Freak Autumn : a Poem for October by Anna Akhmatova


A poem for October, which seems appropriate in the light of the unseasonable weather.  It’s by Anna Akhamotova, from her collection Anno Domini MCMXXI (originally published in 1922), in a translation by Richard McKane.


The freak Autumn built a high vault in the sky,

the clouds were ordered not to darken the vault.

The people marvelled: September is passing

and where are the chill, damp days?

The murky canal waters turned emerald,

the nettles smelled like roses, only stronger.

The air was sultry with sunsets, unbearable, devilish, crimson,

we will all remember them till the end of our days.

The sun was like a rebel forcing the capital,

and the spring-like autumn caressed it so thirstily

that it seemed the transparent snowdrop would blossom white …

That was when you, cool and calm, came to my door.


The precise meaning of this is unclear.  She might have been remembering the October Revolution of 1917 that brought the Bolsheviks to power, or, if it set in 1921, the Kronstadt rebellion of that year – a leftist revolt against the Bolsheviks.  

If it is the latter, the shadowy figure in the last line might be an official coming to inform her that her ex-husband Nikolai Gumilyov had been executed by the Cheka, having been implicated in the aftermath of the rebellion.  Or he might have been one of her numerous lovers.

It was probably a time when a certain ambiguity was a wise precaution. 





4 thoughts on “Freak Autumn : a Poem for October by Anna Akhmatova

  1. Akhmatova is one of the greatest poets ever. I tend to wonder how many of her poems never made it paper -nonetheless published. Although, she did have a good memory and carried around some of her work in her head for 20 years -amazing. Great post. I’m glad to see she has another fan besides me (oh, and a lot of Russia).

  2. Thanks, KJP. All I really know of Akhmatova (apart from her history) is a slim selection that I’ve had for a while, which I do admire a lot. I must make the effort to read more – assuming I can find a collection in print.

    Though there is always that slight sadness of poetry in translation – of knowing that there’s an element to it that you’ll never quite get.

  3. Stunning poem and a very sinister photograph at the end. Like the shadow of an emaciated scarecrow creeping up behind you….. BW? Are you there?

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