I wrung my hands under my dark veil by Anna Akhmatova (1911)
Translated by Stanley Kunitz
I wrung my hands under my dark veil. . .
“Why are you pale, what makes you reckless?”
— Because I have made my loved one drunk
with an astringent sadness.
I’ll never forget. He went out, reeling;
his mouth was twisted, desolate. . .
I ran downstairs, not touching the banisters,
and followed him as far as the gate.
And shouted, choking: “I meant it all
in fun. Don’t leave me, or I’ll die of pain.”
He smiled at me — oh so calmly, terribly —
I find this poem deeply moving. We begin with anguish in the twisting of her hands and the wearing of a “dark veil”. Is she in mourning? Is she in hiding? The emotions are not concealed but rather revealed in the concise step by step of her ravaging torment. This is such a cinematic moment. She is all consuming. Her veiled body and face is undisclosed to us and yet her distress is so apparent. This gesture of wringing one’s hands is surely about having absolutely no idea what to do with oneself. You will go mad with the uncontrollable emotion surging through you. She is not alone because a voice asks her: “Why are you pale, what makes you reckless?” I’m not so sure it is the lover asking. I think we are asking. I think we are so transfixed by her anguish that we call out our question. I see now her white face from behind her dark veil. She is a spectre of suffering. Yet she is not a victim. The second question contained in that second line suggests she is an assailant. She takes full and complete responsibility in her answer in the final two lines of the quatrain: “I have made my loved one drunk/ with an astringent sadness.” The beloved intoxicates the lover usually with inspiration and ecstasy and insatiable hunger; not typically with a caustic wretchedness. Unless of course it is not equally requited. What haunts me is, if this is a result of her deliberate actions then why the hand wringing at the start of the poem? It is high drama at its best with the tension imploding her into a state of dark transformation…
Extract from The Alchemy of Poetry
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
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The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction