Right now, I am reading Alex Ross's fantastic history of 20th century classical music, The Rest is Noise. So far, my favorite chapter has been the one on music in Stalin's Soviet Union. The chapter centers around my favorite composer, Shostakovich, and it's completely heartbreaking to read about how the government's oppression of art literary destroyed so many amazing composers. Of course, this all put me in the mind of Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet I've referenced many times before in this blog (Ross even mentions Akhmatova and quotes some of her poetry in his book). So here we go, a sad but lovely little poem Akhmatova wrote in 1917 about a final visit with a friend who was set to be imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. I urge you to go and check out more work by the poet, as she is a very important human voice amidst the sweep of Russian/Soviet history.
"We Don't Know How To Say Goodbye...", by Anna Akhmatova
Translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
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.