The Trackless Woods    (click a title to jump to that track)

To My Poems
Broad Gold
And This You Call Work
From The Oriental Notebook
Not With Deserters
All Is Sold
Reject The Burden
From An Airplane
Oh, How Good
Like A White Stone
Song About Songs
Listening To Singing
Lot’s Wife
Upon The Hard Crest
The Souls of All My Dears
The Last Toast
Not With A Lover’s Lyre / Anna Akhmatova’s Recitation of “The Muse”



1. to my poems

You led me into the trackless woods,
My falling stars, my dark endeavor.
You were bitterness, lies, a bill of goods.
You weren’t a consolation—ever.

2. broad gold

Broad gold, the evening heavens glow,
The April air is cool and tender.
You should have come ten years ago,
And yet in welcome I surrender.

Come here, sit closer to me, look
With eyes that twinkle, mouth that purses,
Into the little blue-bound book
That hold my awkward childish verse.

Forgive me that I long forsook
Joy’s sunny paths, nor glance toward any;
Forgive me those whom I mistook
For you—alas, they were too many.

3. this you call work

And this you call work—its a carefree
Existence! To catch, ere it’s flown,
What music has privately hinted,
And jestingly call it my own.

And using another’s blithe scherzo
For lines far too languid to run,
To swear your poor heart is lamenting
In fields that smile back at the sun.

And later, when pinewoods play trappist,
To do what bold eavesdroppers dare,
While the fog’s impalpable curtain
Hangs vaguely as smoke on the air,

Not feeling one qualm of conscience,
I take things from left and right.
Life is sly, but I take something from it,
And all from the stillness of night.

4. from the oriental notebook

How drunk we were, each with the other,
that marvelous night,
when only the Asian darkness gave us light,
and the watering canals were murmuring
and the black carnation’s scent pierced
like a sting.

And we walked alone through a city not ours,
through a savage song
and midnight heat—the Serpent coiled among
the constellations in the thick-starred skies,
and we did not dare to turn and meet one another’s eyes.

And it seemed as if ages walked with us,
unseen, and as if an invisible hand were
striking a tambourine,
and there were stranger sounds, like
something we must mark:
secret signals that whirled about us there
the dark.

Thus once, and only once, we alked
together, when of a sudden the moon like a
diamond sailboat swam into view
our parting meeting, the single encounter
we knew.

And should that night return to you also,
mind my wish, however belated, oh, be kind
and send me, waking or dreaming, this my
choice; an Asian reed pipe’s slender voice.

5. prayer

Make me feverish, sleepless
and breathless,
Le the years of prostration be long,
0 Lord, take my child and companion,
And destroy the sweet power of song.

Thus I pray at each matins,
and each vespers,
After these many wearying dasy,
That the storm cloud which lowers over Russia
May be changed to a nimbus ablaze.

6. not with deserters

Not with deserters from the battle
That tears my land do I belong,
To their coarse praise I do not listen.
They shall not have from me one song.

Poor exile, you are like a prisoner
To me, or one upon the bed
Of sickness. Dark your road, O wanderer,
Of wormwood smacks your alien bread.

Here, into smoking fires that blacken
Our lives, the last of youth we throw,
Who in the years behind us never
Sought to evade a single blow.

We know that in the final reckoning
No hour will need apology;
No people in the world are prouder,
More tearless, simpler, than are we.

7. all is sold

All is sold, all is lost, all is plundered,
Death’s wing has flashed black on our sight,
All’s gnawed bare with sore want
and sick tonging—
Then how are we graced with this light?

By day there’s a breath of wild cherry
In the city, from woods none espies;
At night new and strange constellations
Shine forth in the pale summer skies,

And these houses, this dirt, these mean ruins,
Are touched by the miracle, too:
It is close, the desired, despaired of,
That all longed for, but none ever knew.

8. reject the burden

Reject the burden of all earthly solace,
Put from your heart the claims
of home and wife;
Does your child hunger? Give unto a stranger
The bread that else would feed that little life,

Humble yourself to be the meanest servant
Of your worst enemy, and learn to call
The brute beast of the forest ways
your brother.
And ask of God nothing, nothing at all

9. from an airplane

Versts by the hundred, miles
by hundreds, hundreds
Of dim kilometers beneath our track:
Reaches of salt marsh, feather
grass that billowed;
Beyond, the somber cedar
groves showed black.

