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A SELECTION OF POEMS BY

NIKOLAI GUMILEV (1886-1921)

ALONG WITH POEMS AND PROSE

PIECES BY ANNA AKHMATOVA

AND IGOR SEVERIANIN

TO OR ABOUT GUMILEV


Translated by Don Mager

Nikolai Gumilev during his senior years in the gymnasium
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Portrait Nikolai Gumilev by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, 1909

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Contents

Portrait: Nikolai Gumilev during his senior years in the gymnasium 01

Portrait Nikolai Gumilev by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, 1909 02

Gumilev: An Unread Poet

From:
From: The Path of the Conquistadors

09
The Tale of the Kings 10

From: (1908)
From: Romantic Flowers (1908)

21
Masquerade 22

25
The Suicide 26

27
Hyena 28

29
Jaguar 30

31
Giraffe 32

33
Lake Chad 34

From: (1910)
From: Pearls (1910)

37
Semiramide

38

39
Don Juan 40

41
A Reader of Books 42
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Untitled: , . . 43
Untitled : Flowers dont survive with me . . . 44

45
The Return of Odysseus 46

I. 45
I. At the Shore 46

II. 45
II. The Slaughter of the Suitors 46

III. 49
III. Odysseus to Lartes 50

From: (1912)
From: Alien Sky (1912)

53
Margarita 54

55
The Turkistan General 56

From: (1916)
From: Quiver (1916)

59
African Night 60

From: (1918)
From Bonfire (1918)

61
The Workman 62

From: (1921)
From : Tent (1921)

64
Suez Canal 65

From: (1918)
From: Pyre (1918)
i


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66
Ezbekiah 67

From:
From The Pillar of Fire (1921)

71
The Word 72

73
Baby Elephant 74

75
The Stray Tram 76

79
Among Gypsies 80

83
The Drunk Dervish 84

85
Leopard 86

89
Star Terror 90


From: ,
1

From: Poems Not Included in Volumes Published During the Authors Lifetime

(1908) 99
Anna Comnena (1908) 100

POEMS AND PROSE PIECES BY ANNA AKHMATOVA
AND IGOR SEVERIANIN TO OR ABOUT GUMILEV

Photo of Igor Severianin 102
Portrait of Anna Akhmatova by Nathan Altman 102

by Igor Severianin (1933-4) 103
Gumilev by Igor Severianin (1933-4) 104


1
This section of volume 2 of includes late unpublished poems as well as a
few from earlier years.
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Nikolai Gumilev, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev, 1913 106

. . . by Anna Akhmatova (1911) 107
He loved . . . by Anna Akhmatova (1911) 108

Untitled: . . . by Anna Akhmatova (1912) 109
Untitled: My pencil case and books were strapped . . . by Akhmatova (1912) 110

Untitled: . by Anna Akhmatova (1913) 111
Untitled: I will leave your silent garden and house. by Anna Akhmatova (1913) 112

Utitled: , . . . by Akhmatova (20 December 1915) 113
Untitled: That August, like a yellow flame . . . by Akhmatova (20 Dec, 1915) 114

by Anna Akhmatova (c.1915) 115
Lullaby by Anna Akhmatova (c.1915) 116

Untitled: , . . . (25 or 27-28 August 1921) 117
Untitled: Dread, fingering stuff in the dark . . . (25 or 27-28 August 1921) 118

Untitled: , . . . by Akhmatova (11 September 1921)119
Untitled: Like a widow wearing black weeds, . . by Akhmatova (11 Sept. 1921) 120

by Akhmatova (End of 1922) 121
New Year Ballad by Akhmatova (End of 1922) 122

by Anna Akhmatova (April 1936) 127
A Charm by Anna Akhmatova (April 1936) 128

by Anna Akhmatova (18 January 1940) 129
Willow by Anna Akhmatova (18 January 1940) 130

N. S. GumilevThe Most Unread Poet of the 20
th
Century (13 August 1961) 132
About N. Gumilev 138
Gumilev 142
More About Gumilev 150
Margarite 152
The Moon (5 August 1963) 154
A Still Unread Poet (Continuation) (5 August 1965) 156
Gumilev and Africa 158

References 161
Notes 162
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Gumilev: An Unread Poet

For several years in the early 1960s Anna Akhmatova jotted down prose comments on
the work of Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921); several of them are dated in August the anniversary
month of his disappearance and secret execution. He was her first husband and fellow founding
member of the Acmeist movement in Russian poetry. They had one son, her only child, and
separated several years before their formal divorce. There is a fair amount of repetition in her
notes. Her main concerns focus on her sense that his importance as a poet has been superseded
for migr memoirists in the West with sensational anecdotes. And when they do write about his
poetry they typically make false statements of fact. She promotes the importance of her role as a
femme fatale, as perceived by Gumilev, in a number of poems in his early books that were written
during their long engagement and first years of their marriage. She writes less of his last books
but when she does she shows genuine admiration. She is also concerned with how his African
poems are viewed and makes a distinction between those written about actual experiences during
his various expeditions and those written on commission as a geography of East Africa and
published in 1921 as the volume Tent.
Since Perestroika in the late 1980s, Gumilev has received quite a bit of critical attention
in Russia; however, his poetry is still overshadowed by three overwhelmingly fascinating
biographical factors. First, he is the first major Russian writer to travel extensively in Africa and
write about it. His African poems are unique to Russian poetry and his ethnographic reports are
important. Second, his relationship with Akhmatova, complicated, difficult, and surprisingly
candid and even public on both sides, will forever attract biographers. Because of their joint
impact on the direction of Russian poetry through the Acmeist movement, their personal relations
are undeniably of more interest than simply anecdotal curiosities. He was one of the main
theorists of Acmeism and his essays and poetry reviews offered a coherent critique of
Symbolism, the then reigning school, as well as an explanation of the new method. As the
various modes of Futurism erupted on the scene in the 1910s, his writing helped draw meaningful
distinctions. She, by contrast, was not a theorist. It was her poetry, along with Mandelshtams,
in their early volumes, that provided successful models of the Acmeist aesthetic. Gumilevs own
poetry, by contrast, was always colored by philosophical abstractions and symbolist gestures.
Third, his secret arrest and execution by the Bolsheviks for allegations of participation in a
monarchist conspiracy continues to feed historians seeking the truth. Cases have been made for
his total innocence, to his knowledge of the conspiracy but no active role, to his full participation.
He has been characterized as either a nave dupe or an early anti-Bolshevik martyr. Akhmatova
believed that her decades of struggle under Soviet repression and the arrests and persecution of
her son and third husband in the late 1930s were meted out as punishment by Stalin for her
having once been Gumilevs wife, although divorced, and her refusal publically to denounce him.
For her, personal loyalty was a very high value and throughout life she often paid gravely for
supporting her friends, particularly the Mandelshtams in the 1930s.
With such a backdrop, it is indeed hard to view Gumilevs poetry simply as poetry. One
wants instinctively to admire it, but instead one hits reservations. Indeed a few poems in his final
volume The Pillar of Fire are stunning and invite repeated visits. But the early femme fatale
poems, which Akhmatova catalogues so meticulously, often seem derivative of nineteenth
century French poets, interesting mainly as footnotes to his tormented psychological pas de duex
with the Akhmatova of his imagination.

My selections:
In this selection I have tried to show a range of Gumilevs work: early poems, poems
about Africa, middle poems written during the Acmeist heyday, and late poems. I have arranged
them chronologically and identified them in the table of contents by volume title. There are two
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volumes in English of Gumilev that offer a larger sampling than I do in effective and often fine
translations: Selected Works of Nikolai S. Gumilev, selected and translated by Burton Raffel and
Alla Burago with an Introduction by Sidney Monas (1972) and The Pillar of Fire: Selected
Poems, translated by Richard McKane with and Introduction by Michael Basker (1999).
However, I have chosen some poems that neither book includes. I have also included Igor
Severianins sonnet on Gumilev, the poems by Akhmatova that have been identified as to or
about Gumilev, and translations of approximately half of Akhmatovas prose pieces about her
long dead former poet-husband written over forty years after his death. These prose pieces are
from handwritten notebooks in a highly abbreviated system. The Russian editors of
use brackets (< >) to show where they filled in missing parts of words
and names. I follow the same system in my translations.

The great silence:
Akhmatovas Poem Without a Hero is one of the greatest Russian poems of the 20
th

century. [See separate PDF files at www.DonMager.org] It continues to be studied from a
number of perspectives by critics and scholars both inside and beyond Russia. Like the poema,
the title invites multiple readings that work separately but in counterpoint with each other. One
reading of the title is that the poem is without a hero because in Stalinist Soviet Union its
hero cannot be spoken by name or alluded to with any obvious narrative reference. Olga
Sudeikina as Columbine and Vsevolod Kniazev as Pierrot can be decoded, but neither of them is
the poemas hero. Candidates for an absent unnamable hero are Osip Mandelshtam and Nicolai
Gumilev. Both cases are convincing and doubtless on counterpointed separate levels both are
absent presences in the poema. For Gumilev there is a texture of allusions to many of his early
poems, a number of which are those that Akhmatova catalogues in her prose notes written in the
1960s as referring to her in the imagined role of Gumilevs femme fatale. (My footnotes to her
prose jottings attempt to spell out the connections between his poems and her perceptions.) She
thus creates an equation between her destructive presence in Gumilevs life with
Sudeikina/Columbines role in Kniazev/Pierrots suicide in the poema. Throughout the poema
the narrative voice laments her complicity in the events of 1913 without specifying what her
complicity was. The equation between various femme fatale figures that includes herself helps
provide the emotional ground for the poema. The later sections of the poema register the impact
of the poemas narrators life under Stalinist censorship, oppression, purges and gulags. The
impact on Mandelshtam and her son Lev Gumilev are directly alluded to in the poema but
hovering behind her suffering is the original causeGumilevs execution as an alleged anti-
Bolshevik conspirator.
Therefore familiarity with Gumilevs poetry is indispensible to a full appreciation of
Akhmatova and his status and stature are inseparable from her. Thus, I offer this selection.
9 | P a g e



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10 | P a g e

The Tale of the Kings

We are the splendid and strong,
Youthful kings, who glide,
Like clouds high in the sky,
Above the mirage of the lands.

With eternal songs and dances
We erect a new temple.
Let us be drunk with the purple
That surely will stream from its windows.

A window to Eternitys splendor
On the banks of the Holy River,
And beyond us let the Bad Dreams
Weave garlands of their own wreaths.

Let the prick of the thorns worry
Only flesh thats grown weary,
And the sun of the evening hour
Warm only our ringlets of hair.

In the sunless and haze-shrouded night,
At study, vex not your heart;
Whether stormy or lit up in gold
A cloud is but a cloud among clouds.

* * *

One sang lovingly then
Of bliss to the sun and the world,
Resplendent like a column
That into clear ether had soared.

With song he sought to calm
Their travel-weary hearts;
Mad laughter was their retort
From the ancient walls of the room.





11 | P a g e

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12 | P a g e

But scoffing at the twilit room,
Its dim gray and faint gloom,
Another king lifted the mood
With new thought and a new word.

His voice was full of fervor,
Many things lived in each glance,
He was grand and he was severe,
Like the oceans ebbing of tides.

We cannot plumb depths, he spoke,
Of the patterns of Indian silks,
In them desires limitless,
Full of mystery in our gaze.

A watery lotus under the moon
On a mist enshrouded pond
Respires for us with but
One colorthe color, white.

And in the callas blessd madness
Each thing hearkens to another,
Life without parting, life without sorrow,
Life without watery peace.

Whoever knows that suffering
Is beyond the limits of our knowing,
Knows, like the watery princess,
How anguish waits in a kiss.

* * *

A sullen rider burst forth on a black horse,
His head was muffled up in a velvety cape,
His gaze was terrifying, like a city in flames,
And blinding, like lightning bolts at night.

His curls, like snakes, wound down his shoulders,
His voice was a song of fire and foreign lands,
The ballad he sang was about youthful kings,
And he heeded and was chastened by its troubling words.





13 | P a g e


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14 | P a g e

Lucifer gave me five sturdy coursers
And one with rubies on its golden harness,
In bottomless underground caves and lush vales
I perceived a youthful countenance revealed,

He received my guiltin the streaming fires
Of elf-mountain and the burly red Gnome,
And I alone perceived the blazing sun
With facets like rubies on a golden harness.

And as I saw rapture in the new days creation,
The waking hymn of the druids of the world,
I laughed at the lan of my mighty steed
As he pulled the gold harness and I plied the rein.

There to the heights, I confessfrenzy of snow . . .
The rapturous azure horizons set me aglow
And as I hasten my racing confession,
Suddenly, as if dreaming, I saw a sick maiden.

His voice was a softly vibrating string,
His gaze was a blend of answers and questions,
And I gave back the Moon Maidens ring
From beyond the random shadows of the heavens.

As he laughed at me and coldly scoffed,
My gaze bathed Lucifer in a dim half-light,
And he bestowed on me a sixth steed,
His true name is Despair, he said.

* * *

A voice of dire grief,
A song of a sad land,
Sounded to the halls high roof,
Where the gathered kings stood.

Some of their own cold gloom
From the stillness of the cold pillars
Was imparted to the kings
As they looked about bewildered.

But together they exclaimed,
Allaying the burden of their breasts:
The path to the Heavenly Bride
Is single, unitary, true!
15 | P a g e

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16 | P a g e

Let us drink to the full our chalice,
Let us drain to the full each day,
The World Maiden will be ours,
Ours alone she shall be!

Let us scrape away with joy
The deathly, gray encrustations,
And let the wide spaces unfold
To tell us the truths that are dreams.

This must be the true path,
For the world is ours, or no ones,
With the force of swords aflame,
From God, well seize the truth.

* * *

Starting out with all their gear,
The sound of trumpets resonates
The voice of royalty is clear,
The voice of glory and combat.

Their swords, the best of steels,
Their shields, glittering silver,
And around each of their visors
Are flairs of swan wing quills.

Each of them is winged with hope
Departing their fathers abode,
The doorman, hunched and gray,
Sends them off on their way.

The sweetness of truth entices
As they ride into the sundown
And timidly the one who remains
Watches from the distance,

As their white mail and armor
Clattered like babbling water,
Each raised a bronze glove,
A farewell kiss and a wave.

* * *

17 | P a g e

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18 | P a g e

Bravely they passed along the abyss . . .
Then they met the Maiden of Earth,
But to love them was not at all her wish
Even though they were kings by birth.

And even though they madly implored,
Her love she could never share,
And so they grieved the loss of bliss,
And so were the young kings cursed.

And sick with pain, the weeping willow
Muffled them deep inside its shadow,
In that country, hopelessly-happy,
Where theres no sleep, light or joy.

A Rusalka wove each a garland
3

Out of violets and lilies of the sea,
And laughing, she set her wreaths on each,
Violets, as their heads sank down.

Not one retreated from the battle . . .
Not one returned to the agd house
Where hunchbacked the doorman often still
Was heard at his holy prayers.

* * *
A sunset painted in scarlet
Was doused by the forest gloom,
Where the hunchback, exhausted,
Shed tear upon tear alone,

While above the unused well
He muttered words to himself,
And an impudent owl overhead
Mocked how he was deformed.

Misery! The Rusalkas dead,
And the kings are all gone away,
Helpless and pitiful, I stayed
And am master now of the land.

3
In Slavic folklore a rusalka (plural ruslaki) was a fishwoman who lived on the river bottoms.
They were variously depicted as ghosts, wraiths, water nymphs, succubae or mermaids. At midnight they
were said to come out and dance in fields on the riverbanks. Like sirens they would lure handsome young
men to watery deaths.
19 | P a g e

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20 | P a g e

At first unthinking I scampered
About the revered royal hall
But now I place upon my head
A garland of fresh pine boughs.
And now in my mansion deserted
I alone leave and come back in,
Dreadful, the world . . . dreadful, God . . .
Help me . . . I am dying . . .

Still above the unused well
He muttered these words to himself,
And an impudent owl overhead
Mocked how he was deformed.


21 | P a g e




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22 | P a g e

Masquerade
4


In barren halls and secluded corridors
Today merry maskers were amassing,
Today in parlors, variegated colors
Like mad whirlwinds, swept through, dancing.

They snaked about beneath dragons and moons,
Chinese vases were tossed among them,
Torches flamed and lutes strings kept on
Repeating the same impenetrable name.

The call to the headlong mazurka was made
And I danced with Sodoms courtesan,
Some things I grieved, at some I laughed,
And some seemed strangely, too well known.

I pleaded with her: Take off your mask,
And who is your brother, pray tell?
You remind me of some ancient fairy tale
That I heard in the long distant past.

You remain forever-strange, to all,
And to me you are no boon-companion,
But its true, of all the masks, all the people,
You are known as Tsarina of Sodom.

Under my mask I heard her youthful laugh,
But her glances would not connect with mine,
As they snaked about beneath dragons and moons,
And Chinese vases were tossed among them,

Suddenly beneath the window as night
Vainly threatened to hide her face in dark,
Slipping away from me like a snake,
She pulled off her mask and her eyes glanced back.


4
This poem harks back to Charles Baudelaires (1821-1867) Dance of Death via the symbolist
poet Aleksandr Bloks (1889-1921) cycle Dances of Death. These poems use a masked ball as the
setting for a mans seduction by a skeleton or demonic seductress. These seductively sinister figures are
associated with the story is told in Chapter 14 of the Book of Genesis. Sodom and its fellow city Gomorrah
were destroyed in punishment by Yahweh. There are diverse traditions of interpretation as to what the
sin of these cities was, ranging for the sin of inhospitality to various sexual libertine practices.

23 | P a g e

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24 | P a g e

I recall everything once againsuch a song,
With a wild chilly voluptuousness
Such tender enticing whispers: Rise up,
Rise again to live in the anguish of bliss!

Much I saw in that brief while
But her fearsome oath did not deter me.
Tsarina, Tsarina, I am your captive, see,
You can take my body, you can take my soul!


25 | P a g e



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26 | P a g e

The Suicide
5

ii


You let go and breathe deep
With an expectancy of rest,
And for the last time you see
The wallpaper and the carpet.

From the lip of the patterned goblet
The ruddy wine dribbles;
Painstakingly you wipe it
With a sponge made from coral.

The shadow of a blush
Replaces the shade of white,
And like an odd dance pose
The bodys shape contorts.

But a strange sound of peace
Approaches from afar,
While beads appear on the arms,
And trembling starts in the fingers.

As pure as was the loved one
Peace spreads across the carpet,
While wet and bright, the poison
Shines golden in the goblet.



5
See the endnotes for a discussion of the biographical events behind this poem and its kinship to
Ezbekiah.


27 | P a g e



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28 | P a g e

Hyena

Alongside the reeds of the sluggish Nile
Where birds and butterflies flit in the sun,
Lies the forgotten tombs rubble
Of a tyrannical and seductive Queen.

The hazy night spreads deceptions,
White wisps of fog shift through the air
The moon is like a guilt-ridden siren,
And a stealthy hyena slinks from its lair.

Its yowling is harsh and furious,
Its eyes are sinister and grim,
With frightful teeth barred in menace,
It crouches on the pink marble tomb.

Look, moon, lover of all that is mad
Look, stars, fancier of apparitions,
And you, dark Nile, the still waters lord,
And you too, butterflies, birds and plants,

Look everyone, see my spiky hair
See my cruel eyes glassy sparks.
Am I not also a Queen like her
Who lies beneath these ancient stones?

Her heart was brimful with deceit,
Her arched eyebrows signaled death,
Hers like mine was a hyenas heart
That loved blood-scent with every breath.

Frightened dogs in the village are howling,
The children sob in the small village houses,
And compulsively the sad fellahin
6

Tug out their long eyelashes.

6
Similar to a peasant in Europe, a fellah (plural, fellahin or fellaheen, with the accent on the second
syllable of each word) is a peasant farmer in the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt even today about
60% of the population is comprised of fellahin.
29 | P a g e



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30 | P a g e

Jaguar

Today I saw the strangest dream,
I dreamed I sparkled in the sky:
But life, the grim Madame,
Had cast bad fate my way.

Id been changed into a jaguar,
I burned with mad desires,
My heart flamed dreadful fire,
My muscles shook and shuddered.

And in a desolate field
I crept to a human house
To catch my midnight food
As god ordained I must.

Abrupt in the dark shadows
I saw a gentle maiden,
Her earrings dangling glowed
With doe-like queenly glance.

A figment of bliss, the White Bride . . .
Trembling and my thoughts confused
Stop where you are, she said
With a look full of love and peace.

Silently I obeyed her command,
I lay as if snared by her words;
Like a jackal I was pinned
By voracious dogs set loose.

She entered the shade of a copse
With light silent doe-like steps,
The moon made her earring glow
And stars communed with her pearls.

31 | P a g e



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32 | P a g e

Giraffe
7


Today I see your gaze is especially sad,
And your hands embracing your knees, especially thin.
Listen: far, far away on Lake Chad
8

A slender giraffe is grazing.

Bestowed with the luxury of harmonious grace,
Its skin is decorated in patterns, so magical
That only the shadow patterns of moonlit nights
Across the dashing waves of the wide lake rival.

From a distance its like a ships colored sail,
Its gait is smooth like the joyful flight of birds.
I know earth will witness wonders at nightfall
When it flees to its grotto of marble and hides.

I can tell quaint tales of far exotic lands,
Of a black maiden and a young chiefs passion,
But for too long you have been breathing in
This heavy fog trusting in nothing but rain.
9


And I can tell you of a tropic gardens shade
With harmonious palms and aromatic grasses . . .
Are you crying? Listen . . . far away on Lake Chad
A slender giraffe is grazing.





7
McKane notes that The Giraffe was Gumilevs most famous early poem. It became a favorite
target of parodists, who enthusiastically mimicked its distinctive five-foot amphibracic metre, which
neither he nor I have tried to replicate (Gumilev, Pillar, 220).
8
The modern countries of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria border upon the 520 square mile
large and shallow Lake Chad in central Africa.
9
McKanes note explains that the unresponsive black maiden and passionate young hero, is
Gumilyovs [sic] exotic short story Princess Zara. Closely related to Giraffe in time of composition,
thematics and psychological circumstance, this is another elaborately disguised refraction of Gumilyovs
tormented relationship with his bride-to-be, Akhmatova (Gumilev, Pillar, 220).
33 | P a g e






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34 | P a g e

Lake Chad
10


On mysterious Lake Chad
Among the ancient baobabs
Guided by majestic Arabs
The carved out feluccas scud.
11

Among the trees along the banks
And from foothills spread with green,
To terrible gods, the maidens chant,
Priestesses with ebony skin.

I was the wife of a mighty warrior,
The daughter of a great chief in Chad,
And I only throughout the rains of winter
Performed the sacred rites due to our god.
They said a distance of a hundred miles
No womans glowing splendor was my like;
I never took the bracelets from my arms,
My amber necklace never left my neck.

A warrior, white and handsome, came,
His lips were red, his look was calm,
He commanded like a king;
He opened the doorway to my heart
And when a heart is whispering,
Do not fight and do not wait.
He said how unlikely was the chance
That any woman in all of France
Was seductive and fine like me
And so as sun began to rise
He saddled up his Berber steed
To carry away the two of us.

My husband pursued us with his ready bow,
Ran through the thickets and the underbrush,
Swam across the shallow murky lakes
Leaped over crevices on the plateau
And lived in agony of flesh and soul.
Only the eye of the suns fierce crush

10
See note to previous poem. Chad is the name of a region, the Chadian Basin, a lake, and now a
modern nation. It is not the name of a tribe or ethnic group. A Chadian is a citizen of Chad, regardless of
ethnicity, religion, region or language.
11
The baobab is a tall distinctively shaped long lived tree native to Africa that produces an edible
coconut-sized fruit. The felucca is a traditional wooden ship with one or two sails with a shallow keel used
on the Nile, the Red Sea and other inland east African lakes and rivers.
35 | P a g e

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( 1, 159)
36 | P a g e

Watched the nomad warriors corpse
In the fury of his shame where his body fell.

And on a swift strong camels back
Encased in caressing folds of fabric
And precious skins of wild beasts,
I was carried north like a rare bird,
Fluttering my fan into the air
And relishing the expected delights.
I parted the delicate folds that hid me
Inside the many colored canopy
And daringly bent to the peep-hole
Where I saw how the sun glowed
In the Europeans blue eyes.

Now like a dead fig tree in an oasis
Whose leaves have fallen and blown away,
I am the useless and boring mistress
Cast off like a mere thing in Marseilles.
In order to feed on scraps and leftovers,
In order just to live, I have to dance
Before the vulgar crowds of drunk sailors
And let them have what way with me they choose.
My timid mind grows weak with suffering,
My gaze is fading with each hour I live . . .
When will I die? Buried in fields forgotten,
My husband waits but never will forgive.
37 | P a g e



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( 1, 196)


38 | P a g e

Semiramide
12




To the blessed memory of I. F. Annenskii
13 iii


My fortune rises from a lofty power,
Not even gods are so proud.
Marble columns beneath burning skies
Bring shelter into my garden.

Wells in the grove flow out to rosy pools
With delicate azure moss,
While slaves, dancers, priests attend the king
Of earth, air, water, and wind.

From far and near they bow in awe,
Stifling their fear in the hush,
But the countenance of the moon each midnight
Bends down strange and low.

In dread of the moons light, steady and strong,
And its countenance so close,
I long to fly beyond the gardens bonds
Seven hundred ells.
14





12
Semiramide or Semiramis was the legendary 9
th
century BC Queen of Assyria known for her
beauty, wisdom and sexual excess. Gumilyovs monologue offers her as the admired and beautiful consort
of a powerful king, but she is also like a frightened girl; therefore somewhat the opposite of Feodora. The
editors of Anna Akhmatovas (1, 706) suggest in a note to 61 of
Prose About the Poema: Pro Domo Mea that Akhmatova believed this poem to refer to her. They quote a
conversation with her much later in her life when she said Adele Nikolia Stepanovich [said] I was a thing
half way between Semiramide

and Feodora. .
13
Innokentii Annenskii (1855-1909) was a highly regarded schoolmaster (see related endnote), poet
and translator of Euripides. His single volume, The Cypress Chest, was regarded by the Acmeist group
(Gumilev and Mandelshtam in particular) as a model of the kind of anti-symbolist poems that sought to
produce.
14
An ell was a measure used in various European countries based on the length from the elbow to
the tip of an outstretched palm, originally used for measuring lengths of fabric. In England it came to be
standardized as 45 inches.

39 | P a g e





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( 1, 224)


40 | P a g e

Don Juan
15


My fantasy is proud and plain:
To grasp the crop, leap the stirrup,
Outrace sluggish time,
And always kiss fresh lips;

And in old age before Christs grace,
With ash on head and eyes cast down
Breast burdened by an iron cross,
At last to take salvations burden.

For only then, released from orgy,
Like sleepwalkers, night done,
Scared white by a silent stalker,

Might wake, so I recall this paltry atom
Had neither child from any woman
Nor help from any human brother.



15
Among the many versions of the Don Juan legend, undoubtedly the most popular throughout the
19
th
century were the 1787 opera Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Lorenzo
da Ponte (1749-1838) and George Gordon Lord Byrons (1788-1824) long mock-heroic poem Don Juan
(published in cantos between 1818 and 1820). But in Russia, Aleksandr Pushkins (1799-1837) drama of
1830, The Stone Guest, and Aleksandr Dargomyzhskiis (1813-1869) final opera of the same name were
also well known. A more recent version, Richard Strausss (1864-1949) 1888 tone poem Don June, Op.20
swept Europe with acclaimed performances by almost every major orchestra. Gumilev is likely to have
been familiar with all of these. The Russian pronunciation of (Juan) is like Byrons with a hard
j and 2 syllables (jew-on) not like the Spanish 1 syllable whan.
41 | P a g e



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( 1, 226)



42 | P a g e

A Reader of Books

As a reader of books, I yearned to come across
My quite paradise in obedient consciousness.
I loved them all, those strange expanses,
Where there are neither hopes nor memories.

To swim unflaggingly the streams of lines,
To enter eagerly a channels chapters
Watching the waves foam on its flood,
And listening to the swell of its incoming tide!

But at evening . . . Oh, how dreadful it is,
Night shadows behind cupboard and icon-case,
And the pendulum, frozen, like the moon
Shining above the gleaming fen!








43 | P a g e

Untitled


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( 1, 227)

44 | P a g e

Untitled


Flowers dont survive with me
Their beauty pleases but a moment,
They last a day, or two, and wilt,
Flowers dont survive with me.

Indeed no birds survive here,
I rescue them, forlorn and mute,
Next daysmall tufts of fluff are left . . .
Indeed no birds survive here.

Only books in eight straight rows,
Reticent and dingy tomes,
Look down on aging boredom
Like teeth in eight straight rows.

A huckster sold those old used books,
A humpbacked pauperstill his stand
I see . . . behind the cursd graveyard,
A huckster sold those old used books.
16






















16
The Liteiny Proskekt (or boulevard) is a major commercial street running north and south through
downtown Petersburg, ending at the north at Liteiny Bridge. In Gumilevs days there was a well known
section with used book stalls on the Liteiny Prospekt.
45 | P a g e



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46 | P a g e

The Return of Odysseus

I. At the Shore

O heartabundant hive,
Peerless golden honeycomb!
I stagger through surf, and I dive
Through tatters of frothing foam.

Exhausted, at my trireme helm,
My chest bared to a storm gone mad,
I raced toward my island home
Against the blue-gray thunderhead.

I enter the door of the spacious house,
Glad to have made my way home,
At once I forget the black years
Guarded by Pallas
17
alone.

True! But who, like a soaring kite,
Hovered over my spirit as if
To draw me to a harsher fate,
And fling me anew from a steeper cliff?

A crack split the ship open,
The hurricane ploughed the seas,
And my promise of a shoreline
Was lost in the looming haze.

I gasped with a faltering breath
To howling on island and water:
No, Ill neither break my oath
To the goddessnor curse her.

II. The Slaughter of the Suitors

A lone two horned moon hung above the town
When abruptly the mist was sharply sliced
And Odysseus stood high above the transom
To shoot his arrow through Antinoss chest.
18


17
Throughout Odysseuss wanderings, he has guided by the goddess Pallas Athena disguised as
Mentor.
18
In The Odyssey by Homer, when Penelope, Odysseuss wife, is left by him for 20 years, her palace
is invaded by suitors. They are led by the most persistent suitor, Antinos. She weaves a shroud for
Odysseuss father, Lartes with the promise to choose one of the suitors when the shroud is compete, but
each night unpicks the previous days work. When Odysseus returns, he slaughters the suitors including
Antinos.
47 | P a g e

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48 | P a g e

A chalice fell from Antinoss hand,
His eyes were swathed in a haze of dark blood,
A slight tremor . . . and the hero of that land,
Of the youth of Greece, no longer stood,

Gripped with terror, the others all arose
Reluctant to grab their shields and swords.
In vain! With the swiftness of steel-tipped arrows,
Came down these regal, derisive, keen words:

What now, renowned princes of Ithaca,
Why are you in no hurry to meet your master,
And why is there no sacrificial display
As sacred sign of welcome on his altar?

Like a crash of cymbals you smashed the shrine
That was made for the tributes to the gods,
The fatted bull, and the sharp-horned ram,
And the golden wine from Cypruss hills.

You whispered sweet words in Penelopes ear,
At night, lewdly fondled the servant maids
Sweeter than the music of battling spears;
While I drifted in fear on the watery waste!

What now can any of you say to me?
He abandoned his house without a line,
For, in the deep bottomless sea,
On his blind corpse, the fish to dine.

So? For all the hard feelings you want to make
Things right? And offer me your palace?
I would not trade the whole Atlantic,
For todays new graves in the burial place!

When the bell clangs, sure arrows will sing,
And measured, the slash of the sword will glint,
And you, princes all, cowardly or daring,
Will prepare to lie in heaps and grow white.

Here lies Eurymachus,
19
dumpy, fat
And pale . . . as white as a marble slab.

19
In The Odyssey Eurymachus, one of the suitors, after Odysseus kills Antinos (leader if the
suitors) pleads that Antinos was the cause of everything, but Odysseus sees through Eurymachuss feeble
attempt to pass blame, and kills him second.

49 | P a g e

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50 | P a g e

And like plagues of flies, the false virgins sit
Expectant with fear, captive and locked up.

Here lies Antinos . . . one glance tells all . . .
A heavy massy pile, like an elephant,
When with us of Ilion,
20
he should have set sail
To be first among the heroes of the Iliad.

All will fallfallwhether tiger or deer,
And never alive will any again stand.
Who is that red one? Flung up there
Still steaming and flowing in blood?

Well, everyone in my path, make way,
Fair-haired youth, my son, Telemachus!
The merciless gods above will show
The black path you now must use.

Again I fondly recall from afar
The golden moon riding on the horizon
And see along the frothing Pontic shore
21

The grove of sacred palms in the wind.

