Anna Akhmatova's I Don't Ask For Your Love

Akhmatova saw poetry as a high, exacting art, but popular elements in her work made her into a celebrity. Acmeism to Akhmatova was not simply a poetic style but a way of living, a pledge of personal honour.

akhmatova, I don't ask for your love translation

Much of the early poetry was a personalization of fictional incidents, moreover, something the Soviet regime regarded as bourgeois and self-indulgent. Only in the 1960s did the poet really become well-known outside Modernist Russian circles.

Russian Text

Я не любви твоей прошу...

Я не любви твоей прошу.
Она теперь в надежном месте...
Поверь, что я твоей невесте
Ревнивых писем не пишу.

Но мудрые прими советы:
Дай ей читать мои стихи,
Дай ей хранить мои портреты —
Ведь так любезны женихи!

А этим дурочкам нужней
Сознанье полное победы,
Чем дружбы светлые беседы
И память первых нежных дней...

Когда же счастия гроши
Ты проживешь с подругой милой
И для пресыщенной души
Все станет сразу так постыло —

В мою торжественную ночь
Не приходи. Тебя не знаю.
И чем могла б тебе помочь?
От счастья я не исцеляю.


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Analysis of Poem I Don't Ask for your Love

The poem is in iambic tetrameters, rhymed aBBa cDcd, etc.

Я не любви́ твое́й прошу́.     4a
Она́ тепе́рь в надёжном ме́сте...    4B
Пове́рь, что я твое́й неве́сте     4B
Ревни́вых пи́сем не пишу́.     4a

Previous Translations of 'I Don't Ask For Your Love'

Ruverses have five renderings. I give the first stanza of each:

1. Donald Michael Thomas

I won’t beg for you love: it’s laid
Safely to rest, let the earth settle…
Don’t expect my jealous letters
Pouring in to plague your bride.

2. A. S. Kline

I won’t beg for your love.
It’s safely laid aside….
I won’t be penning jealous
Letters to your bride.

3. Andrey Kneller

It’s not your love I seek tonight.
It’s in a safe place now, it’s hidden…
Believe me that I haven’t written
Resentful letters to your bride.

4. Olga Dumer

Your love is not what I request
Your new fiancee keeps it secure.
And jealous letters, rest assured,
I will not send to cause distress.

None of these is really pleasing verse, and/or approximates to thoughts that a young Russian woman would conceivably express.

Starting the Translation

We start by writing simple iambic tetrameters rhymed abab, cdcd, etc.:

Please: love’s not what I’m asking for,
and that's ensconced and safe from me.
Rest assured your fiancee,
won't make some jealous letter war.

But adopt, please, my sound advice,
and let her read the things I wrote,
because all grooms are rather nice,
my portraits too can have her vote.

Such fools need more than triple praise
the talk of triumph, heart’s elation,
to any friendship’s conversation
come fragrances of first sweet days.

But you and her are not to last,
will shrink to pennies in the till,
watch your pretty soul-mate fast
make everything repulsive swill.

And on that solemn night, no less,
don’t come for me, I don’t know you.
There's nothing healing here and less
unhappiness in what I owe you.

Now, for reasons I'll explain in a moment, we convert this to anapaestic trimeters, (as indeed some previous translations have done):

It's not love I’m asking for:
that's safely tucked away if smart.
Recriminations won't start
a jealous letter war.

If, following my advice,
she reads the things I wrote,
because grooms are really nice,
let portraits have her vote.

Such fools need more than praise
and talk of of heart’s elation,
friendship’s conversation,
will be of first sweet days.

You think happiness will last
to pennies in the till,
and not your soul-mate fast
make all repulsive swill?

Don't come on my first night;
there's nothing I O U,
I'm not a healing sight
in happiness to know you.

Because we haven't really captured the sense of the last stanza, which is literally:

On my solemn night
Don't come. I don't know you.
And how could I help you?
I don't heal with happiness.

It may be better to use an abba form for the stanza, and write:

On my solemn night, no less,
don’t come, I don’t know you.
Nothing to help or owe you,
nor heal with happiness.

Final Translation of Akhmatova Poem

Now we have 'thinned' the rendering by eliminating non-essential words, we can rebuild the stanzas in tetrameters, working of course from the original Russian:

It's not your love I’m asking for,
that's safely tucked away if smart.
Your fiancee's not about to start
some 'how I'm wounded' letter war.

Better take my shrewd advice:
let her read the things I wrote,
because you grooms are really nice,
ensure my portraits get her vote.

Such fools like her need more than praise,
their victory is an avocation:
it's likely friendship’s conversation
will touch on our first tender days.

Trust me: when that bliss is spent,
this new sweet living with your friend,
there comes the boredom, at the end
you're shocked to find how fast it went.

For you and her are not to last,
but as poor pennies in the till
your jaded friend becomes, and fast,
a superannuated thrill.

So on my solemn night, no less,
don’t come to me; I don’t know you.
There's nothing here to help or owe you,
and I don't heal with happiness.

References and Resources

1. Bristol, E., A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P.) 210-14.

2. Watchel, M. The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry (C.U.P., 2004) 99-103.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.