In the month of May

Bella Akhmadulina in 1962

In the month of May, in that month of mine,
such a lightness was in my hands
that the flying weather called to me
as it bent down, over the land.

I was generous, oh so generous,
eager to sing and free of care--
as glad as any goldfinch
when I dipped my wings in the air.

Soon, thank God, my vision cleared;
more severe, my sight looked deeper.
I saw that the price of every breath,
of every flight I took, grew steeper.

I face the mysteries of the day.
Its wonders welcome me in,
while I look all around me
with an old man’s knowing grin.

I hear the clamoring of the rooks,
high above the blackened snow;
I see how drearily the women stare,
bent double over their knitting.

And, somewhere, someone else’s child
blows on her pipe as she goes,
dashing into the flower beds
and straight through their ordered rows.

В тот месяц май, в тот месяц мой
Bella Akhmadulina
Translated by Frank Beck

In my twenties, I came under the spell of modern Russian poetry, especially the work of Boris Pasternak, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Bella Akhmadulina. Their poems were full of open vowels, rolled r's and emphatic consonants that made them more sensual that the English-language poetry I knew, and the Russians seemed more at ease expressing powerful emotions. (The links to performances below, including one by Akhmadulina herself, show what I mean.)

I spent a year studying Russian, and I'm sure my own work benefited from the time spent steeping my ear in the rich sounds of Russian verse. This lyric by Akhmadulina (1937-2010) is a prime example. Joseph Brodsky said she was the finest Russian poet of our time, and many native speakers would agree.

My translation reproduces much of the rhyming structure her poem depends on. I've also included the telling effect at the end of the next-to-last stanza, when the fires of rhyme go out for a moment and the full weight of the world seems to descend on the speaker.

For those who read Cyrillic, here is the poem in Russian:

В тот месяц май, в тот месяц мой
во мне была такая лёгкость
и, расстилаясь над землёй,
влекла меня погоды лётность.

Я так щедра была, щедра
в счастливом предвкушенье пенья,
и с легкомыслием щегла
я окунала в воздух перья.

Но, слава Богу, стал мой взор
и проницательней, и строже,
и каждый вздох и каждый взлёт
обходится мне всё дороже.

И я причастна к тайнам дня.
Открыты мне его явленья.
Вокруг оглядываюсь я
с усмешкой старого еврея.

Я вижу, как грачи галдят,
над чёрным снегом нависая,
как скушно женщины глядят,
склонившиеся над вязаньем.

И где-то, в дудочку дудя,
не соблюдая клумб и грядок,
чужое бегает дитя
и нарушает их порядок.

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