Nut none who held lewd dreams of fondling her,
Have ever despoiled the royal sheets.
Like soaring gulls, the queen is white and pure,
Terrifying and dark in her loveliness.

III. Odysseus to Lartes

One still within his lot of years,
O my fate, O sacred one!
I am no wolf, no murderer,
And I honor you, the faithful guardian.

Your face has furrowed features but
Your minds not dull to the whirl of life.


20
Ilion is another name for the city of Troy. In the next line the word Iliad gives Odysseuss speech
an odd anachronistic effect. Either Gumilev ignored that The Iliad (which mean the story of epic about
Illion) would have to be written after the fictional events his poem recreates, or he implies foreknowledge
on the part of Odysseus, who knows already his life will be recorded in two great epics. With the word
hero, the second interpretation seems more likely and thus the speech gives Odysseuss tale a kind of fated
or providential quality.
21
Pontus was an ancient kingdom in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Pontic shores are the shores
of the Black Sea, near which stood Troy.

51 | P a g e

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( 1, 235-9)

52 | P a g e

You, Lartes, father, I salute,
Ruminative in your homelands strife.

I look out: the tended garden beds
Laid out on slopes of the craggy hills.
The produce hanging with ripened heads
Plucked fresh their fragrance fills the halls!

I shed a reluctant flow of tears,
I compel my heart to yield,
Then bow and flood the earth, to share
Abundant tears on the dry field.

It is sweet to me, and painful to me
To sit with you in your goatskin shirt.
I believegod is in tranquility
Not the thunder, not the stormy blast.

But who to me, with a rosy aura,
Is that unspeakable delight?!
The warrior goddess Pallas Athena
Rises from the sea in her diamond shield.

Graybeard, I hasten to leave your sight,
The last time I see you wholly yourself
And once more bare-chested at night
I seem to see the maelstrom and cliff.

My black fate, as by the hand of Zeus
Was plucked from me and just in time.
And the deadly agonizing throes
I see at last are left behind.

And I do not remember the days of war,
Nor the flames and smoke and cries of victors,
Nor the women, lurid, fawning and eager,
Interchangeable each from the other

You with your myrtle crown of honor
Look out on skies washed clean of cloud,
And with the cherished name of father
I will serve Erebuss dark abode.

53 | P a g e



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( 1, 288)


54 | P a g e

Margarita
22

Valentine to the tavern students boasts
Of his sisters charms and face,
While on Margaritas left hand
A costly ring is placed.

At Margaritas, a casket lies
With rings for fingers and ears.
While in ivy, hid beneath her window,
The red caped trickster sneers.

At Gretchens upper chamber window,
The tricksters ladder is placed,
While bells ring out in the street below
And students sing Gretchens praise.

The rubies, too bright in the April light,
Where she set them asideare ignored . . .
But Martha grabs a few in her purse
As she draws her lover indoors.

Valentine, Valentine forget the shame,
Who visits this summer night?
Like Rigoletto the hunchback clown
23

Who scoffed at his daughters plight,

How vain to challenge to fight with Faust


The dream of a girl disgraced.
Instead youll meet the red caped trickster
And then . . . be . . . dead.


(July 1910)



22
Gumilevs volume Alien Sky is in four sections, the second of which is Poems dedicated to Anna
Akhmatova who was his wife at the time. Margarita is in this section and borrows details from Johann
Wolfgang von Goethes (1749-1832) drama Faust: Part One (1805) but does so via the widely popular
opera version (1859) by Charles Gounod (1818-1893). Margarita is referred in the diminutive Gretchen as
well. Her neighbor Martha is wooed by Mephistopheles, the red-caped trickster, while Faust woes the
virginal Margarita. Akhmatova comments on this poem in the prose drafts translated in the second section
of this collection.
23
Rigoletto is the tragic protagonist of Giuseppe Verdis (1813-1901) popular opera of the same
name (1851). Rigolettos daughter Gilda is seduced and then cast off by the philandering Duke. In
revenge Rigoletto arranges for the Duke assassination but due to a substitution the body delivered to him to
be drowned is actually Gilda whom he discovers just as she expires.
55 | P a g e




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56 | P a g e

The Turkistan General
24


Beneath vague voices and the low din,
Strangely as if through a wall,
Through the bright dancers in a line
One sees the towering old general.

A welcoming voice, a direct look,
With eyebrows, grizzled and curved,
Of nothing in particular he spoke
And to us said no more than he should.

Among the officers and the dandies
Amid the days whirlwind,
It seems that theyd forgotten his
Grand odoriferous legend.

They forgot the day of anguish,
The night of cries: To arms.
The disheartening salt-marshes,
The camels hooves in lines;

Forgot the margins of shifting dirt
Where a bad-luck company dragged;
Forgot Ashgabad,
25
and Kizel Arvat,
26

White Khiva
27
fallen to the Russian flag.

Forgotten? No! Each time it occurs
That some attention-grabbing incident
Dims the spark of his peaceful eyes,
Refreshing them with old events.

What is with you? My leg aches.
Gout? No, an old deep wound.


24
Alien Sky is in four sections, the second of which is dedicated to Anna Akhmatova and includes
this poem.
25
I have been unsuccessful in identifying the proper noun - (transliterated as Ush-Kuduk).
I have substituted Ashgabad or Ashgabat which is the modern capital of Turkmenistan and was the site of a
major battle during the Turkistan campaign.
26
I have been unsuccessful in identifying the proper noun (transliterated as Kenderla).
He substituted Kizyl Arvat which is in modern Turkmenistan. I have not been able to confirm that it was
involved in the 19
th
century Turkistan campaigns.
27
Khiva is a city on the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border. It was the center of the Khanate of Khiva,
also called Khwrezm, until Russia conquered it in 1873 under General Mikhail Dmitrievich Skobelev
(1843-1882) who was known by his Turkistan opponents as bloody eyes. The conquest of Khiva
effectively brought Turkistan under Russian control.

57 | P a g e


.

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,

,
,

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( 1, 290-1)
58 | P a g e


Suddenly provoked, he awakes
And breaks the tedium of the Turkistan sun.

And he told me that none of those
Among all of the veterans,
In lines with up-raised lances
Or in rows of armchairs and divans,
Could force him out of the shabby bed,
Ceremonious and corpulent,
As his heart repeatedly agonized
Over memories of mishaps past.

59 | P a g e



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60 | P a g e

African Night
28


Midnight descends, darkness everywhere,
Only the river glitters from the moon
Beyond the river an unknown tribe somewhere
Is lighting fires and making angry sounds.

Well meet tomorrow and determine then
Who is the master over all this land,
Theyre aided by the wearing of black stones,
We by crucifixes on our bare skin.

Here even the trees refuse to grow
As I survey the low hills and dry gullies,
In this desolate land of Sidamo
29

Where here well store our baggage, there the mules.

I am pleased to think that if we win,
Many times weve won before today,
From hill to hill to the far horizon
The yellow road will lead us on our way.

If tomorrow the waves of the River Webbe
30

Swallow my groans of anguish in their roar
In the colorless heavens I will see
The black gods fierce fight with the god of fire.


28
McKane points out that although the poem had generally been taken as an example of
Gumilyovs [sic] aggressive imperialism, a different reading might emphasize the impartiality of his
continuing fascination with competing spiritual traditions (Gumilev Pillar, 227).
29
Sidamo was a province in southern Ethiopia with its capital at Irgalem. It was named for the
dominant ethnic group in the region, the Sidamo or Sidama people, who had established the ancient
Kingdom of Kaffa (c.13901897). It is a major coffee producing region. Kaffa was Christianized in the
16
th
century; its last King was captured and sent to Addis Abbaba in 1897 as the kingdom eventually was
incorporated into the territories ruled by Menelik II, emperor of Ethiopia.
30
The Webbe Shebeli River (pronounced way-bee shay-bee-lee with accents on the 2
nd
syllables)
flows SE from central Ethiopia 700 miles to merge with the Juba River in Somalia.
61 | P a g e



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62 | P a g e

The Workman
31


He stands before a blazing forge,
A humble, bent and small old man.
His blinking eyelids are burnt red,
His look seems quite obedient.

All his comrades are asleep
Only he has not yet slept:
He works a bullet into shape,
The one that will cut my life short.

Finishing, his eyes light up.
He heads home. The moon shines.
His wife awaits, warm and asleep
In their big bed, for his return.

The bullet cast so well will whine
Above the icy Dvinas
32
foam,
The bullet cast so well will find
My breast, indeed for me it comes.

And as I fall my life goes by
For me to see in truth my past,
My blood will flow onto the dry
And dusty, trodden field of grass.

The Lord will rightly be the judge
Of lifes short span of bitterness.
In his gray blouse, the man at the forge
Is the one who made me thus.


31
This poem is sometimes said to be prophetic of Gumilevs murder; for instance, see Akhmatovas
comments in the prose piece Gumilev in the second section of this selection.
32
There are two Dvina rivers; the Northern Dvina flows north through Russia into the Arctic Sea;
the Western Dvina flows north through Belarus and Latvia into the Baltic Sea, which most likely the river
Gumilev has in mind here.
63 | P a g e




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64 | P a g e

Suez Canal
33


Flights of days and nights
Have been conjured before my gaze
But Ive known none as bright
As those above the Suez

Where ships sail not on seas
But in lines on land-locked ponds
Like a caravan of camels
Filing across the horizon.

How many many birds,
Perched on the rocky slopes,
Blue like the blue of fables,
Long legged with long throats.

Masses of lizards are seen
As if the waters spray
Made their golden-green
Sparkle along the shore.

We toss out fruit as we pass
To clumps of Arab children
Who sit along the banks;
Pirates they pretend.

The Arab childrens calls
Are fervent like ringing bells
While the marabous hiss
34

Curses down upon us.

And when night sinks in the sand
Like a kite folding its wings,
35

Ahead of us and behind
The sparks of fires are flickering;


33
This poem is from the volume Tent (1921) consisting of 16 African poems. Gumilev was
commissioned in 1918 to write it as an experiment in geography in verse. He later cut and reorganized
the cycle to make it a personal journey or pilgrimage with a spiritual dimension, and should not be read as
strictly autobiographical (McKane qtd. in Gumilev, Pillar, 231). The volume includes long poems entitled
Egypt, Sudan, Abyssinia, Sudan and the like reflecting the extent of Gumilevs travels based on
several trips over the years.
34
The marabou is a large dark gray African stork that has a distensible pouch of pink skin at the
front of the neck and feeds especially on carrion. Also known as the undertake bird, its wingspan can reach
12 feet.
35
Several species of large carrion eating kites are native to east Africa.
65 | P a g e

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( 2, 114)
66 | P a g e

Some are redder than choral,
Some are a greenish blue . . .
A watery carnival
In the desert of Africa.

Off in the distant hills
The smoke of cooking blows down
Reaching us in gusts
From the camps of the Bedouin.

From crumbling ancient walls
Along the bends in the channel
We hear the laugh of hyenas
And the howling of the jackals.

But the steamships sole reply
To the slumbering African night
And the grieving stars in the sky
Are the strains a piano sends out.

67 | P a g e




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68 | P a g e

Ezbekiah
36


How strangea decade ago precisely I
Was there, looking at Ezbekiah.
The great Cairo garden, as a full moon
Solemnly blessed the gathering night.

I was worn down because of a woman,
And neither the salty fresh wind from the sea,
Nor the commotion of the exotic bazaar
Were able to bring me consolation.
I implored God then and there for death
And was ready myself to help it come.

But this garden was reminiscent of
The sacred grove of the young world:
There, slender palms extended branches
Like girls to whom God had come down;
On the hills, like prophetic druids,
There were stands of statuesque sycamores;

And in the dusk was a white waterfall,
Where surely a unicorn rose up to prance;
Nocturnal moths were fluttering
Among the flowers that rose up high
To the stars,and the stars were so low
That they looked like ripening barberries.

And, I recall how I exclaimed: Higher than grief
Deeper than deathlife! Lord, I take
Willingly upon myself this vow: whatever
Chances my way of sorrow or shame
I will not permit my mind to consider
Thoughts of an easy death until
Once again I come upon such a moonlit night
Under the palms and sycamores of Ezbekiah.







36
See my discussion of the earlier poem, The Suicide in the endnotes. The Ezbekiah Gardens or
Ezbekiah Park was a famous sight in Cairo during the 19
th
century. Most of the park is now part of the
Ezbekiah quarter, a major commercial district developed around Cairos central railway station.
69 | P a g e

,
,
, ,
, .
,
,

.

, , , ,
,
, , ,
, ,

,
. . .

( 2, 40-41)


70 | P a g e

How strangea decade ago precisely,
And I cannot stop thinking about the palms
And the sycamores, or the waterfall,
And its white spray like a unicorn.
And suddenly as I look back, I hear
In the rustling wind, in the murmur of distant speech,
And in the terrifying silence of the night
That mysterious word
37
Ezbekiah.

Yes, only ten years, the somber stranger still,
But I must journey there again to see
The sea and the clouds and the foreign faces,
All that which no longer entices me,
And again come to the garden to renew the vow
Or to declare that I have accomplished it
And now I am free . . .



37
For a full commentary on the significance of the word and its meanings, see my endnote
discussion of The Word by Gumilev which is the next poem in this selection.

71 | P a g e




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( 2, 150)
72 | P a g e

The Word
38

iv



In those days, over the new world, when
God turned His face,
39
then
The word stopped the sun,
40

The word brought down a town.
41


The eagle stretched not his wing,
The stars in fear stung at the moon,
When, like a rose colored flame,
Through the heights, the word swam.

And for each lower form of living thing
There were numbers, like for yoked oxen,
Because an intelligent number conveys
All shades of meaning a thing has.

A hoary patriarch, cane in hand,
To subjugate the evil and the good,
Resolved not to resort to sound,
And drew a number in the sand.

But we forgot, in our earthly cares,
That singularly luminous, is the word,
And John the Evangelist declares
That The Wordis God.
42


We have set limits over its power,
The limits of its paltry essence
And like a hive emptied of bees,
Dead words smell sour.


38
An extensive discussion of this poem appears in the endnotes.
39
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (KJV Gen.1.2).
40
Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the
children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in
the valley of Ajalon (KJV Jos.6.1 and 5).
41
And the LORD said unto Joshua . . . . And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast
with the rams horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great
shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat . . . (KJV Jos.6.1 and 5).
42
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (KJV John
1.1).

73 | P a g e



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.
( 2, 160)




74 | P a g e

Baby Elephant

My love for yous becomea baby elephant,
Not long since born in Paris or Berlin
Who stamps on padded soles about the rooms
Inside its owners small menagerie.

Do not attempt to offer him those fine French rolls,
And do not offer him the heads of cabbages,
He can only eat a piece of tangerine
Or a single sugar cube or candy drop.

But do not cry, my dearest, when eventually
He will be snickered at inside a dark cramped cage
As sales boys blow puffs of smoke from their cigars
Into his face to make the shop girls giggle and laugh.

And never think, my darling, that the day will come,
When he grows so enraged that he will break his chains
To rampage wildly down the boulevards and streets
And crush the crowds of howling people like a bus.

No, may you picture him in early morning dreams
In rich brocades and bronze, in splendid ostrich plumes,
Like that incomparable Magnificence who once
With boldness carried Hannibal towards trembling Rome.


75 | P a g e




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76 | P a g e

The Stray Tram
43


The street I walked was unfamiliar,
Suddenly I heard crows caw,
And a lute clink, and distant thunder,
In front of me a tram flew.

How I leaped up on its rail
Puzzled me a great deal,
For in the air, its fiery trail
Persisted through the light of day.

It tore off like a dark winged storm.
It lost its way in the abyss of time . . .
Driver, make this thing stop,
Right now, driver, make it stop.

Too late. We just overtook a wall,
Brushed alongside a palm grove,
And at three bridges on Nev, Nile
And the Seine, we rumbled right over.

And, flashing out the window frame,
An old beggar cast up questioning eyes,
Of course, he is the same,
Who, a year back, in Beirut, died.

A signboard . . . the letters are blood shot
And say green grocerI know that
Instead of cabbages and rutabagas
They market in dead heads.

In a red shirt, with a face like an udder,
The executioner cut my head off,
It lay alongside all the others,
There, at the very bottom of the slimy trough.

And a plank fence in an alley,
A three-windowed house, lawn turned gray . . .
Driver, make this thing stop,
Right now, driver, make it stop.

43
McKane translates the title The Tram That Lost Its Way, Raffel and Barego, The Lost Tram;
Sampson, The Streetcar Gone Astray; Basker The Lost Tramcar (376-377). Each offers, as does mine,
the reader a different nuance which doubtless reflects the translators view of the poem as a whole.

77 | P a g e

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( 2, 161-163)


78 | P a g e

Mashenka,
44
here you sang and lived,
Wove me rug, your fianc,
But where are your voice and body
Now, it could be that you are dead!

While you shrieked in your parlor,
Already, with powdered plaits of hair,
I had gone to the Empress to submit,
Never again to catch your sight.

Now I have it solved: our freedom
Is only light smashing down,
People and shadows stand at the entrance
To a zoological garden of the planets.

At once, a scent well known and sweet,
As from the bridge, to me it blows,
Where the rider with iron gloves sits
On his horse with two raised hooves.
45


The true stronghold of the Orthodox
On top of St. Isaacs is fixed,
46

For Marchenka chants will be sung there,
For me a requiem will be said there.

Forever, with gloom, my heart strives,
It is taxing to breathe, painful to live . . .
I never guessed there is so much love,
Mashenka, and so much sadness.

(1919)


44
Sampson argues Whatever Gumilevs reasons for using the name, we understand the poem better
if we do not try to associate Mashenka with anyone in his biography. She is not any individual woman, but
an image of the ideal love that he had sought throughout his life and poetry (137).
45
The Bronze Horseman is also the name of the equestrian statue of Tsar Petr I the Great, made by
tienne Maurice Falconet (1716-1791) is counted among the best of French 18
th
sculptors. It stands in front
of St. Isaacs Cathedral in Petersburg and depicts the horse rearing up showing its front hooves. In
Pushkins great poema The Bronze Horseman (1833), an in Aleksandr Benuas (Benois) (1870-1960)
famous illustration to the poems (1904), the house rearing back with his hooves in the air are figures of
surreal terrora fitting allusion for Gumilev in this poem.
46
The famous Petersburg landmark, the Cathedral of St. Isaac of Dalmatia. Under construction from
1818 to 1858, it was designed by the architect Richard de Montferrand (1806-1823) in the French Empire
style.
79 | P a g e



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80 | P a g e

Among Gypsies

Heavily he swayed as if he were drugged,
Teeth flashing beneath the fierce moustache,
Dressed in scarlet, he seemed half-crazed,
With braids of entwined gold sash.

An instruments string . . . a throaty scream . . . and suddenly
Sweetness moaned through my blood,
How willingly I trusted in his story
Of distant lands that I too have loved.

The sound of the stringa bulls bellow
But a bull that had fed on bitter grass,
So the throaty voicea girls sorrow
With hand clasped across her lips.

Flames of fire, flames of fire, staves
Of red trunks and a deafening whoop,
Mad in love, the guest tramples the leaves
Like a Bengal tiger that circles the group.

Blood drips down from his fierce moustache,
Hes languid, hes sated, and hes drunk.
O, a host of tambourines crash,
While bodies crush, sweet and rank.

As the corks pop and the people shout,
Can I alone see through cigars white smoke
As he throb-pulses his cruel heart,
Amber pipe, wet bench, stroke on stroke?

Can I alone remember him cutting diamonds,
On a river flowing back to the Godhead,
Like tempests of angels, and a sweet desire
With a bloody lily in a delicate hand?

Girl, whats with you? See that rich guest,
Rise before him like a comet at night,
Enflame the heart in his shaggy breast,
Then tear it, tear it outand devour it.




81 | P a g e

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( 2,165-6 )

82 | P a g e

Whirl, whirl, wider and wider,
Move on and on with beckoning hands,
While evening is bathed in silvery vapor,
And fire on fire flares through the woods.

To the left and the right, bulls are tethered.
Their horns deadly, they bray to break out,
But their pasture grassland is bitter, bitter,
Thorny with thistles, wormwood and goosefoot.

He wants to rise, but cant . . . flint notched like a saw,
Saw-toothed like a scream in the throat,
And beneath his stretched, grim, velvet paw,
It plunges into his wingd heart.

He falls on his chest, the shoulder braids knot,
Never more to drink, never more to stare,
The waiters fuss and bustle about
Then carry the drunken guest off somewhere.

Half past five, sirs, already so soon?
Asmodeus,
47
the bill, hurry it up.
The girl laughs. She grabs the flint stone
And her slender tongue licks the blood up.






47
Asmodeus is an evil spirit and chief demon of Jewish folk lore. Whether the name had currency
among east European Gypsies I have not been able to determine. McKane translates the name as Satan.



83 | P a g e



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( 2,167)




84 | P a g e

The Drunk Dervish

Nightingales in the cypresses, a moon on the lake,
Black stone, white stone, much wine I have drunk.
The bottle singing loud in my heart says now:
The worlds the light in a friends face, all else shadow!

I am smitten by the wine server, not today, not yesterday.
Not just yesterday, not today, have I drunk all day.
Wherever I go I proclaim Ive found a great joy:
The worlds the light in a friends face, all else shadow!

A vagrant in a slum, a derelict and a beggar
All I ever knew Ive now forgotten forever,
All because of a gentle tune and a blushs glow:
The worlds the light in a friends face, all else shadow!

I pass among the tombs now where my friends lie,
Why is it so hard to ask the dead about love?
Then a skull screams its secret from the graves hole:
The worlds the light in a friends face, all else shadow!

Under the moon, beams stir the lakes surface,
The nightingale song has ceased in the cypress,
One alone sings loudly, about nothing at all:
The worlds the light in a friends face, all else shadow!

85 | P a g e


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86 | P a g e

Leopard
48


If you do not immediately singe
the whiskers of a slain leopard,
its spirit will pursue the hunter.

A popular Abyssinian belief

The leopard I slew is doing
Sorcery and telling fortunes
In the lonely silent night
Of my rented room.

People come in and go out,
The last to leave is she
For whom the golden darkness
Wanders in my veins.

Its late. The mice have squeaked,
The lonely house has groaned,
And purring on the bed
Is the leopard that I slew.

A gray fog floats over
49

The Dobrobran gorge,
50

The sun, red like a wound,
Strikes the Dobrobran with light.

The wind drives the aromas
Of honey and verbena east
While the hyenas howl and howl
Burying their noses in sand.

My brother, my brother, can you
Hear the howl, sense the smell,
See the fog? Why do you still
Breathe the humid air?

No my murderer,
You must not die in my land
So I can be born again
Into the family of leopards.

Really now, till dawn comes
Must I hear his sly summons?
Ah, I did not heed the advice,
I did not singe his whiskers.


48
McKanes note explains that in his Tsarskoe Selo study, Gumilev kept a leopard skin that he
brought from Abyssinia. Hed probably shot it himself in 1910. He late said I felt that all the beasts in
Africa had lain down around me, and were awaiting their moment to kill me, painfully and shamefully
(qtd. by McKane in Gumilev, Pillar, 239).
49
No in italics in the original, I do so to show this is the imagined words of the leopard.
50
I have not been able to confirm this place presumably in Ethiopia.
87 | P a g e

!
:
,
,




.

,
,
,
.

,
, ,

.
( 2,168-169)

88 | P a g e

Its too late! The enemy force
Has won and now is here:
Its squeezing the nape of my neck
With the strength of a bronze hand . . .

Palms . . . a terrible blaze from the sky
Burns the oasis in the sand.
A Danakil warrior has fallen
51

On the rock with a flaming spear.

He neither knows nor asks
Why my soul is proud,
He just casts this soul away
Not knowing where it goes.

And I cannot fight against his force,
I am content, I stand up.
I will end my life beside
The spring where giraffes drink.

51
Known as the most inhospitable place on earth, the Danakil Desert with a number of active
volcanoes spreads between north-east Ethiopia, south of Eritrea and much of Djibouti. It is the home of the
Afar people (also known as the Danakil) who have learned to survive there for hundreds of years.
89 | P a g e



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90 | P a g e

Star Terror
52


It was a night of gold,
A night of gold, but moonless,
He ran across the plain,
Fell to his knees, reared up,
Rushed about like a gunshot hare,
And hot tears streamed down
His pitted furrowed cheeks
Into his old mans billy-goat beard.
Behind him ran his children,
And behind them grandsons ran,
In the tent of unbleached fabric
An abandoned great-granddaughter squealed.

Come back, the children shouted after him,
And the grandsons clasped their palms together,
Nothing bad has happened,
Sheep have not gorged on the euphorbia,
53

Rain has not doused the sacred fire,
Neither shaggy lion nor the cruel Zend
54

Have approached our tent.

A steep black slope loomed up
But he did not see the looming slope
And smashed into it cracking his bones
Nearly knocking his breath right out.
He still tried to crawl
But the children had already grabbed him,
The grandsons lifting him from the ground
And to them he spoke these words:

Woe! Woe! Dread the noose and dread the pit
55

All who from the earth are born,

52
This is the final poem in Gumilevs last published volume,
53
Euphorbia belongs to one of the largest and most diverse genera of plants, and includes the
European spurges long used as purgatives. It is named after the ancient Greek physician Euporbus (c.25
BCE to c.25 AD) who cataloged and wrote about many varieties from the Mediterranean and North African
regions. One variety was a cactus found in Egypt that was used throughout the ancient world as a laxative.
54
This is a particularly thorny reference. I have not been able to confirm McKanes note that say the
Zend were an Iranian tribe (Gumilev, Pillar, 240); in addition, the Zend-Avista is the tradition of how to
read the Avista and other ancient Persians sacred texts. Many hermeneutic traditions (Hindu, Christian,
Islam, etc.) for reading sacred texts are premised on the belief that such texts are the living word of god, the
divine logos. Given Gumilevs interest in religions and especially his attention to the word (see the poem
of that name and relevant endnotes), a religious reference seems as likely here as a tribal one.
55
I quote McKanes note in full:

Woe! Woe! . . .: this powerful refrain, related to Isaiah 24.17 (Fear and the pit, and the snare
are upon then, O inhabitant of earth) on the authority of Akhmatova and Mandelstams widow,
occurs also in Jeremiah 48.43, and is partially reiterated in another of Gumilyovs [sic] persistent
sources, Revelation (8.13). The cumulative contexts underscore the potential topical relevance to
a time of cataclysmic political upheaval (qtd. in Gumilev, Pillar, 240).
91 | P a g e


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92 | P a g e

Because with his many eyes
The black one peers down from the sky
To seek out our secrets.
Tonight I fell asleep as usual
Wrapped in my pelts with face to the ground,
And dreamed of a splendid cow
With her swollen udder hanging down,
I crawled beneath her
Reaching up to suckle the fresh milk
When suddenly she kicked me
And I rolled over and woke up;
I was without my skin facing the sky.
It is well that a skunk had burnt
Only my right eye with its nasty juice
Because if Id been looking with both eyes
I would have been left there dead.
Woe! Woe! Dread the noose and dread the pit
All ye who from the earth are born.

The children lowered their eyes to the ground,
The grandsons hid their faces in their elbows
As they all waited
For the oldest son to speak
And these are the words he spoke:
As long as I have lived
No bad has come my way
And my heart believes
Nothing bad will fall to me,
So with both eyes I long to see
What it is that wanders in the sky.

He finished speaking and at once lay on the ground,
Not prone down but on his back,
The others stood holding their breath.
They listened and waited a very long time.
Then shaking with terror, the old man asked:
What do you see? but no answer came
From the son with the gray beard.
And when his brothers bent down over him,
They saw he was not breathing,
His face was as dark as bronze,
It was distorted by the hands of death.

Oh how the women began to wail
And the children cried and howled,
While he pulled at his beard and hoarsely
Called down terrible curses.
The eight brothers leaped to their feet,
Strong men, seizing their bows,
We will shoot, they said into the sky
And bring down the one who wanders there . . .
Why has this misfortune struck us?
But the widow of the dead one shouted
Let revenge be mine, not yours!
93 | P a g e

,

.

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94 | P a g e

I want to see his face,
To tear at his face with my teeth
And scratch out his eyes with my claws.

She screamed and fell to the ground,
But screwing up her eyes, for a long time
She whispered curses to herself,
Tore at her breasts and bit her fingers.
Finally she looked up grinning
And started to cuckoo like a cuckoo:

Lin, why are you going to the lake? Linoya,
56

Is the antelope liver good?
Children, the spout of the jug is broken off,
Ill get you for that! Father, hurry and get up,
You see, the Zends are hauling off
57

Reed baskets filled with mistletoe sprigs,
To barter not to fight.
How many fires are here, how many people!
The whole tribe . . . gathered for a fine festival!

The old man began to calm down,
Touching the lumps on his knees,
And the children put down their bows
The grandsons grew bolder and even smiled.
But when the prostrate one jumped
To her feet, everyone turned green
And in terror broke out in a sweat.
She was black but with white eyes,
She raced around furiously and wailed:
Woe! Woe! Dread the noose and dread the pit!
Where am I? What has happened to me? The red swan
Chases me where the three-headed dragon . . .
Has sneaked near . . . Get away beasts, get!
Touch not, Cancer! Capricorn, stay away!

And when still with the same wailing,
The wailing of a mad dog,
She rushed up to the mountain ridge to the abyss
No one ran after her.

In confusion the people went back to their tents
And sat around on the rocks in terror.
Midnight approached. A hyena
Was howling then abruptly stopped.
And the people said: The one in the sky,
Whether god or beast, surely requires a sacrifice.
We must offer a calf,
A spotless maiden
Upon whom no man has yet
Looked with lust in his eyes.

56
This name does not seem to have any particular significance.
57
See earlier note regarding the word Zend.
95 | P a g e

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96 | P a g e

Gar has died, Garaya has gone quite mad.
58

Their daughter is but eight springs old,
Perhaps she will suffice.

The women ran quickly
And dragged out young Garra.
The old man raised the flint ax
Thinking It is best to strike her forehead.
Before she looks up to the sky.
After all shes his granddaughter and he pities her.
But the other did not allow it and said:
What kind of sacrifice is it with forehead smashed?

They put the girl on a stone,
A flat black stone on which
The sacred fire burned until
It went out during all the turmoil.
After they placed her they turned away their faces,
Waiting for her to die, so they could get some sleep
Before the sun came up.

Except, the girl did not die,
She looked upwards then to the right
Where her brothers were, then upwards again
Longing to jump from the stone.
The old man jumped up and asked: What do you see?
Greatly annoyed she answered:
I see nothing. Only the sky,
Curved, black, empty,
And in the sky there are sparks everywhere
Like spring flowers in a marsh.
The old man became thoughtful and said:
Look again! And once more Garra
Looked at the sky for a long, long while.
No, she said, it is not little flowers,
It is simply golden fingers
Pointing us to the plain,
And the sea and the mountains of the Zends,
Revealing all that is happening,
Happening, happening.

The people listened in amazement:
Not only children, but even men
Had never been able to say such things,
And Garras cheeks were burning,
Her eyes sparkled, her lips grew red,
And her hands were lifted to the sky
As if they wanted to fly up into the sky.
And suddenly she started to sing
Loudly like the wind in a thicket of reeds,
Or the wind from the mountains of Iran on the Euphrates.

Mella was eighteen springs old

58
These names do not seem to have any particular significance
97 | P a g e

,
,
.
,
, ,
, , ,

.

,
,

.

, ,
,
,
, ,
, ,
, ,
,
.

( 2, 178)
98 | P a g e

But did not yet know a man,
She fell to the ground near Garra,
Peered at her and began to sing:
And following her lead, Akha, and after Akha,
Urr, her bridegroom, and then the whole tribe
Lay down and sang, sang, sang,
Like larks in the midday heat,
Or frogs in the confusion of evening.

Only the old man stepped to the side
Clamping his fists over his ears,
As a tear slipped down
From one eye.
He grieved for his fall
From the steep slope, for his bruised knees,
For both Gar and his widow, and the time
Gone by when the people gazed
On the plain where their herds grazed,
On the water where their sails ran,
On the grass where their children played,
But not at the black sky where unattainable
Alien stars were sparkling.





99 | P a g e



,
,

.


- ,
, ,
.

, , ,
.
,
, .

,

, , .
, .


,
, , ,
.

,
,

.

, .
.
, ,
.

,

,
.

(1908)
( 2, 237-238)

100 | P a g e

Anna Comnena
59

v




Nervousness lurks in the strange dark,
The emperors daughter neglects the court,
She gazes out on the Bosporus fleet
Where it dimly rides the turbulent tide.

Into the safe and sheltering bay,
The graceful pride of ship prows glide.
But she lowers her gaze, like a chilly grave,
Her hair distraught in the faltering light.

A knight kneels down and her proud disdain
Is like eagles soaring in Pyrenean snows.
He left the combat for sighs of delight
That a woman in alcove shadows shows.

From the fray he was summoned back in vain,
One who fought well for the emperors state
His gaze was calm while the torrid storm
Shattered and cut the battling fleet.

