Sunday, October 11, 2015

Requiem Fragment

Requiem Fragment
Anna Akhmatova
translation by Greg Pavlik

10 Crucifixion

      Do not lament me, O Mother,
      seeing me in the tomb.

The angelic chorus glorified the hour of eternity,
when the heavens convulsed in a river of fire:
He cried to His Father “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
And to His Mother, he spoke: “Do not lament me”…


Mary Magdalena writhed, and wept
as the beloved John froze like stone (or salt).
Where the Mother stood in silence -
no one dared to look.


Translator notes. I chose to translate this poem much less loosely than my interpretative translation of Akhmatova’s Lot’s Wife – there Russian readers will recognize that the final stanza is essentially my own poem (with an explicit reference to the unrelated work of Scott Cairns, in fact).

Instead, this section of Requiem is much closer to the original (1), with only minimal augmentation. Nonetheless, it is also very different from Akhmatova’s in certain critical respects. Requiem itself is a difficult and evocative work – its melancholy is inseparable from the suffering of both Akhmatova herself and the Soviet people under Stalin. In some sense, I have abandoned this context in my translation. Educated Russian readers would have recognized Akhmatova’s work as using the imagery of the hymnography of the Paschal Nocturnes, the final liturgical setting of Great and Holy Saturday chanted before the entombed body of the dead Christ, which includes a deeply moving dialogue with his Mother. (2)

I have chosen to deepen the liturgical elements of the poem and play off themes that recur in and around the Lenten Triodion. The text of the Slavonic service is rendered here in English as it is commonly used in American parishes within the Russian Orthodox tradition. Second, I use the Hebrew directly in quotation from the Psalter, emphasizing its position as a liturgical prayer. While the dialogic element from the Nocturnes service is repeated, maintaining the liturgical connection, here the address to the Mother is clearly one of human filial affection.

The river of fire is evocative of the image God as “consuming fire”, which, St Isaac says is experienced as bliss by the pure in heart. The second stanza – and I do not believe there is any intention at all in the original to do this – also points back to the story of Lot and Sodom and implicitly re-invokes the image of fire. Akhmatova makes no association with salt. I have tried intentionally not to recall the poetics of Stabat Mater in the final lines.

(1) Original Russian:


   Не рыдай Мене, Мати,
   во гробе зрящия.

Хор ангелов великий час восславил,
И небеса расплавились в огне.
Отцу сказал: "Почто Меня оставил!"
А матери: "О, не рыдай Мене..."


Магдалина билась и рыдала,
Ученик любимый каменел,
А туда, где молча Мать стояла,
Так никто взглянуть и не посмел.

1940, Фонтанный Дом

(2) From the Eastern Orthodox Liturgical Service of Paschal Nocturnes:

Do not lament me, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify thee in faith and in love.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!

I escaped sufferings and was blessed beyond nature at Thy strange birth, O Son, who art without beginning. But now, beholding Thee, my God, dead and without breath, I am sorely pierced by the sword of sorrow. But arise, that I may be magnified.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!

By my own will, the earth covers me, O Mother, but the gatekeepers of hell tremble at seeing me clothed in the blood-stained garments of vengeance; for when I have vanquished my enemies on the cross, I shall arise as God and magnify thee.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let creation rejoice, let all born on earth be glad, for hateful hell has been despoiled, let the women with myrrh come to meet me, for I am redeeming Adam and Eve and all their descendants, and on the third day shall I arise.

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