Alexander Anichkin: Three Streets of Mysterious Passion - Bella Akhmadulina

'Along this street of mine' ('По улице моей', from the opening words) is one of the beloved poems by one of beloved Russian poets, Bella Akhmadulina. By chance I noticed an annoying omission in the English translation of the poem which sent me on a quest to restore the missing piece - and also to see how it changes the meaning of Akhmadulina's poem.

The poem is well-known to all poetry lovers in its full version and, perhaps, to every living speaker of Russian in its shortened song version. To the generation of the 60s, the so-called 'Shestidesyatniki,' it was so important that the writer Vassily Aksyonov took two haunting words from the poem as the title of his recently published posthumous memoir about the passions of that exciting decade. Aksyonov remembers it in a different version though, one that had not been published before, I think.

It happened thus that we have three variations on the theme of losing friends, loneliness and betrayal.

The non-rhyming English translation of the poem appears in the anthology of Post-War Russian Poetry (compiled by Daniel Weissbort), but neither in its full version, nor in the clipped song version. Two quatrains are missing in the book and three were left out of the song. The anthology came out in 1974, but The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath ("Ирония судьбы, или с лёгким паром"), the phenomenally popular Soviet romantic comedy, was broadcasted on TV on the New Year's Eve of 1975/76. The Polish actress Barbara Brylska and, off-screen, Alla Pugacheva, sing the poem in the film.

The dates suggest that it's hardly possible that the song version influenced the book. I have asked both Daniel Weissbortand the translator Elaine Feinstein about this, but neither remembers now how it happened. It may have been a case of censorship, as Daniel Weissbort suspects. Or even self-censorship by Akhmadulina herself.

What exactly happened we may not discover. But what we have as a result is a curious case study of how poetry works. Each of the three versions is a complete and wonderful poem, but each with a different thrust and scope.

This Street of Mine 1: A Lyrical Piece


For how many years along this street of mine have I
overheard those footsteps - of my friends leaving.
And the darkness outside my window draws pleasure
in witnessing every sluggish departure.

[ missing quatrain 1]
[ missing quatrain 2]

That is your stern character, Solitude, as
you flash an iron compass; how coldly
now do you close your circles round me
without attending to my useless protest.

[quatrain not in the song version]
Summon me, then, with some reward, since I
have become your creature, and console myself
with your favours; let me rest against you
and wash myself in the pale blue of your frost.

In your forest, on my toes, allow me to
reach the slow peak of one strained gesture in
your foliage, and raise the leaves to my face
so I may feel - to be desolate is a blessing.

Give me the quiet of your libraries,
severe melodies in concert halls;
wise power - that is the way we forget
those who are dead and those not yet alive.

So I shall learn wisdom and sadness together,
and things will yield their hidden meanings up;
even Nature leaning on my shoulder
may reveal her childish secrets to me.

But out of all the darkness, tears, and the
forgetting of what is lost for ever,
the fine features of my friends will
appear briefly to me, before dissolving.


From 'Post-War Russian Poetry',
compiled by Daniel Weissbort,
translated by Elaine Feinstein


Without the two missing stanzas in translated version and the three left out in the song version the poem reads as a lament of someone who lost the pure warmth of young friendships. Just that, no more wasteful outings, chats about nothing, musical get-togethers or sing-alongs to scratchy records. It is all gone and is replaced by an adult focused, purposeful and cold life where old friends have no place. ...

Cardina Points Literary Journal

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