max hayward

I hereby declare–
and I’m telling no lies:
Among
today’s
swindlers and dealers,
I alone
shall be sunk
in hopeless debt.
Our duty is
to blare
like brass-throated horns
in the fogs of bourgeois vulgarity
and seething storms.
A poet
is always
indebted to the universe,
paying,
alas,
interest
and fines.
I am
indebted
to the lights of Broadway,
to you,
skies of Bagdadi,
to the Red Army,
to the cherry trees of Japan–
to everything
about which
I have not yet written.
—  Vladimir Mayakovsky, Conversation with a Tax Collector About Poetry (Разговор с фининспектором о поэзии), excerpt, trans. Max Hayward
Lot's Wife by Anna Akhmatova

translated by Max Hayward and Stanley Kunitz

And the just man trailed God’s shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
“It’s not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed.”

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound …
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.

Lot's Wife

And the just man trailed God’s shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
“It’s not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed.”

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound …
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.


by Anna Akhmatova
translated by Max Hayward and Stanley Kunitz

We don’t know how to say goodbye:
we wander on, shoulder to shoulder.
Already the sun is going down;
you’re moody, I am your shadow.

Let’s step inside a church and watch
baptisms, marriages, masses for the dead.
Why are we different from the rest?
Outdoors again, each of us turns his head.

Or else let’s sit in the graveyard
on the trampled snow, sighing to each other.
That stick in your hand is tracing mansions
in which we shall always be together.
—  Anna Akhmatova, from Poems, trans. Max Hayward

Анна Ахматова
“Муза”

Когда я ночью жду ее прихода,
Жизнь, кажется, висит на волоске.
Что почести, что юность, что свобода
Пред милой гостьей с дудочкой в руке.

И вот вошла. Откинув покрывало,
Внимательно взглянула на меня.
Ей говорю: “Ты ль Данту диктовала
Страницы Ада?” Отвечает: “Я”.

1924

Anna Akhmatova
Muse

All that I am hangs by a thread tonight
as I wait for her whom no one can command.
Whatever I cherish most–youth, freedom, glory–
fades before her who bears the flute in her hand.

And, look! She comes … she tosses back her veil,
staring me down, serene and pitiless.
“Are you the one,” I ask, “whom Dante heard dictate
the lines of his Inferno?” She answers: “Yes.”

(trans.by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward)