May Day is an odd sort of holiday (where it is treated as such). The day after Walpurgis Night, when the witches fly in many countries, it had many pagan connotations and continued to be a feast in Christian Europe well into the sixteenth and seventeenth century, later in some places.
More recently, however, it had been taken over by the rather notional international workers' movement. Actually, rather a lot of events seems to have taken place on this day including the birth of the great Duke of Wellington in 1769 and the issuance of the first penny black stamp in 1840. Nevertheless, since the 1890s the association between May Day and the international workers' movement has become ever firmer, especially promoted in the various Communist countries and by trade unions in the non-Communist ones.
It seems to me that this is a goo day to recall the many victims of Communism and to remind people of what that international workers' movement really led to.
So, I have been re-reading Anna Akhmatova's Requiem, the great sequence of poems about the years of Yezhovschina, that is the Great Terror, dedicated to its many victims. It seems to me that it is a long time since I translated any Russian poetry and the time has come for a return to that occupation. What better way to start than Akhmatova's wonderful cycle. Completed sections will be posted on the blog but in the meantime, here is the easy bit, the quatrain and the prose introduction, both of which I have posted before in a long blog on EUReferendum2 on the subject of an exhibition of art from Russia in the Royal Academy and the disgracefully mealy-mouthed curating.
No, I did not live under an alien sky
And was not protected by alien wings -
I was then among my own people,
Where my unhappy people were.
INSTEAD OF AN INTRODUCTION
In the terrible years of yezhovschina I spent seventeen months in Leningrad’s prison queues. One day somebody recognized me. The woman immediately behind me, whose lips were blue with cold, and who, presumably, had never heard of me, seemed to shake off the numbness that had overtaken us all. Leaning close to my ear she whispered (we all spoke in whispers):
- And this. Can you write about this?
- Yes I can.
Then something resembling a smile glided across what had once been her face.