Twenty-First. Night. Monday.

Akhmatova, Anna

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jan-22-2003


This translation of Akhmatova’s poem contains only 79 words, including articles and prepositions. There are 12 lines, consisting of a small number of sentences and parts-of-sentences. Why is it worth including in this database?

With a few words, the author sketches the lonely city at night, then comments, "Some good-for-nothing--who knows why--/ made up the tale that love exists on earth." What is the result of this story? Most people, in fact, believe that love exists, and they organize their lives around this belief. They sing, they dance, "they wait eagerly for meetings." The truth that love does not exist is a secret, which only "reveals itself to some . . . " Unfortunately, "I found this out by accident / and now it seems I’m sick all the time." Thus, the poem begins with a fiction (love exists) that seems to make most people happy, and it ends with a fact (love does not exist) that causes sickness rather than happiness. [12 lines]


The poem seems to be saying, the truth will make you sick. What a peculiarly Russian sentiment! What’s going on here? First, note that Akhmatova writes from her home city--Leningrad (or St. Petersburg)--but she identifies it as "the capital." Yet, in Soviet Russia Leningrad was no longer the capital. Which of the two cities, Moscow or Leningrad, is the true capital?

Similarly, which of the two stories about the existence of love is true? Perhaps it is not the truth that love doesn’t exist, which makes the poet sick; but rather the poverty of imagination and storytelling that makes that "truth" possible. There is no love without story.

This translation is by Jane Kenyon, the poet of Otherwise: New and Selected Poems [see annotation]. Its English assumes the simple clarity of Kenyon’s own work, and one must wonder how much of the poem’s stark beauty arises from Akhmatova herself, and how much arises from the translator’s own radiant sensitivity.


Translated from the Russian by Jane Kenyon

Primary Source

Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova


Ally Press/ Eighties Press

Place Published

St. Paul




Jane Kenyon