His hand long rests on those smooth breasts,
While furtive look meets furtive look.
Next morning, sober, groomed and slender
His head falls low from a swift axe blow.

April returns and the cranes return,
Swooping from clouds, alighting on reeds.
Below cypress groves on the western slope
The fleet comes in view, her shame comes too.

And again the Princess, like an adulteress,
Exposes fully the lure of her body.
And quaking and sad and alone in bed,
Her spirit is lifeless, her flesh is alive.

So Comninas heart knows treason not.
It craves but frenzy, pursuit and play,
In the gnawing boredom of anguished gloom,
In the dying world where shes constrained.

(1908)


59
See endnotes for historical background on Comnena and a discussion of this poem
101 | P a g e







POEMS AND PROSE

PIECES BY ANNA AKHMATOVA

AND IGOR SEVERIANIN

TO OR ABOUT GUMILEV
102 | P a g e


Igor Severianin


Portrait of Anna Akhmatova in 1914, while she was married to Gumilev, by Nathan Altman (1889-1970)
103 | P a g e






.
.

, .

, ,
.
,
.


,
? , ,

...
,
.

1926 1927

( , 438-439)
104 | P a g e

Gumilev

By Igor Severianin
60


The path of the conquistadors climbs the summit.
61

Romantic flowers cling to its sides.
62

Pearls lie at its base a sea of ideas
63

With tricolored fiery sails afloat.

And returning to his tent the traveler
Transcribed what he had seen in verse.
As Europe Africa supersedes,
So the pillar of fire fills the wide air with showers.

Who among the poets has sung more vividly
Than one whom in a single life, ten lives
Were contained? Lover, game hunter,

Soldier and with such chivalry . . .
Stuck here on Earth for Venus he grieves,
Armed with a pair of binoculars.



60
Igor Severianin (pen name of Igor Vasilyevich Lotarev, 1887-1941) was the leader of the Ego-
Futurists poets during the second decade of the 20
th
century in Russia. His first volumes, The Cup of
Thunder ( ), caused a sensation in 1913 when it was published and he became popular
in poetry circuits for his dandyish performances. After the Revolution in 1918 he was one of the first poets
to leave Russia. He settled in Estonia, and later tried to return but was not successful. His popularity
quickly waned even though he continued to publish abroad. In 1934 his volume Medallions was printed by
an migr press in Belgrade. It consists of almost 90 sonnets, each a snapshot of some writer or composer.
Writers dominate, with two thirds of them Russian, and the rest European or American.
61
(Path of the Conquistadors) is Gumilevs debut self-published volume
when he was 19 in 1905.
62
(Romantic Flowers) is Gumilevs second volume, 1908.
63
(Pearls) is Gumilevs third volume, 1910.

105 | P a g e

POEMS AND PROSE PIECES


TO AND ABOUT GUMILEV


BY ANNA AKHMATOVA
106 | P a g e




Nikolai Gumilev, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev, 1913


107 | P a g e

. . .


:
,
.
, ,

.
. .. .

9 1910

( , 1.36)
108 | P a g e

He loved . . .
64


by Anna Akhmatova
He loved three things in this world:
Songs at dusk, white peacocks
And fading maps of America.
He did not love when children cry,
He did not love raspberries with tea,
He did not love female hysterics.
. . . And his wife was me.

9 November 1910
Kiev





64
Gumilev met Akhmatova when she was 14 in 1903. After an on-again-off-again courtship they
married in Kiev in April 1910, seven months prior to this poemher first about him.
109 | P a g e

Untitled
. .<>


,
.
, ,
, .
, ,
.

, .

1912


( , 1.104)


110 | P a g e

Untitled

by Anna Akhmatova

To N. G.<umilev>

My pencil case and books were strapped
In a leather thong as I walked from school.
Surely the linden trees have not forgot
Our meeting, my cheerful boy.
Only the swan has become proud
Grown up from a gray cygnet.
Grief lies like an eternal ray
Across my life, and my voice is muted.

October 1912
Tsarskoe Selo


111 | P a g e

Untitled


.
.
, ,
.

,

.

1913

( , 1.152)

112 | P a g e

Untitled

by Anna Akhmatova

I will leave your silent garden and house.
May your life be vacant and bright.
You I will honor, you in my poems,
As no woman could ever honor you.
And may you remember your sweet friend
In the paradise you made for her eyes,
For I will barter in singular goods
I will sell your love and tenderness.

1913
Tsarskoe Selo


113 | P a g e

Untitled

by Anna Akhmatova

, ,
,
,
.



- -
.

,
?

.


,

.


,

.

: "
.

".

114 | P a g e

Untitled

by Anna Akhmatova

That August, like a yellow flame
65

Working its way through smoke,
That August rose above us
Like a fiery seraph.

And in a city of grief and anger
From the silent Karelian earth
66

We twosoldier and maiden
Entered an ice-cold morning.

What became of our capital?
Who pulled the sun down to earth?
The black eagle on the standard
67

Seemed to be a bird in flight.

The city of grand drill parades
Was like a wild encampment,
The eyes of passers-by were blinded
By flashing lances and guns.

And the gray canons rattled
And they shook the Troitskii Bridge,
68

And the lindens were still green
In the inscrutable Summer Garden.
69


My brother told me: My days
70

Of greatness have begun.
You must now store up
Our pleasures and our griefs.


65
August 1915 was the second summer of World War I and Petrograd (Petersburg) had been
transformed into a military staging site for troops preparing for the eastern front.
66
Karelia is a region in southern Finland north of Petersburg. Parts of Karelia have been held by
Finland, Russia and the Soviet Union and changed hands several times during the 20
th
century.
67
The imperial flag of tsarist Russia was a black double eagle on a bright yellow ground.
68
The Troitskii Bridge (Trinity Bridge) spans the Neva River in Petersburg. During the Soviet
Union it was renamed first the Ravenstva Bridge (Equality Bridge) and later the Kirovskii Bridge (Kirov
Bridge).
69
or Summer Garden is adjacent to the Summer Place of Peter the Great in Petersburg
famous for its sculpture-line walks. It is now a public park.
70
Akhmatova (whose maiden name was Gorenko and Akhmatova a name she took as a poet) had
two half-brothers and two brothers. Viktor Andreevich Gorenko (1896-1976) was the youngest Gorenko
child. He served in the army on the Pacific front during WWI.
115 | P a g e


,

.

<20 > 1915
116 | P a g e

It was as though he left the keys
To the manor with his nanny
And the wind from the east praised
The feather-grass rippling the steppes.

<20 December> 1915
117 | P a g e



,
,

.

,
,
, , , ,
.


,

.

, ,
,

.

1915

( , 1.251)

118 | P a g e

Lullaby

by Anna Akhmatova

Far away in a huge woods
Near blue rivers,
A poor woodsman with his kids
In a dark hut lives.

The youngest child is a boy.
Hush now my dear
Sleep in peace, sleep my boy,
Im a bad mother.
71


Messages rarely come as far
As to our porch,
They have given to your father
A small white cross.

There were mountains, therell be more,
Mountains never cease,
May St. George watch over
Wherever your father is.
72







71
Lev Nikolayevich Gumilev (1 October 191215 June 1992), the only child of Gumilev and
Akhmatova became an important Soviet-era historian, ethnologist and anthropologist. Lev as about 3
years old at the time of the poem.
72
During Gumilevs service in WWWI, which stated in 1914, he twice received the St. George
Cross, a major military honor for courage in battle.
119 | P a g e

Untitled

, ,
.

, , ?

,
,



. ,
.

,




.

:
, !

.

25 27-28 1921


( , 1.357)


120 | P a g e

Untitled

by Anna Akhmatova

Dread, fingering stuff in the dark,
Aims the moonbeam at an ax.
An ominous din resounds behind the wall
Whats there, rat, wraith, or robber?

In the stuffy kitchen, like a metronome
Water splats onto wobbly floorboards,
While a glossy black beard
Dashes past the attic window

And gets quite still. How cunning and mean he is
Hiding matches and blowing out candles.
Id prefer a gleaming rifle muzzle
Aimed right at my breast.

Or, in the grass square, Id prefer
To be laid flat on an unpainted scaffold
And amid cries of joy, and of groans,
Let the red blood gush to its end.

A smooth cross is pinned over my heart:
God, give back peace to my spirit!
Nauseatingly sweet, the reek of rottenness
Rises from the cold sheets.

25 or 27-28 August 1921
Tsarskoe Selo


121 | P a g e

Untitled

,
, . . .
,
.
,
. . .

.

15 1921

( , 1.367)

122 | P a g e

Untitled

By Anna Akhmatova

Autumn, like a widow wearing black weeds,
Shrouding all hearts, has cried itself out . . .
Sifting through her husbands words
Her quiet sobbing will not halt.
And so it will be till soft snow falls
Loosening griefs grip for this tired one . . .
Oblivion of pain, oblivion of bliss
To give ones life is no small thing.

15 September 1921
73

Tsarskoe Selo



73
Gumilev was arrested August 3 and executed probably on August 24. The place of execution and
burial has never been proven.
123 | P a g e





, ,
.
,
.

, ,
.

, , ?

, ,
:
,
!

, ,
,
: ,
!

, ,
,

124 | P a g e

New Year Ballad
74

by Anna Akhmatova

The moon, bored in its haze of cloud,
Cast a wan glance into the chamber.
At the table six settings were placed
And only one of them stood bare.

My friend, and I, and my husband
Greet the New Year, but why
75

Are my fingers feverish like blood,
And the wine, like poison, burns?

The host, lifting a full glass,
76

Was sententious and rigid: I toast
The land of our native meadows
Where we will all be laid to rest.

The friend, glancing at my face,
Recollects something, and then gives
His toast: And I to her verse
Where we will all be made to live!

But the third, knowing not
That hes departed the world,

74
New Year Day in 1922 would have been the second after Gumilevs execution. Although written
in 1922, this poem was not published until the late 1950s. The husband of line 5 is her second husband the
Assiriologist, known for his translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Vladimir Kazimirovich Shileiko (1891-
1930) whom she married in December 1918, six months after her divorce from Gumilev was finally
completed; nevertheless, the third toast refers to Gumilev, executed in 1920, but of whose death the person
toasting seems not to know.
As described in the first of the prose drafts gathered under the title N. C. Gumilev The Most
Unread Poet of the 20
th
Century (in this selection), Akhmatova believed reading this unpublished poem in
Moscow in 1926 led to the official ban of her work by the Central Committee of the Soviet Union. The
third stanza can be read as an innocuous toast to Russia as a lovely place for eternal rest, or as a subtle
prophesy that the people at the table will all soon be dead like the ghost who offers the third toast. The
hidden reference to Gumilev, branded by the Soviets as a monarchist conspirator, was itself sufficient to get
Akhmatova in trouble.
This poem was included in the projected but never published collection The Flight of Time, and on
the back of the typescript sheet for this poem, in pencil in Akhmatova handwriting is a note that it would be
the first poem in cycle for her teacher called (THE BOOK THE
WREATH OF DEATH). Was she at some point considering pulling together a set of poems to make a
cycle dedicated to Gumilev?
75
This poem was included in the projected but never published collection The Flight of Time, in
which this line has a variant: . . . (Greet my new year, but why . . . ).
( 4, 434)
76
Included in the projected collection The Flight of Time, in which this line has a variant: ,
. . . (The host, lifting a first glass . . .). ( 4, 434).
125 | P a g e


: ,
.

1922.

( , 1.367)
126 | P a g e

As if reading my mind, said:
Wed best drink tonot wait for
The one whos not yet arrived.

1922 at years end

127 | P a g e



,
,
,
,
,
,
,
, -
.

1936

( , 1.430)


128 | P a g e

A Charm
77


Fron the prison gate,
From the Okhta bogs,
78

By path untrod,
By the uncut field,
Through nights cordon,
Beneath Easter bells,
Unbidden,
One not betrothed,
Come to me for supper.

April 1936
79

Leningrad


77
The poem draws on the old Russian folk customs of offering food to the dead at Easter and charms
girls would recite to learn the identify of their future husbands.
78
The Okhta River is the largest tributary of the Neva. They merge within the modern city limits of
Petersburg. The village of Berngardovka, where Akhmatova believed Gumilev and been shot and disposed
of, was on the Okhtas bank.
79
The poem was not published until the 1960s. The date marks what would have been Gumilevs
50
th
birthdayprobably the day she wrote it.
129 | P a g e






,
.
,
.
,
.
, ,
,
.
! .
,
-
, .
. . . .

18 1940


( , 4.223)

130 | P a g e

Willow

And a decrepit bunch of trees
80

Pushkin
And I grew up in a pattern of silence,
In the cool nursery of the young century.
Human voices were not sweet to me
But I understood the voice of the winds.
I loved the burdocks and nettles
But most of all the silver willow,
And was glad that through all my days
Alongside me were weeping boughs
Fanning the insomnia with dreams.
I outlived it, strangely, it seems.
Where a stump protrudes, in foreign voices
Other willows are speaking now instead
Beneath ourbeneath their!skies.
And Im silent . . . as though a brother has died.

18 January 1940
81

Leningrad


80
The epigraph is from Aleksandr Pushkins poem Tsarskoe Selo.
81
Akhmatovas older step-brother Andei Andreevich Gorenko (1886-1920) committed suicide
several months before Gumilevs arrest and murder. He and his wife took poison together after their child
died of typhus during the epidemic; his wife survived but he died. The deaths of Gorenko, Gumilev and the
great poet Aleksandr Blok were within months of each other and Akhmatova suffered a nervous
breakdown as a result. In 1940 when Willow was written the pronoun our in the penultimate lien
could embrace any or all of these, and the brother can be seen as a surrogate for Gumilev whom she could
not name directly.
131 | P a g e

. .


. . . , <> <> ,
( <>) 1921 .,
,
.
.

, , ,
,
[] . . .+

, .
.
, .
.

++.
, , .
.







_______
+
.
++ .
<> ( , 2) ( <> , .
. . , . . . <1921>), She is finished* . . . ( . . .)
. .
<> (. ),
<> II . , <> .

132 | P a g e

N. C. Gumilev
The Most Unread Poet of the 20
th
Century
82


. . . The feeling with which I read through the passage of Pet<ersburg> Winters
83

about my reading (House of Lit<erature>) in 1921 is possible only to compare to the
ending of Kafkas The Trial
84
when the hero is led to slaughter before the eyes of
everyone and everyone finds the situation to proceed as expected. In remarks about this
poem there is not one true word.

All is plundered, betrayed, sold out,
85

The wing of black death has flashed by,
All famished by the hungry [recent] anguish . . . +

for the author cites it as an example of poems by fallen women showing how I was a has-
been. The audience allegedly clapped out of habit. People dont clap out of habit; they
slam the door as they leave.
People even now remember those readings and write to me about them.
So here is Georgii Ivanov and Otsup
86
who already at that time had taken extreme
measures to discredit my poetry. ++ They knew some my details of my biography and
_______
+ Marvelous and cherry garden are lucid images show no attitude toward
politics.
++ Before their departure I saw Ivanovs review of Plan<tain>
87
in The House of Art
(No.2) and Otsups (in the collec<tion> from Guild of Poets
88
. . . , p . . <1921>), as well
as one by Adamovich
89
about Odoyevtseva where he said of me She is finished
90
. .

