
a flute player by a window.
And huge tulips at the windows.
And if you didn’t love me, I wouldn’t even mind…

In the middle of a room, a great tile stove,
and a picture on every tile:
a heart, a sailboat, a rose.
And out beyond our only window
snow, snow, snow.

You’d lie around the way I like you: lazy,
indifferent, unconcerned.
Once or twice the harsh crack
of a match.
Your cigarette flares and then burns down,
and trembling, trembling at its tip
a short gray stump—the ash
you’re too lazy to shake away—
and the cigarette flies into the fire.

—Marina Tsvetaeva, December 10, 1916

This Issue

December 21, 2006