Online Feature: Translation from Wild Honey is a Smell of Freedom by Anna Akhmatova

Привольем пахнет дикий мед,

Пыль – солнечным лучом,

иалкою – девичий рот,

А золото – ничем.

Водою пахнет резеда,

И яблоком – любовь.

Но мы узнали навсегда,

Что кровью пахнет только кровь…

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Wild honey has a scent—of freedom

Dust—a scent of sunshine

And a girl’s mouth—of violets.

 

But gold—nothing.

Water—like mignonette.

And like apple—love.

But we have learned that

 

Blood smells only of blood.

 

1934, Leningrad

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(translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky)

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This poem appeared in Indiana Review 33.2, Winter 2011.

Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): The equations that make up most of this spare, needle-like poem are ways of knowing. To link the dust to sunshine and the girl’s mouth to violets makes the world more tangible by performing an intimate epistemology. But, as the end of poem suggests, there is a limit to figurative language, especially when it comes to making images from brutality and oppression. I am grateful for this translation that connects us to Akhmatova, giving us the opportunity to sense what she and others of her time had to learn.

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Anna Akhmatova is considered a major twentieth century Russian poet, author of such recognized works of literature as Requiem and Poem Without a Hero. She was one of few Russian poets of that time who survived Stalin’s Terror, though both of her husbands, and her only son were persecuted.

Katie Farris is the author of BOYSGIRLS (Marick Press) and her fiction has appeared in various journals, including Hayden’s Ferry and Washington Squire. Her translations have appeared in TriQuarterly and Many Mountains Moving. She teaches at San Diego State University.

Ilya Kaminsky is the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press). He is also the editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins).

 

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