82
In the 1960s Akhmatova gathered a number of draft comments under this working title. I translate
many of them here.
83
Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov (18941958) was a leading poet and essayist in the migr Russian
community (1920s-1950s). He was a protg of Gumilev and promoted the Acmeist aesthetic. In 1923 in
Paris he issued a book of memoirs, entitled Petersburg Winters, admired in the West but eventually
denounced for what was seen as a fictionalized or widely exaggerated account of his experiences with the
Acmeists. Since his death his poetry has regained critical attention and admiration.
The passage referred to here that offends Akhmatova refers to the early Soviet years well after her
divorce from Gumilev. As an migr spokesman and protg of Gumilev, Ivanov saw him as an early
monarchist martyr of the Revolution.
84
The great German-speaking Jewish writer of Prague, Franz Kafka (1883 1924) published his
masterpiece Der Prozess (The Trial) in 1925.
85
Akhmatova refers to the first three lines of her June 1921 untitled poem ,
, . . . to the memory of her friend Natalia Victorovna Rykova (n.d.).
86
Nikolai Avdeevich Otsup (1894-1958) was a protg poet and close friend of Gumilev. After
Gumilevs disappearance and execution in 1921, he led the effort among his friends to get information from
the authorities.
87
Akhmatovas 1921 volume.
88
Formed in 1911 by Gumilev and others, the Poets Guild became the center of the Acmeist
movement; for a number of years it published several books including Akhmatovas first volume Evening
(1912).
89
Georgii Viktorovich Adamovich (1892-1978) was an Acmeist poet and critic. He emigrated to
Berlin and later France and became perhaps the most outstanding of the migr writers on Russian poetry.
90
In English in the original text.
133 | P a g e

(p..). I was not invited to contribute to Dragon or the [later] Guild of Poets almanacs.
They thought that my seat was vacant and so decided to pass it on to Odoyevsteva.
91

,
. -
.
. (, ,
) (1949), , Di Sarra,
Ripellino, : . ,
, .
, - ,
.
, .
, ,
1924 . (..
), <> .
, ,
, ,
.
,
(15 ), ()
.. ,
,
( ), .. . O






91
Irina Vladimirovna Odoyevtseva (1895-1990) was a Russian poet, novelist and memoirist. She
was married to Georgii Ivanov; she returned to Russia in 1987 and died there. She knew Gumilev well and
wrote fondly of him in her memoirs although like her husband she is charged with fictionalizing.
134 | P a g e


I would not bother to recall those bygone days if this passage from G. Ivanovs
memoir had not been given so much attention in the foreign press. It became for the
whole world the source for my post-revolution biography. It was translated and reprinted
in the Strakhovskiis essay, Gumilev, Akhmatova, Mandelstam (1949).
92
I learned it was
used in writings by Harkness
93
and Ripellino Di Sarra,
94
and friends told me Its best
you pay attention. Perhaps with some reluctance I heeded this strange advice. Even
though over fifty years' of literary activity my objections were never heard, it might still
be possible for my objections to receive attention now.
It is absolutely clear why foreigners have taken the bait. It was too juicy to claim
that the Revolution had finished off a young talent since after 1924 my poems stopped
appearing in print (i.e. they were banned) be<cause> of her religious imagery.
But the foreigners are only one tenth of it how a Russian writer who knew
the facts could degenerate so swiftly is incomprehensible to me.
Georgii Ivanov should have known that during the NEP
95
my books sold out very
quickly (15 thousand copies from Alyanskiis Alkonost
96
), that was when B. M.
Eikhebaums
97
work (book) on my poetry came out, that Vinogradovs
98
long article
Akhmatovas Stylistics appeared in the first issue of Literary Thought, also there were

92
Leonid Ivan. Starkhovsky (n.d.) published an essay in English at Harvard in 1949 entitled
Craftsmen of the Word: three poets of modern Russia. Gumilijov, Akhmatova, Mandelstam.
93
William Harkness (n.d.) was an English literary citric.
94
Ripellino Angelo Maria Di Sarra (n.d.) was an Italian literary historian. Akhmatova refers to his
Introduction to Poesia russa de Novecentro (1954).
95
Lenin instituted the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921 as a mix of state-owned businesses and
free enterprises to stimulate recovery from the years of civil war, famine and economic collapse. It was in
effect until 1928. During this period the Soviet government took more and more control over artistic
matters.
96
Samuel Mironovich Alyanskii (1891-1974) was founder and editor of the independent publishing
house Alkonost which published reprints of Akhmatovas books Anno Domini MCMXXI (1923) and
White Flock (1923).
97
Boris Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum (1886-1959) was a major formalist literary critic and historian.
His was the first book-length study of Akhmatova; some passages were used by later Soviet critics to
discredit the value of her work.
98
Viktor Vladimirovich Vinogradov (1895-1961) was a philologist, theorist and literary critic. The
article came out in 1922.
135 | P a g e

. ,
. . prosprit*
( 1924),

1939 .
, , **,
(1927)***,

, ...(1930?). ,
. ****,
,
.
, , . ,
, , .
Dixi******.

<13 1961. >

_________
* .).
** , , , . .
*** (--).
**** , ! ,
, ,
.
***** .
****** (.) . .

( , 5.85)
136 | P a g e

chapters in books by Chulkov
99
(Our Fellow Travelers), Aikhenvaldd
100
, etc.
Chukovskii
101
read his lecture Two Russias. I already mentioned my readings.
Formalist critics were studying them [my poems] as Vinogradov and
Zhirmunskii
102
can attest. My prosprit* came to an end with my trip to Moscow for an
evening sponsored by The Russian Contemporary (April 1924), where I read New Year
Ballad,
103
after which the Central Committee withdrew my work from circulation until
1939. During the cult of personality
104
my name was under interdiction, abuse flowed
like water from a spout**, during searches my portraits were removed from walls (1927)
***, and Pasternak could hardly persuade the editors of New World to allow him to print
my name above the poem he dedicated to me I seem adroit at picking words . . .
(1930?).
105
So it seems to me that the time has finally come to expose G. Ivanovs
stinking memoirs****, and no longer to write about them with obvious sympathy as
does Signor LoGatto
106
in his recent book*****.
Possibly, he does so because there is nothing else. But in my opinion, better
nothing than notorious slander.
Dixi******.
<On August, 13th 1961. Komarovo>
_________
* Prosprit (prosperity) is in French in the original text.
** For example Pertsov, Malakhov, Lelevich, etc.
107

*** They were also removed from exhibits (Della-Vos-Kardovskaya).
108

**** Its enough to mention what he says about Gumilev and Mandelshtam! It is as if
the entire group has renounced Gumilev, in other words Peter renounces and Judas
betrays.
***** The author lost her note for this.
******I have spoken (Latin), that is, all that is necessary to say has been said.

99
Georgii Ivanovich Chulkov (1879-1939) was a Russian Symbolist poet, editor, writer and critic.
The book was published in 1922.
100
Yulii Isaevich Aikhenvald (1872-1928), literary critic, had a chapter Anna Akhmatova in his
1922 book Poets and Poetesses.
101
Kornii Ivanovich Chukovskii (1882 1969) was a leading critic and one of the most popular
childrens authors in Russian literature. The lecture contrasted Leningrad with Moscow using Akhmatova
and Maikovskii as representative figures of each literary culture. It was published by House of Arts in
1921). His diaries have been published in English.
102
Viktor Maksimovich Zhirmunskii (1891-1971) was a leading Soviet-era philologist and literary
scholar. His edition of Poems and Poemy of Anna Akhmatova was the first attempt at a complete edition
of her work in the Soviet Union. Finally published in 1979, eight years after his death, it has been the
basis of subsequent editions.
103
See New Year Ballad in this selection. The notes explain the poems connection to Gumilev
and his posthumous role in Akhmatovas status with Soviet authorities.
104
Cult of personality refers to Stalins near total control of almost all aspects of Soviet life.
105
Boris Pasternaks (1890-1960) poem is entitled Anna Akhmatova and was actually written in
1929.
106
Lo Gatto Ettore (1890-1982) was an Italian literary historian and Pushkin expert.
107
Viktor Osipovich Pertsov (1898-1908), Sergei Arsenevich Malakov (1902-1973), and G.
Lelevich (original name, Labori Gilevich Kalmanison, 1901-1945) were poets and or critics who
represented the official Soviet position.
108
Olga Lyudvigovna Della-Vos-Kardovskaya (18751952) was a Russian painter who painted
frequently reproduced portraits of Gumilev and Akhmatova; see reproduction at the beginning of this
selection.
137 | P a g e

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138 | P a g e

About N. G<umilev>

I am everywhere in N<ikolai> S<tepanovich>s poetry in the moonlight (And I
have given a right to the maid of the moon . . ,
109
in Rusalka,
110
in Out of the city . .
.
111
and in 1910 There is no one . . . than you . . .
112
and Semiramide.
113
Pearls
114
are one of my trademarks, then theres the theme of Anna Komnenas jealousy. Also
The Palm Groves
115
(08) and 10 years later Ezbek<eah>. And finally his later
memories in Memory: He was enamored and burned his hands . . .
116

He was never in love with Masha K<uzmina>-K<aravaeva>,
117
and never blamed
her but cherished her both alive and dead. Right to the end.
Most terrible of all were depictions of me in Alien Sky (1912): as Margarita
tricked into love by Mephistopheles,
118
as a female vamp,
119
Fanna with a fierce beast at
her feet,
120
as simply a poisoner,
121
as a Kieven sorcerer on Bald Mountain (where she is
tormented by the moon).
122
Where she struggles against the other! Not on the belly, and
to the death! (And as a reproach, phrased as a compliment . . .) These lines:

You are lifes winner,
And I am you free companion.
123


and:

I know that walking in the distance from me
Is Akhmatova with bunches of lilac poems.
124


People may not understand as profoundly as they should how subtly and truly
Vyach. Ivanov
125
and B<erdyaev>
126
speak from the point of view of a contemporary and

109
The line is from Ballad in the 1908 volume Romantic Flowers.
110
Written in 1904, Rusalka was in Path of the Conquistadors.
111
The line comes from the 1911 untitled poem that begins . . . (In the Serpents
Den).
112
From the untitled 1910 . . . (There is no one more
disturbing and capricious than you . . . that appeared in none of Gumilevs volumes.
113
Translation of this poem appears in this selection.
114
Pearls is also the name of Gumilevs third volume (1910).
115
. . . is an untitled poem in the volume Pearls.
116
Memory is the opening poem in Gumilevs last published volume Pillar of Fire (1921).
117
Gumilev met Maria Aleksandrovna Kuzmina-Karavaeva (1888-1911) at his mothers estate in
1911 while his wife Akhmaotva was in Paris. Reeder says Gumilev had fallen in love with Maria during
her visits to his mother while she was dying of tuberculosis, and Akhmatova was quite jealous on her return
from Paris (38).
118
See Gumilevs Margarita included in this selection.
119
The reference is to Gumilevs poem (Beside the hearth)
120
The reference is to Gumilevs poem (The Enraged Tamer).
121
The reference is to Gumilevs poem (Poisoned).
122
The reference is to Gumilevs poem (In the Serpents Den).
123
The editors of identify these lines by Gumilev as referring to Akhmatovas
waywardness but do not identify which poem (5. 591).
124
I have not indentified from which of Gumilevs poems these lines come; a variant of these lines is
quoted at the end of this piece.
139 | P a g e

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125
Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (18661949) was a major Symbolist poet and philosopher. He and
his wife hosted a weekly literary salon at their flat in Petersburg known as the Tower. Gumilev was a
regular and before shed published anything, young Akhmatova read a poem there and Ivanov invited her
to sit next timea sign of his deep approval. In the mid-1920 Ivanov immigrated to Rome where he lived
the rest of his life.
126
Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (18741948) was a major Russian religious and political
philosopher. After the Revolution he was twice arrested and interrogated and in 1922 sent into exile; he
went first to Berlin and finally settled in Paris.
140 | P a g e

not the poet. (In general it is amazing how poetry is alien to these distinctive
personalities) without doubt Vyach. is a charmer and poseur, but even more he is a
predatory and wily hunter of people. I would see B<erdyaev> and Zin<ovieva>-
Annibal,
127
on these occasions of mystical anarchism during those singular (!?), Mondays
and her grief after Vera
128
terminated her pregnancy. During my first period, the Tower
was a true education (Skaldin,
129
Verkhovskii,
130
Borodaevskii,
131
Knyazhnii
132
. . .)
with Vyach. hovering over the Academy of Poetry.
Even in our youth we were not attracted to Vyach. I<vanov>s seductiveness. I
recall the Guilds epigram:
133


Vyacheslav, head-enough Ivanov . . .
134


Now, having read B<erdyaev>, I consider a hundred of us received our
foundation from the Tower.
B<erdyaev> would take a poem and "divide it in twos", in threes, until
something was discovered, perhaps, even the main thing.

I know that walking in the distance from me
Is Akhmatova with bunches of lilac poems.





127
Lydia Dmitrievna Zinovieva-Annibal (18661907) was a novelist and story writer. She lived with
Ivanov as wife from 1893 until her death but was only legally to marry him in 1899 after her protracted
divorce battle was finalized with her first husband Konstantin Sharvsalon, a socialist propagandist, with
whom she had three children.
128
Vera Konatantinovna Ivanova-Shvarsalon (1890-1920), daughter of Konstantine Sharvsalon and
Lydia Zinovieva-Annibal, grew up in the household of her step-father, who after the death of her mother
became romantically involved. They eventually married and she was Vyacheslav Ivanovs third wife.
129
Aleksey Dimitrievich Skaldin (1885-1943) was a poet.
130
Iurii Nikandrovich Verkhovskii (1878-1956) was a poet and literary historian.
131
Valerian Valerinovich Borodawvskii (1874-1923) was a poet.
132
Vladimir Nikolaevich Knyazhnii (1883-1942) was a poet.
133
The Poets Guild was the name of the main Acmeist group.
134
The full epigram is quoted in a later piece by Akhmatova in this selection in More About
Gumilev. This line is untranslatable because the adjective repeats the last two syllables cheslav of
Ivanovs first name making it an exact rhyme as well as a pun.
141 | P a g e



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7) : (19141916), (1916
1917), (1920) .



142 | P a g e

Gumilev
135


1) The autograph of "Rusalka" is 1904.
136

2) Why is it not told that the Paris edition of Roman<tic> Flowers is dedicated to
me (as cited in a letter to Briusov
137
)? The same dedic<ation> is repeated in Pearls <in>
1910.
3) Why regret the absence of the memoirs of enemies of mine (Voloshin,
138

Kuzmin
139
) and not those by friends (Losinskii,
140
Zenkevich,
141
etc. . . .)?
4) How is it possible to afford any importance or to permit that meddlesome and
cretin A. A. Gu<mile>va
142
to approach his sacred shade, who besides remembering
nothing about N. Gumilev remembers nothing about her own husband? The only person
in that house who was close to N<ikolai> was his mother.
143
It in general he never spoke
about the father (about the chara<cter of Stepa<an> Yakovl<evich>), and publically
laughed at and publically despised Mitya.
144
When Miya went to the war, his loving
spouse demanded a portion of the property (i.e. his future inheritance) from A<nna>
I<vnovna> who set up her will to her own advantage. I will not do as she wishes
because should Mitya be killed, A. A.
145
will use the money to open a public house.
There are many more such statements that I will not repeat.
5) Twice he dedicated the joys of earthly love to me.
146

6) Why have all of N<ikolei> S<tepanovish>s trips from Paris and Petersburg to
see me (Kiev, Sevastopol, Schmidts dacha, Lustdorf) been left out [of their
memoires]?
147

7) Why have these been left out [of their memoirs]: Tanya Adamovich
148
(1914-
1916), Larissa Reisner
149
(1916-1917), Arbenina
150
(1920), etc?

135
This draft piece is more in line with notes to be further elaborated; some statements are rather
cryptic.
136
See earlier footnote.
137
Valerii Briusov (1873-1924) was an important Symbolist poet and novelist.
138
Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin (1877-1932) was a Symbolist poet and critic.
139
Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin (1872 1936) was a poet, composer, novelist and playwright
affiliated with the Acmeists but not formally a member. He was a friend of Gumilev and visitor to the
home of Gumilev and Akhmatova. Her relationship with him was complicated and sometimes bitter.
140
Mikhail Leonidovich Lozinskii (1886-1955) was a successful poet throughout the Soviet era. He
and Akhmatova were lifelong friends although after the mid 1920s, their meetings were infrequent. He
edited the first Acmeist

journal Hyperborean (1912-14). His translations of Shakespeare are much
admired.
141
Mikhail Alexandrovich Zenkevich (1901-1982) was a successful poet throughout the Soviet era
and one of the youngest members of the Poets Guild (the original Acmeist group) and one of its founders.
142
Anna Andreveevna Gumileva (1887-1956) was Nikolai Gumilevs brother Dmitriis wife. She
lived at the Gumilev estate while Akhmatova and Nikolai lived there too.
143
Anna Ivanovna Gumileva (1854-1942) was Gumilevs mother. His father Stepan Yakovlevich
Gumilev (1836-1910) was fifty years older than she was and died in 1910. As a widow she managed the
family estate forcefully and when Akhmatova and Gumilev separated she insisted that she be given primary
responsibility for raising their son, Lev.
144
Dmitrii (Mitya) Stepanovich Gumilev (1884-1992) was Nikolais brother.
145
I.e. Dmirtiis wife Anna Andreevna.
146
Gumilevs short story The Joys of Earthly Love was printed in the journal Scales (issue no.4 in
1908) and again in his 1922 collection of stories The Shade of the Palm.
147
Akhmatova refers to the early years of protracted courtship before their marriage. I have not
identified who Schmidt was or when Akhmatova visited his dacha.
143 | P a g e

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_______
* .

