Akhmatova Beriosa

“Beriosa” is one of the most beautiful words that I know. It is Russian for birch tree.

Not that Anna Akhmatova was named Beriosa, that is my tribute to her, attaching the most beautiful word to the most wondrous woman.

She was the Russian poet who refused to flee her country when most other intellectuals scrambled for France and survival. “No,” she said. “I will stay, endure, and bear witness.”

Svetlana Stalin, the despot’s daughter, loved Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, and this was probably the one factor that kept Anna alive through the various Stalin purges.

The legend has it that when Anna returned to St. Petersburg (Leningrad, then) from Vladivostok after the Second World War, she stopped off in Moscow, where she took in the ballet one night. Spotted, she was prevailed upon to, after the performance, take the stage and recite some of her poems.

Once she finished her perhaps fifteen minutes or so impromptu recital the audience, to a man, rose, and gave her an equally long ovation. She was that loved.

When Joseph heard of this his only question was: “Who organized the ovation?”

To have had the courage to stare down this regime, with nothing but poems as weapons, and to survive.

Well, that was Akhmatova Beriosa.

This song is my tribute to her.

The Words:

Once upon a clearing
in among the birches
smiling like a lost and
inconsolable muse

I had brought a question:
Would you come to Paris?
Leaving now with us
you know they won’t refuse

You said: I will
be of no use there

Falling on my knees then
ear against your belly
opening the door
to my confusion and hurt:

What good will you do here
one among so many?
What amount of hell
can you alone avert?

You said: I will
never desert them

Stillborn on my tongue
I found my promise unsaid
and bound for France
the night I fled

It lingers like a poison
this betrayal
this dream undone:

We will never face them
as one

I can still recall you
standing in that clearing
regal as a mountainside
and as apart

That is how I left you
forested with silence
finding then your voice again
as I depart

You said: I will
follow my heart true

You said: I will stay
endure and bear witness

Ulf Wolf
October 2003/February 2015
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