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Willow

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...and a decrepit handful of trees.
—Aleksandr Pushkin

And I matured in peace born of command,
in the nursery of the infant century,
and the voice of man was never dear to me,
but the breeze’s voice—that I could understand.
The burdock and the nettle I preferred,
but best of all the silver willow tree.
Its weeping limbs fanned my unrest with dreams;
it lived here all my life, obligingly.
I have outlived it now, and with surprise.
There stands the stump; with foreign voices other
willows converse, beneath our, beneath those skies,
and I am hushed, as if I’d lost a brother.

Source: Poetry (December 2005)

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This poem originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

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Willow

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  • Anna Akhmatova is regarded as one of the greatest Russian poets. Besides poetry, which constitutes the lion’s share of her literary legacy, she wrote prose—primarily memoirs, autobiographical pieces, and literary scholarship, including her outstanding essays on Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin. She also produced many first-rate translations of Italian, French, Armenian, and Korean poetry. In her lifetime Akhmatova experienced two different kinds of Russia, prerevolutionary and Soviet, yet her verse protected the traditions of classical Russian culture from the onslaught of avant-garde radicalism and formal experimentation, as well as from the suffocating ideological strictures of socialist realism. For all the restraint, femininity, and ostensible apoliticism of her verse, her poetic persona perfectly embodied the tragic spirit of twentieth-century Russia. In many respects she shared the archetypal poetic fate that befell many of her brilliant contemporaries, including Osip Emil’evich Mandel’shtam, Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, and Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva. Although she lived a long life,...

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