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Lot's Wife -- Anna Akhmatova

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1511) Lot's Wife
 And the just man trailed God's messenger
 His huge, light shape devoured the black hill.
 But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her:
 "It's not too late, you can look back still

 At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you,
 The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed,
 At the empty windows of that upper storey
 Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.'

 Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt
 Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind;
 Her body turned into transparent salt,
 And her swift legs were rooted to the ground.

 Who mourns one woman in a holocaust?
 Surely her death has no significance?
 Yet in my heart she will never be lost
 She who gave up her life to steal one glance.
-- Anna Akhmatova
        Trans. D. M. Thomas.

The first time I read this poem I had the strange sensation of trying
running through the first three stanzas (saying "yeah, yeah") and then being
struck by the last stanza as if by a bolt of lightning, that transformed me,
if not into salt, then into something equally crumbly.

I love the way that Akhmatova transforms the story of Lot's wife, making her
a more noble, more courageous character (is it just me, or are there shades
of Orpheus here?). And I can't help but wondering -- what did Lot get out of
being the only survivor? Was it really worth it to live on, having lost
every single person that he knew?

The one other thing that intrigues me about the translation is the use of
the word 'holocaust' in the first line of the last stanza. I can't help
thinking that that's a really clever touch and adds a sense of deep
injustice to the poem that would otherwise be missing. Would be interesting
to know what the word is in the original Russian.


[Incidentally, the translator D. M. Thomas was a reasonably well-known poet
himself, though we haven't had any of his poems on the Minstrels. I believe
he's Welsh, but no relation to Dylan Marlais Thomas, in case you were
wondering.  -- ed.]

54 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

A. P said...

The "holocaust" is not present in the original Russian, which, if translated
literally, reads the following way: "Who will mourn for this woman then, /
will she not seem the smallest of losses?". Sorry.
- Aleks.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this poem a lot and the translations i have read are very different than this one. Is there a reason why that is? I read this poem on with a very different translation

Anonymous said...

Different translators.

Viagra Online said...

This was my first university poem... look this:

I met a young child beside a dead pony,
I met a white man who walked a black dog,
I met a young woman whose body was burning,
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow,
I met one man who was wounded in love,
I met another man who was wounded with hatred,
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

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Anonymous said...

This is my wife quite completely. I remember this poem frequently,and laugh.

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