Requiem

No, not under a foreign heavenly-cope, and
Not canopied by foreign wings
I was with my people in those hours,
There where, unhappily, my people were.
 
In the fearful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison queues in Leningrad. One day somebody 'identified' me. Beside me, in the queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never heard of me; but she suddenly came out of that trance so common to us all and whispered in my ear (everybody spoke in whispers there): 'Can you describe this?' And I said: 'Yes, I can.' And then something like the shadow of a smile crossed what had once been her face.
April 1957, Leningrad

Dedication

The mountains bow before this anguish,
The great river does not flow.
In mortal sadness the convicts languish;
The bolts stay frozen. There's someone who
Still feels the sunset's glow,
Someone who can still distinguish
Day from night, for whom the fresh
Wind blows. But we don't know it, we're obsessive,
We only hear the tramp of boots, abrasive
Keys scraping against our flesh.
Rising as though for early mass,
Through the capital of beasts we'd thread.
Met, more breathless than the dead,
Mistier Neva, lower sun. Ahead,
Hope was still singing, endlessly evasive.
The sentence! and now at last tears flood.
She'd thought the months before were loneliness!
She's thrown down like a rock.
The heart gives up its blood.
Yet goes. . . swaying . . . she can still walk.
My friends of those two years I stood
In helloh all my chance friends lost
Beyond the circle of the moon, I cry
Into the blizzards of the permafrost:
Goodbye. Goodbye.
 

Prologue

In those years only the dead smiled,
Glad to be at rest:
And Leningrad city swayed like
A needless appendix to its prisons.
It was then that the railway-yards
Were asylums of the mad;
Short were the locomotives'
Farewell songs.
Stars of death stood
Above us, and innocent Russia
Writhed under bloodstained boots, and
Under the tyres of Black Marias.
 
1
They took you away at daybreak. Half waking,
As though at a wake, I followed.
In the dark chamber children were crying,
In the image-case, candlelight guttered.
At your lips, the chill of an ikon,
A deathly sweat at your brow.
I shall go creep to our wailing wall,
Crawl to the Kremlin towers.
 
2
Gently flows the gentle Don,
Yellow moonlight leaps the sill,
 
Leaps the sill and stops astonished
as it sees the shade
 
Of a woman lying ill,
Of a woman stretched alone.
 
Son in irons and husband clay.
Pray. Pray.
 
3
No, it is not I, it is someone else who is suffering.
I could not have borne it. And this thing which has
happened,
Let them cover it with black cloths,
And take away the lanterns . . .
Night.
 
4
Someone should have shown youlittle jester,
Little teaser, blue-veined charmer,
laughing-eyed, lionised, sylvan-princessly
Sinnerto what point you would come:
How, the three hundredth in a queue,
You'd stand at the prison gate
And with your hot tears
Burn through the New-Year ice.
How many lives are ending there! Yet it's
Mute, even the prison-poplar's
Tongue's in its cheek as it's swaying.
 
5
For seventeen months I've called you
To come home, I've pleaded
my son, my terror!groveled
At the hangman's feet.
All is confused eternally
So much, I can't say who's
Man, who's beast any more, nor even
How long till execution.
Simply the flowers of dust,
Censers ringing, tracks from a far
Settlement to nowhere's ice.
And everywhere the glad
Eye of a huge star's
Still tightening vice.
 
6
Lightly the weeks are flying,
What has happened, I can't take in.
Just as, my dearest, the white
Nights first watched you in prison,
So they again gaze down
With their warm aquiline eyes and
Of your cross transcendent
And of death I hear them speak.
 
7

The Sentence

Then fell the word of stone on
My still existing, still heaving breast.
Never mind, I was not unprepared, and
Shall manage to adjust to it somehow.
 
Thank God, I've many things to do todayI
Need to kill and kill again
My memory, turn my heart to stone, as
Well as practice skills gone rusty, such
 
As to live, for instance . . . Then there's always
Summer, calling out my Black Sea dress!
Yes, long ago I knew this day:
This radiant day, and this empty house.
 
8

To Death

You will come in any case, so why not now?
Life is very hard: I'm waiting for you.
I have turned off the lights and thrown the door wide open
For you, so simple and so marvelous.
Take on any form you like.
Why not burst in like a poisoned shell,
Or steal in like-a bandit with his knuckleduster,
Or like a typhus-germ?
Or like a fairy-tale of your own invention
Stolen from you and loathsomely repeated,
Where I can see, behind you in the doorway,
The police-cap and the white-faced concierge?
I don't care how. The Yenisei is swirling,
The Pole Star glittering. And eyes
I love are closing on the final horror.
 
9
Already madness trails its wing
Decisively across my mind;
I drink its fiery wine and sink
Into the valley of the blind.
 
I yield to it the victory:
There is no time, there is no room
Except to sue for peace with my
However strangedelirium.
 
I fall upon my knees, I pray
For mercy. It makes no concession.
Clearly I must take away
With me not one of my possessions
 
Not the stone face, hollow blanks
Of eyes, my son's, through pain's exquisite
Chisel; not the dead's closed ranks
In the hour of prison visits;
 
Not the dear coolness of his hands;
Nor, dimmed in distance's elision,
Like limetrees' shady turbulence,
His parting words of consolation.
 
 
10

Crucifixion

'Mother, do not weep for Me,
who am in the grave.'
I
Angelic choirs the unequalled hour exalted,
And heaven disintegrated into flame.
Unto the Father: 'Why hast Thou forsaken
But to the Mother: 'Do not weep for me . .
 
II
Magdalina beat her breast and wept, while
The loved disciple seemed hammered out of stone.
But, for the Mother, where she stood in silence,
No one as much as dared to look that way.
 

Epilogue

I
There I learned how faces fall apart,
How fear looks out from under the eyelids,
How deep are the hieroglyphics
Cut by suffering on people's cheeks.
There I learned how silver can inherit
The black, the ash-blond, overnight,
The smiles that faded from the poor in spirit,
Terror's dry coughing sound.
And I pray not only for myself,
But also for all those who stood there
In bitter cold, or in the July heat,
Under that red blind prison-wall.

 

II
Again the hands of the clock are nearing
The unforgettable hour. I see, hear, touch
 
All of you: the cripple they had to support
Painfully to the end of the line; the moribund;
 
And the girl who would shake her beautiful head and
Say: come here as if it were home.'
 
I should like to call you all by name,
But they have lost the lists. . . .
 
I have woven for them a great shroud
Out of the poor words I overheard them speak.
 
I remember them always and everywhere,
And if they shut my tormented mouth,
 
Through which a hundred million of my people cry,
Let them remember me also. . . .
 
And if ever in this country they should want
To build me a monument
 
I consent to that honour,
But only on condition that they
 
Erect it not on the sea-shore where I was born:
My last links there were broken long ago,
 
Nor by the stump in the Royal Gardens,
Where an inconsolable young shade is seeking me,
 
But here, where I stood for three hundred hours
And where they never, never opened the doors for me.
 
Lest in blessed death I should forget
The grinding scream of the Black Marias,
 
The hideous clanging gate, the old
Woman wailing like a wounded beast.
 
And may the melting snow drop like tears
From my motionless bronze eyelids,
 
And the prison pigeons coo above me A
nd the ships sail slowly down the Neva.
 
 
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