As though, for the first time I saw my country.
And, with a pang of recognition, knew:
It is all mine—and nothing can divide us,
It is my soul, It is my body, too.

10. oh, how good

Oh, how good the snapping and the crackle
Of the frost that daily grows more keen!
Laden with its dazzling icy roses,
The white-flaming bush is forced to lean.

On the snows in all their pomp and splendor
There are ski tracks, and it seems that they
Are a token of those distant ages
When we two together passed this way.

11. like a white stone

Like a white stone deep in a draw-well lying,
As hard and clear, a memory lies in me.
I cannot strive nor have I heart for striving;
It is such pain and yet such ecstasy.

It seems to me that someone looking closely
Into my eyes would see it, patent, pate;
And seeing, would grow sadder
and more thoughtful
Than one who listens to a bitter tale.

The ancient gods changed men
to things, but left them
A consciousness that smoldered
That marvellous sorrows might endure forever,
You have been changed into a memory.

12. song about songs

It will burn you at the start,
As if to breezes you were bare,
Then drop deep into your heart
Like a single salty tear.

And a heart full of spite
Will come to know regret,
And this sorrow, although light,
It will not forget,

Others will reap. I only sow.
Of course! When the triumphant
scythers lays the grain low,
Bless them, O Lord!

And so that I may lift
My eyes in thanks to You above,
Let me give the world a gift
More incorruptible than love

13. listening to singing

A woman’s voice, like the wind, rushes—
Nocturnal, moist and black
And as it flies, whatever it brushes
Changes and will not change back.

It’s a diamond-shine comes
to bathe and bless,
Things are draped in a silver light,
It rustles its suggestive dress.
Woven of fantasy, silken and bright.

And the power that propels the enchanted
Voice displays such hidden light,
It’s as if the grave were not ahead,
But mysterious stairs beginning their flight.

14. lot’s wife

And he who was righteous
loomed radiant, striding
Behind the Lord’s messenger up the black hill
But she walked reluctant—alarm
spoke within her;
“It is not too late, you may look on it still,
Upon the vermilion-stained
towers of Sodom;
You spun in that court, and
you sang on that square;
That house whose tall windows
confront you with blankness
Once knew you, a bride;
you bore your sons there.”

She turned to.behold it, and
pain was her master;
Her eyes yearning toward
it could no longer see;
Salt-white grew her body,
the blood in it withered;
Firm earth held her feet that
would never go free.

And is there not one who
would weep for this woman,
Or one who would find her
loss bitter to brook?
Alone in my heart uneclipsed, unforgotten,
Is she who gave over her life for one look.

15. upon the hard crest

Upon the hard crest of a snowdrift
We tread, and grown quiet, we walk
On towards my house, white, enchanted;
Our mood is too tender for talk.

And sweeter than song is this dream now
Come true, the low boughs of the firs
That sway as we brush them in passing,
The slight silver clink of your spurs.

16. the souls of all my dears

The souls of all my dears
have flown to the stars

Memorial hour returns with each new year
I see, I hear, I touch you drawing near

You step onto the porch and call my name
Your face pressed up against the frosted pane

Let from the lids of bronze, unmoving eyes
Snow melt and stream like tears each human cries

The souls of all my dears have flown to the stars
Thank god there’s no one left for me to lose.

17. the last toast

I drink to the house, already destroyed,
And my whole life, too awful to tell,
To the loneliness we together enjoyed,
I drink to you as well,
To the eyes with deadly cold imbued,
To the lips that betrayed me with a Ile,
To the world for being cruel and rude,
To God who didn’t save us, or try.

18. it’s not with a lover’s lyre/anna akhmatova recitation of “the muse “

It’s not with a lover’s lyre, not at all.
That I go around, attracting a crowd.
It’s the rattle with which lepers crawl
That in my hands keeps singing aloud.

Where nothing Is needed, I walk like a child,
My shadow serves as the friend I crave.
The wind breezes out of a grove gone wild,
And my foot is on the edge of the grave.

the 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.’