On a Certain Epigram by Anna Akhmatova

AkhmatovaAnthony Madrid at The Paris Review:

Here is my own attempt at delivering the thing in all its roguish wit or egomaniacal misogyny:

Could Beatrice master the technique?
Or Laura write a sonnet—? Ach, enough.
I taught these Russian women how to speak.
God! if only I could make ’em all shut up.

One piece of serendipity that keeps nagging at me, which I shall not withhold here: it’s quite possible to make a new, macaronic epigram out of this material, wherein the second half translates the first. You’ll have to read it aloud to see how it strangely rhymes:

Ya nauchila zhenshchin govorit’…
No, Bozhe, kak ikh zamalchat’ zastavit’!
I taught these Russian women how to speak.
Now somebody show me how to make ’em stoppit!

It’s not necessary to read Akhmatova’s first two lines as if she is straightforwardly speaking from her own position, by the way. She may have thought—I’m convinced she did think—that it was obviously possible for a woman to “glorify love’s fire,” “create like Dante,” and so on; she had done it herself. So, when the greatest female poet of all time (in her own eyes and those of others) asks, “Can women write great stuff?” she’s channeling a voice not quite her own.

more here.