Friday, May 17, 2013

There Is a Sacred, Secret Line in Loving: A Tribute to Anna Akhmatova

by Justine C. Tajonera
Portrait of A. Akhmatova by George Annenkof 1921.

Today, I received an email from | Poetry and one of the topics was Anna Akhmatova. She is one of the most renowned Russian poets of her time. One of her greatest works is Requiem, a poem that describes the time her son, Lev, was imprisoned in the Gulag. You will see in that piece of literature why only a poet could write about such a terrible period in Russian history. While she is known for Requiem, it is the poem below that first captured my attention.

There are other translations of this poem but I have to credit Jane Kenyon for capturing it this way. I think this is the best translation. Or, at least the one that speaks to me.

Anna Akhmatova
(translated by Jane Kenyon)

There is a sacred, secret line in loving
which attraction and even passion cannot cross,—
even if lips draw near in awful silence
and love tears at the heart.

Friendship is weak and useless here,
and years of happiness, exalted and full of fire,
because the soul is free and does not know
the slow luxuries of sensual life.

Those who try to come near it are insane
and those who reach it are shaken by grief,
So now you know exactly why
my heart beats no faster under your hand.


Akhmatova captures how love is one of those causes, one of those glimpses into the divine that shows us our humanity and our mortality. When one loves someone becomes aware of their loss as well. That is the paradox of love. One must love and yet one must let go. How beautifully she puts it here. There is an apology somewhere at the end but she has explained it in the first two verses -- this is not a sensual love, a love made for happy days. This is a love that approaches the line of grief and madness. So forgive the absence of a pounding heart...because that line has been crossed. One could also read it as -- I will not cross it. Either way, it is a beautiful meditation on love and its many faces.

So, here is to poetry. And more poetry by women.

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