148
Tatyana Viktorovna (after marrying Vysostkaya) (1892-1970) was Gerogii Adamovichs sister
(see earlier note) and a successful choreographer. Gumilev had a three year romance that he did not try to
hide with Tatyana while still legally married to Akhmatova.
149
Larissa Mikhailovna Reisner (1895-1926) was a minor poet and war correspondent who rose to
leadership positions in the Bolshevik party. Gumilev was passionately in love with her and proposed but
she declined because his divorce from Akhmatova was not finalized. Akhmatova was deeply grieved when
she died of typhus. After her death she became an early Soviet model of heroic womanhood.
150
Olga Nikolaevna Arbenina (1899-1980) was a celebrated actress. Her real name was
Gildebrandt, but she took Arbenina for her stage name after her father, also an actor, who went by
Arbenin. Gumilev and Osip Mandelshtam, despite their long friendship, were rivals for her attentions,
among others, but by late December 1920 she had begun an affair with Iuri Iurkun, the bi-sexual lover of
Mikhail Kuzmin (see earlier note); eventually they settled into a mnage trios that lasted until Kuzmins
death in 1936.
144 | P a g e

But this should not be a surprise for this busy gang has edited me right out of
N<ikolai> S<tepanovich>s biography. In this case it is a pity to me [not so much as to]
Gumilev [as a person] as a poet. All his early work appears to be a Parisian invention
(one is amazed at his impersonality, etc. And this is quoted by an ostensibly serious
contemporary biographer in 1962), but these poems are vital and terrifying and it is from
them that the magnificent poet emerges (see comments about G<umilev> by Briusov and
Ivanov).
151
His terrible burning love of those years is claimed to result of Leconte-de-
Lisleism,
152
and now half a century later a biographer presents [it] this as incontrovertible
fact. Is the history of literature really put together in this manner?
5)* I did not participate in any circus performances (1911-1912) nor ride side-
saddle (in 1912 when I was pregnant with child), and when everyone in Podobine or
Dubrovok (in the summer of 1912 G<umilev> as in Africa) was rolling in the hay,
perhaps once or twice I did display my agility. Vera Al<eksseevna Nevedomskaya>
153

apparently had an extended flirtation with N<ikolai> S<tepanovich> and I remember I
found a letter to Kolya
154
that needed no reading between the lines, but even then it was
not shocking, and not worth recalling now.
He could not ride a horse.
155
In 1911-12 he may not have been a horseman, but
by the time he was in the Uh<lan>
156
reserves in the fall of 1914 (in the village of
Navoloki near Novgorod), apparently, he had learned how quite well for almost the entire
World War he was in his saddle, and at night sleeping shouted Mount! Apparently he
was dreaming of night alarms, and he was awarded a 2
nd
George
157
for something he did
while riding a horse. And when V. A. Chudovskii
158
rode horseback from Petersburg to
Ts<arskoe> S<elo>
159
to visit me, Kolya was perplexed about why all that was necessary,
and said that in a similar case he was ask<ed> once: Why do that, such a smart guy, a
sailor?
Why anywhere and at any time have I never seen mention that when N<ikolai>
S<tepanovich> returned from abroad in 1918, I asked for a divorce, and had already told
_______
* As given by Akhmatova. [Editors note]

151
According to Meyer this is a reference to the introduction of the collected edition of Gumilevs
poems by Gleb Petrovich Struves (1898-1905) (Akhmatova My Half Century, 380). Struve left the Soviet
Union to live in England and the United States. He also edited one of the early collected editions of
Akhmatovas poems. See earlier footnotes regarding Briusov and V. Ivanov.
152
Charles Marie Ren Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894) was a French poet of the French Parnassian
movement. His poems, accused of being cold, were classically formal and polished but sometimes using
wild and exotic themes with idiomatic diction. Gumilev admired and translated the maux et Cames
(Enamels and Cameos 1852) by Pierre Jules Thophile Gautier (1811-1872) written after his visit to the
Middle East. It is credited with starting the Parnassus movement which Gumilev admired.
153
Nevedomskaya and her husband lived at an estate near Gumilevs mother According to Mayer,
this paragraph and the next register Akhmatovas furious reaction to Nevedomskaas memoir, which is
quoted in Struves introduction to his edition of Gumilevs poems; see earlier footnote. (Akhmatova, My
Half Century, 380).
154
Kolya is the diminutive of Nikolai (Gumilev).
155
Akhmatova quotes from Nevedomskayas memoir.
156
The Uhlans were light cavalry regiments with lances and bayonets.
157
The St. George Cross or Order of St. George was a significant military decoration in the Russian
army for extraordinary courage in battle.
158
Valerian Adolfovich Chdovskii (n.d.) was a poet and literary critic.
159
Tsarskoe Selo is 24 km or 15 miles from the center of Petersburg.
145 | P a g e

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146 | P a g e

V. K. Shileiko
160
that I would be with him? (I told M. A. Z<enkevich> about this on
Serg<eivskii street>, No.7. See his 1921 novel.)
161

Why is it that it never occurs to the supposed literati to take note of the, in my
opinion, remark<able> fact, that in my poems there is evidence of no influence from
G<umilev>, despite our close connection, and that all Acmeism grew from his analysis of
my poems, and those of Mandelshtam? Georgii Ivanov even dares to fabricate direct
speech from Gumilev in this regard (Peters<burg> Winters, page . . .).
That N<ikolai> S<tepanovich> did not love my early poems is true. But what
was there to love! but on March, 25th, 1911 when he returned from Addis Ababa and
I read what would subsequently be called Evening, he said right away, You are a poet,
you need to make a book. And if he had the slightest doubt would he have invited me
to join the Acmeists? To think that, even for one minute, is not to understand Gumilev at
all. Indeed thats how it was. Almost half that worthy gang (Struve . . .) cannot truly
comprehend what G<umilev> was like, and like Vera Neved<omskaya> speak about
Gumilev in and idiotic patron<ising> tone. A third group deliberately and subtly distorts
(G. Iv<anov>). The reason for Odoyevtsevas anger is not at all clear. All this is what is
known as fame. It was the same way with Pushkin and Lermontov. Gumilev a poet
still unread. Visionary and prophetic. He predicted his own death even to details about
the autumn grass.
162
He also said: On heavy and booming vehicles . . .
163
and even
more terrifying Work forbidden for the elders, (Eagle)
164
and finally, Earth why do
you toy with me . . .
165

Certainly its a very lovely notion that wants to see a family myth (le lgende
veut) of him as a one-woman husband, a Knight and his Fine Lady, but N<ikolai>
S<tepanovich> was enamored with MarshaMar<is> Ask<eksandrovna> Kuzmina
Karavaeva
166
(Dec<ember> 1911) and dedicated the first section of Alien Sky to her
(and some of the poems in that volume were written to Masha), so a one-woman husband
he was not. (When he offered to marry L. Reisner (1916) and break off fully with me, he
told her: I regret the affliction I cause my wife.) Alien Sky has a section of poems of
that recall [from canto 6, line 460. Against my will, I am yours, Queen, as I leave this
shore
167
] or poems directed at me or connected with our views (From the City of Kiev
and She.
168
) There are not many of them but they are terrifying. The last of such
poems were in iambics (1913) when perceptive literary critics (Struve and Otsyp)
started to take note of me, and even shed a tear.) And when had they taken full note of
Romantic Flowers which is completely devoted to me (Paris 1908) and Pearls with

160
See footnote to New Year Ballad.
161
About Zenkevich, see earlier footnote. His autobiographical novel, (Brave
Sphinx) was not published at the time; Akhmatova had read the manuscript.
162
Akhmatova refers to Gumilevs poem The Workman from the volume Bonfire (1918). (See my
translation of this poem included earlier in this selection.)
163
From the poem Rhodes in the volume Alien Sky,
164
Eagle appeared in the journal Scales (1909) and the volume Pearls the next year.
165
From the poem Descendents of Cain in the volume Pearls.
166
See earlier footnote.
167
Akhmatova is referring to Aneass departure from Queen Dido in canto 6 of Vergils Aeneid.
168
Both poems are in Alien Sky.
147 | P a g e

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148 | P a g e

of the poems about me. (See Eve in Adams Dream and Palm grove . . .)
169
One
assumes this is because anyone who looked closely at Gumilevs poetry (all the ones that
involve exotic subjects) believes his heroines are invented. And that is the same for other
female figures (as early as The Path of the Conquistadors) or even obvious portrait (Anna
Komnena) and it never comes into the heads otherwise.
Passages from poems of the period appear frequently in his letters to Briusov
where the subject is discussed with tragic persistence.
170

The last time Gumilev recalls it is in Ezbekiah (1918) and in "Memory" (1920?)
He was enamored and burned his hands . . .
171
, which was the last year of his life.
The entire cycle A<lian> Sky,
172
is very integral and does not lend itself to
separate interpretations. It is the final violent struggle with the horror of youth with
love . . . Strikingly different from a Mechanical collection, a lot of the poems progress
with each more terrible than the one before. The Enraged Tamer with its epigraph
describing Fanna from The new moon abandoned me . . .
173
And hiding her thoughts
of a malicious celebration,
174
"Margarita"
175
(which was simply a dream I had),
She"
176
where it states . . . There she goes // To study a wise gentle pain // In its languor
and delirium, (compare the way Directive follows Ball<ad>,
177
from 1910: When
you directed me, indulgent and punishing . . .).
178
Secretly the most significant is
Friend to God . . ,
179
From The City of Kiev.
180
So <I> attempt to laugh all this
off.
181


_______
* As given by Akhmatova. [Editors note]

169
The untitled poem The palm grove and the aloe thickets . . .
170
Akhmatova refers either to Gumilev theme of a violent early death or of his attempts at suicide.
171
Memory is the opening poem in Gumilevs last published volume Pillar of Fire (1921).
172
Alien Sky is a volume not a cycle in the sense that many Russian poets used the term A cycle was
a group of poems under one title linked by theme, setting, narrative and/or tone. Akhmatova is making the
case here that Gumilevs Alien Sky should be read as a linked cycle and not a mechanically assembled
collection of poems.
173
See earlier footnote about The Enraged Trainer whose name in the poem is Fanna. Gumilevs
poem has an epigraph from Akhmatovas 1912 untitled poem The new moon abandoned me . . . from the
volume Rosary. The epigraph is from stanza three:

,
! ( , 4.70)

My Chinese umbrella is red,
My boots are polished with chalk!

174
The line is from the poem (Beside the Hearth).
175
See translation of this poem earlier in this selection.
176
See earlier footnote about She. The quoted lines are from the fourth quatrain of the poem.
177
Both poems are in Alien Sky. The title Directive could also be translated as Errands.
178
The line comes from the short poem Directive.
179
This means friend speaking to God not friend of God. Akhmatova refers to the poem
(The Other) from Alien Sky. The actual line reads: , (I wait for a
comrade form God).
180
See earlier footnote about this poem.
181
This was drafted during the fall of 1962.
149 | P a g e





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, (. . <>, ).

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150 | P a g e

More About Gumilev

So then, G<umilev> described for us three cases of dementia, that is old women
who remember nothing (A. A. G<umileva>, Vera Nevedomskaya and Irina
Odoevtseva
182
). His poems were endorsed but not loved by Vyacheslav Ivanov; they
were not even understood by Valerie Bruisov.
183
Both take care to claim a role albeit an
unintentional one (as if clairvoyant) in laying the basis of the building that would later
become his poetry. But Ivanov (see his last book) denied (like Peter denied
184
) any
endorsement of his friend. Vyach. Ivanov ostensibly ran a Guild. The Guild is
pertinently described in this:

Vyacheslav, head-enough Ivanov
Runs, with a body strong like a nut,
The grand Academy of Sofas as if
A Guild with machines started up.
185



182
See earlier footnotes regarding these three persons.
183
See earlier footnote regarding these two writers.
184
See the Gospel of Mark 14:66-72 for the story of Peters denial the night of Jesus arrest in the
Garden of Gethsemane.
185
I have not identified who coined this satiric epigram; the context suggests it may have been
Gumilev. The first line is untranslatable because the adjective repeats the last two syllables cheslav of
Ivanovs first name making it an exact rhyme as well as a pun. Cheslav means to scratch ones head
perhaps a well-recognized habit of Ivanov. In any case, I improvise. The Academy of Sofas satirizes
Ivanovs salon the Tower in which several sofas lined the walls of the room where readings and poetry
discussion were hosted once a week. The word guild refers to a workshop of craftsmen and is the same
word used the name Poets Guildthe Acmeist group.
151 | P a g e



, - (, )
: . . .
. . .. , ,
<> <>. .
.

( , 5.104)

152 | P a g e

Margarita

When I was you I had a strange dream in which someone spoke to me (in truth, I
dont remember who): Faust did not exists, Margarita thought it all up . . . Only
Mephistopheles exists . . .) I have no idea why we have such terrible dreams, but I told
my dream to N<ikolai> S<tepanovich>. He made it into a poem. He needed the subject
matter of a death caused by a womanhere, it was the sister.
186



186
In Goethes play and Gounods opera Margaritas brother is hilled in a dual with Mephistopheles
defending her honor. This passage reinforces Akhmatovas consistent argument, contrary to the memoirists
and critics whom she denounces, that Gumilev saw her as a kind of femme fetale and as such she pervades
his early poetry and recurs in even his last published volume. Here the actions of the femme fatale lead
to the destruction not of a lover but of a brother. The anecdote of her dream about Margarita also asserts
her claim that he took ideas directly from hera not so surprising behavior for married poets who read
together and had many mutual poet friends.
153 | P a g e



1) , , <> . . <> ,
.
, (<>), ,
( , , 1911. ,
// ,
( . . .) , , ,
:


.

, , . . .
<> :

,
-,
. . .

. . . .

5 <> <1963>
( , 5.105-106)

154 | P a g e

The Moon

1) The dedica<tion> of Semiramide
187
to I. F. A<nnenskii> is possibly
because of the theme of pride.
Other reasons are not obvious but (Semir<amide>) apparently is connected to
other lunar poems (And there will be a moon . . .), 1911.
188
The lines The woman who
was too beautiful // And resembled the moon . . ,
189
the ending of the poem You
are not here, disturbing and capricious . . . (citation needed),
190
as well as I have given
a ring to the lady of the moon
191
and The lady of the moon is a lady of earth
192
are still
compared to two of my lines:

. . . with the voice of a swan
I speak only to the inconstant moon.
193


And furthermore Semiramide is husband-owned.
194
And that too is one of his
themes. See A<lien> Sky "Poisoned"
195
with its roots in "Pearls":

All that I dream has come to pass,
And yet I still see before the strange
And love-struck boy, a bright dagger . . .
196


Simultaneously there are three levels . . . and no one has ever commented on this.

5 Aug<ust> <1963>

187
See translation of Gumilevs Semiramide earlier in this selection and accompanying footnotes.
Moon imagery dominates the second half of the poem.
188
The line is from (The Serpents Nest) in the volume Pearls.
189
The line is from (Constantinople) in the volume Alien Sky.
190
The line is from an untitled 191l poem by Gumilev that was not published during his life,
Akhmatova quotes the first line: . . .
191
I have not identified from which poem this line comes.
192
The line is from (Adams Dream) from Pearls.
193
The lines are from Akhmatovas 1915 untitled poem ,
. . . (You were not promised to me by life or by God . . .
194
Semiramide depicts a femme fatale figure who longs to escape her public role as queen, but her
power derives from her husband the king as mentioned in the first line.
195
(Poisoned) is in the section of poems dedicated to Akhmatova in Alien Sky.
196
The lines come from the fourth and last poem in the cycle (Beatrice) from Pearls
a cycle about Dantes muse, Beatrice.
155 | P a g e





( ) .
, , ,
? , , . ,
? ,
, "", " ", "" <>
<> ? " " ",
<> "" . .
, .

<5 1965 .>

156 | P a g e

A Still Unread Poet

Continuation

The inattention of critics (and readers) is boundless. What do they find in young
Gumilev other than Lake Chad,
197
a giraffe,
198
captains
199
and the trappings of
masquerades?
200
Not one single theme of his is traced, uncovered or named. Why did he
live, how did he develop? How did it happen that out of the aforementioned stuff,
emerged the big wonderful poet of Memory,
201
Sixth Sense,
202
Tram
203
and similar
poems? Comments like I love Pillar of Fire or references to po<ems > such as The
Workman
204
as reflection the year of Revolution, etc. drive me to distraction, but I hear
them every day.

<5 August 1965>

197
See translation of Lake Chad earlier in this selection.
198
See translation of Giraffe earlier in this selection.
199
(Captains) is a cycle of four poems in the volume Pearls (1910).
200
See translation of Masquerade in this selection.
201
Memory is the opening poem in Gumilevs last published volume Pillar of Fire (1921).
202
(Sixth Sense) in the volume Pillar of Fire (1921).
203
See translation of The Stray Tram earlier in this selection.
204
(The Workman) is in the volume Bonfire (1918), the year of the Revolution, but the
poem is far from a celebration of workers as a class. See translation earlier in this selection.
157 | P a g e




.
1908 (). ,
. 1910 ., 25 <> < > 1911 .
-, .
1913 . <>
(19) ( )
().
( ). .
, - () - .
<> . ( <>). .
<> . .




. ., .

<> 1913 . <>
, -, ".
(1908?)
, 1918 (),
, , . .
08 .




158 | P a g e

Gumilev and Africa

Tent
205
a custom-made book of geography in poems that is not an expression
of any actual travels.
In 1908 he was in Cairo (Ezbekiah). Of his two journeys, one lasted half a
year. He left in the fall of 1910 and returned in 1911 on March 25
th
old style. He was in
Addis Ababa and also Djibouti.
For the second journey he left in 1912 with a letter from the Academy of Sciences
accompanied by his nephew Nikolai Leonidovich Sverchkov (19)
206
(son of his sister)
commissioning a report by him on customs (ethnography).
There as an article Shark Hunting (in the journal Field). There was an African
diary. The article Works and Days in Field provides some details (Somalia). A
piece on Afr<ican> hunting. (Narbut
207
in Abys<sinia>. A piece on the fever in Africa.
And a trio of pieces given to Turaev.
208
He also transcribed songs:

The mother was very strong
She cries out loud

Perhaps there were other letters sent while traveling.
There was an amusing cartoon.
A book about the 1913 jour<ney> was submitted by Sverchkov to Grzhebina
Publishers and apparently disappeared.
The cure was Palm Grove (1908?)
209

Compare it with the poem Ezbekiah, 1918 (Paris), when a new unfortunate love
reminded him of it even though it was ten years back, that is in 1908.


205
For comment on the 1921 volume Tent, see footnotes to the translation of Suez Canal in this
selection.
206
Nikolai Leonidovich Sverchkov (1895-1919) was Gumilevs nephew and went with him to
Ethiopia, fought in the war (1914-1918), and died at age 24 of pneumonia in Ekaterinodar. Ekaterinodar
(Catherines Gift) was the former name of Krasnodar (Red Gift) in southern Russia. The city changed
hands several times during the Civil War and after the Bolsheviks took full control, the city was renamed in
1920.
207
Vladimir Ivanovich Narbut (1988-1938) was a friend of Gumilev and Akhmatova and a founding
member of the Poets Guild (the Acmeist group). His 1912 volume Alliluia ("Hallelujah," 1912) was
seized by the police as pornographic. To avoid a trial he spent five months on an ethnographic expedition to
Ethiopia and Somalia. He became a Bolshevik but later fell prey to the purges and was sent to a gulag
where he died.
208
Boris Aleksandrovich Turaev (1868-1920) was a prominent orientalist.
209
Perhaps this statement refers back to Gumilevs fever in Africa. The untitled poem
The palm grove and the aloe thickets . . .
159 | P a g e


.

(<> <>
, <> <>
, , 7 . ( . . .)

( , 5.111-112)
160 | P a g e

I implored God for a rapid death
And was ready myself to help it come . . .
210


I have two photographs (wint<e>r and sum<mer>) taken on that bench in
Ekaterinskii Park
211
in Tsarskoe Selo where N<ikolai> S<tepanovich> told to me that he
loved me when he was a grammar-school boy in the seventh level. (February . . .)


210
Akhmatova slightly misquotes these lines from Ezbekiah.


.

I implored God then and there for death
And was ready myself to help it come.

211
The Ekaterinskii Park (Catherine Park) adjoins the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. Its layout
was completed in 1786.
161 | P a g e

References:

Akhmatova, Anna. My Half-Century: Selected Prose. Ed. Ronald Meyer. Trans. Ronald
Meyer and Anna Lisa Cone. Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1997.
, . . [Akhmatova, Anna
Andreevna. Complete Works in Eight Volumes.] Ed. T. A. Gorkova. Moscow:
Ellis-Lak [ ], 1998-2005.
Basker, Michael. Nikolai Steponovich Gumilev 1886-1921. Reference Guide to
Russian Literature. Ed. Neil Cornwell. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers,
1998.
Cavafy, C. P. Collected Poems. Trans. Edmund Kelley and Philip Sherrard. Ed. by
George Savidis. Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1975.
Ellis, Frank. Nikolai Steponovich Gumilev 1886-1921. Reference Guide to Russian
Literature. Ed. Neil Cornwell. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998.
, . . [Gumilev, Nikolai. Selected Writings.]
Three volumes. Ed. Natalia Bugur. Moscow: Olma-Press, 2000.
Gumilev, Nikolai. On Russian Poetry. Ed. and trans. David Lapeza. Ann Arbor: Ardis,
1977.
Gumilyov, Nikolay. The Pillar of Fire: Selected Poems. Trans. Richard McKane.
London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1999.
Gumilev, Nikolai S. Selected Works of Nikolai S. Gumilev. Trans. Burton Raffel and All
Burago. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1972.
Laird, Frances. Swan Songs: Akhmatova and Gumilev. No city: 1
st
Books Library, 1999,
2003.
Reeder, Roberta. Anna Akhmatova: Poet and Prophet. New York: Picador USA, 1994.
Sampson, Earl D. Nikolay Gumilev. Twaynes World Authors Series, ed. Charles Moser.
Boston: Twayne, 1979.
, . . . . . : -,
2005. [Severianin, Igor. Poetry and Prose. Ed. E. Zashtkhin. Ekaterinburg: At
Trade Market Books, 2005.]
Timenchik, Roman. Innokentii Fedorovich Annenskii 1855-1909. Reference Guide to
Russian Literature. Ed. Neil Cornwell. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers,
1998.










162 | P a g e

Notes:


i
Frank Ellis (369-371) in the Reference Guide to Russian Literature translates the volume title
as Pyre, whereas McKane translates it as Bonfire. The connotations are strikingly different. I
follow Ellis.
ii
The novelist and science fiction writer, Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstois (1883-1945) 1921 memoir
of Gumilev recounts that in 1908 Gumilev told him that he had attempted to kill himself by swallowing
potassium cyanide in the Boulogne woods outside Paris. Tolstoi quotes Gumilev: You ask why I wanted
to die. I was living alone, in a hotelthe thought of death pressed itself upon me. I found the fear of
death unpleasant . . . Besides, there was a certain girl here . . . (qtd. in Sampson, 19). Anna Akhmatova
had turned down his proposal of marriage before Gumilev departed for Paris. One of the few direct
references to this episode was in a 1917 poem by Gumilev, Ezbekiah from the volume Pyre.
In Akhmatovas Poem Without a Hero, Gumilev is a hidden presence and some have suggested
that her preoccupation with the suicide episode at the center of the poem is in part prompted by her role in
Gumilevs attempt to kill himself. If there were a connection between an attempt at suicide by Gumilev
and the Knyazev-Sudeikina events of 1913 as told in Poem Without a Hero, it would be that the two men
are opposites. Not only did Gumilev not succeed, he looks back later at a post-suicide-attempt moment in
the Cairo garden during which he affirmed a will to life despite any sorrow or shame. Indeed, his life
and much of his mature poetry attest to a vitalist ethic of remarkable convictionquite the opposite of the
despairing self-pity revealed in Knyazevs poems leading up to his successful suicide..
McKanes discussion of this poem argues for the connection to Akhmatovas poema. According
to him, Ezbekiah is another

of Gumilevs retrospective spiritual biographies from this period. The original, in splendidly
controlled blank verse, derives some of its rhetorical authority from correspondences to Pushkins
late poem Again I visited . . .
The title refers to a garden in Cairo, which Gumilev might have first visited during a
month of obscure wanderings following his rejection by Akhmatova in summer 1907 ( . . .
Ezbekie [sic] dates from 1917). He was certainly in Cairo in autumn 1908, when he was
thinking also of Vera Arens. His connection of Ezbekie with the willful renunciation of suicide
which he had attempted on several occasions, ostensibly out of frustrated loveseems to
correspond to reality. The consequent, stoical commitment to life on Gods earth, whatever it
may entail, is the very essence of his Acmeist morality. Akhmatova would accordingly allude
obliquely to Ezbekie in her late poetic masterpiece, Poem Without a Hero, to establish a contrast
with the ignominious suicide of the poet Knyazev that is an important signal of the forbidden
Gumilevs status as her works absent hero.
Gumilev passed through Cairo again in December 1909, and described the garden with
ironic self-detachment in a letter to Vera Shvarsalon, step-daughter [and later wife] of the
Symbolist poet Vyacheslav Ivanov. (Gumilev, Pillar, 230-231)

McKane does not translate The Suicide, a much earlier poem that appeared in Gumilevs second volume
Romantic Flowers (1908)a strangely chilling poem due to its methodical detachment. Although
probably derived from Baudelaire, the poem may well record a real experience as well. I believe The
Suicideand Ezbekiah should be read together.
iii
Gumilev was enrolled in the Nikolaevskii Boys Gymnasium in Tsarskoe Selo from 1903-1906,
aged 17 to 20 (Samson, 16). The director was the poet Inokentii Annenskii (Timenchik116). Although
Gumilev admired him greatly and styled himself a disciple of Annenskii, his early publications showed
little trace of influence. Not until he started to formulate the Acmeist aesthetic, did the Annenskii influence
become more apparent. Gumilev introduced Akhmatova to the older poet and both of them saw
Annenskii as the primary forerunner of Acmeism.

Both young poets dedicated poems to the older master.
iv
After identifying some of the Biblical allusions, McKane writes:

163 | P a g e


The possible subject of stanzas 2-3 is Pythagorean mysticism, much discussed by the Symbolists.
Literary subtexts include an 1864 poem by Tyutchev on a Papal Bull condemning freedom of
conscience, the opposition of which to Catholic authoritarianism doubtless assumed covert anti-
Bolshevik resonance in 1919. The final, ostensibly illogical image of the bees in an empty hive
(possibly suggested by Mandelstams poem Dombey and Son, and reworked by him the
following year in Take from my cupped hands for your delight / a little sun and a little honey, / as
the bees of Persephone ordered us . . .) indicates, according to Eshelman, a breakdown of human
community (and communication)the result of mans failure to realize his spiritual potential
through the imposition of material limitations. (Gumilev, Pillar, 234)
Tyutchevs poem is entitled Encyclical. McKane is in error. Dombey and Son was written in 1913 or
1914, so it could not be a response to Bolshevism. See Dombey and Son and

Accept as gladness from
my palms . . . by Mandelstam and Encyclical by Tyutchev in my translations in the Mandelstam and
Tyutchev sections posted at www.donmager.org.

The sense of a Devine Logos become elusive in the physical world now typifies
Gumilevs rational mysticism, and explains the fine balance of optimism (belief in the
unconditional existence of an ordering Logos, as probably token of mans eventual release from
spiritual impoverishment) and pessimism (its remoteness; the threat of intervening cataclysm)
which informs the imperturbable acceptance of his own life and death. A secondary
preoccupationimplicit here, and consequent upon the poets particularly sharpened
perceptionsis the status of his word (or Word?) in relation to the will and authority of God,
and the potential role (or otherwise) of the poet as modern- (and future-) day prophet and leader of
mankind. (Gumilev, Pillar, 234)

The Eshelman reference is not cited.
Although a thriving hive of bees as a symbol of community and home would seem to be obvious,
one needs only to look at the first stanza of Gumilevs The Return of Odysseus for confirmation that he
viewed it as such. (See my translation in this selection.)
Indeed The Word is a difficult poem to interpret fully and as Sampson argues is a key text
needed to appreciate Gumilevs partial retreat in his last volume from Acmeism to a kind of return to
Symbolism. Perhaps one of the fundamental distinctions between the two aesthetics involved a
fundamental belief about how words in poetry should signify. Symbolists believed words should point to
symbols that in turn embodied transcendent perceptions, whether semantically connected to the word used
or not. Acmeists believed words should point accurately to empirical sense experience, and that if chosen
precisely through the linguistic attributes of connotations and juxtaposition, the descriptions might impart
broader suggestiveness beyond the semantic explicitness. Thus I see The Word to hinge on three
distinctions: (1) the difference between numbers and words (stanzas 3 -4) which in a Pythagorean mystical
way claims numbers originally had a one-to-one relationship to the thing they point to including its full
range of connotations, and were therefore superior to words, but their full signifying power is now lost; (2)
the difference between The Word in its full signifying power in which its divine origin seemingly fused
connotation and denotation versus the limits of its paltry essence which I take to refer to the denotative
dictionary meaning of words stripped of resonance, suggestiveness and connotations; and (3) the difference
between a former linguistic perfection versus our current linguistic limitations.
Sampson sees The Word as probably the most significant (144) of the poems in Pillar of Fire
to articulate a change of aesthetic stance; commenting on the last two stanzas, he says:

These do not sound like the words of an Acmeist, to be sure. But Gumilev always knew that the
reach of the poetic word cannot be limited to the world of substance, and he never tried so to limit
it, even at the height of his campaign against the Symbolists tendency to overextend that reach.
On the other hand, the poetry of Pillars of Fire is very different from that of Foreign Sky [i.e.
Alien Sky]s, and this change in poetic practice is inevitably associated with some changes in
Gumilevs attitudes toward the poetic word and the task of the poet, changes partially expressed in
The Word . . . (144)

164 | P a g e


v
Anna Comnena (1083-after 1148) [also spelled Comnina and Komnena] was a Byzantine historian
and daughter of Emperor Alexius I Comneneus. Her Alexiad, an account of her fathers reign, is a
landmark of historiography. Gumilevs 1908 poem, not included in any of his volumes, presents her as a
femme fatale at a decadent court.
She had an amazing life to say the least. She was the older of two children from Alexius I
Comneneus and his first wife, Irene. She spent much of her adult political career trying to wrest the
succession from her younger brother (later John II). With support from her husband Nekephoross family
she attempted a palace coup after the death of her father, but her husband died before she succeeded. She
was aged 55 and retired to a monastery where she spent the remainder of her life writing The Alexiad. In
her history she denounces her fathers second wife, Maria dAlania, Princess of Circassia, as a femme
fatale herself. Maria had been lover to her own father, and also of her son by Alexius I Comneneus, the
Prince Constantine, who was assassinated at age 20.
In her footnote to Prose About the Poema: Pro Domo Mea, piece number 61, Akhmatova
alludes to several works by her long-dead husband Gumilev. Her sentence is My attributes always
moon and pearls. (Anna Comnena). This is obscure because the poem mentions neither pearls nor
moon. But the two sentences may not be related.
In 1962, the same year that she wrote the above comment in Prose About The Poema piece
number 61, Akhmatova wrote notes for an essay on Gumilev A Poet Still Unread, where she describes a
tragic female presence in Gumilevs poems who exerts a compelling attraction. Anna Comnena is one of
these poems. Interestingly, she distances any direct association with herself (Meyer qtd. in Akhmatova,
My Half-Century 112-3).
Gumilevs poem was not published in any volume during his life. Written in Paris in 1908,
during his courtship of Akhmatova, Lairds assumption that its ambivalence describes his future wife seems
likely. In a letter to the important Symbolist poet and novelist Valerii Briusov (1873-1924) of April 1908,
he says, A few words about Anna Comnenus, I have written a poem about her. Historians love to present
her as an ideal, but many facts compel me to suspect otherwise (qtd. in Laird, 82). Briusov liked the poem
and shared it, without Gumilevs name on it, with influential Symbolist poet, playwright and novelist
Zinaida Gippius, or Hippius (1869-1945) ZinaidaHippius and her husband, the philosopher and critic
Dmitri Merezhkovskii (1866-1941) who had earlier made fun of Gumilev. They too liked this poem.
An interesting coincidence is that C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933), the great Greek Alexandrian poet,
also wrote a poem about Anna Komnena, published in 1920. He too portrays her as arrogant.

Anna Komnina

In the prologue to her Alexiad.
Anna Komnina laments her widowhood.

Her soul is all vertigo.
And I bathe my eyes, she tells us,
in rivers of tears . . . Alas for the waves of her life,
alas for the revolutions. Sorrow burns here
to be bones and the marrow and the splitting of her soul.

But the truth seems to be this power-hungry woman
knew only one sorrow that really mattered:
even if she doesnt admit it, this arrogant Greek woman
had only one consuming pain:
that with all her dexterity,
she never managed to gain the throne,
virtually snatched out of her hands by impudent John.
(Collected Poems trans. By Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherard, 104.)

There is no reason to think Akmatova or Gumilev knew Cavafys poem.