A land not mine, still

by Anna Akhmatova

English version by Jane Kenyon
Original Language Russian

A land not mine, still
forever memorable,
the waters of its ocean
chill and fresh.

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine,
late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.

Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.

-- from Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I was thinking about which poem to select in honor of International Women's Day. My first thought was to select a poem in honor of the Goddess, the feminine face of the Divine, a poem to the primal Woman. Perhaps a poem addressed to Kali or Durga or maybe one of the pre-Christian goddesses of Europe. But I also wanted something written by a woman poet, and most of the poems in adoration of the Goddess that came to mind are by men. I started scanning through the women poets on the Poetry Chaikhana, and I realized that it has been far too long since I last highlighted a poem by the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Her writing and her life embody so much of the strength of women in a complex and often harsh world, while courageously retaining a vision of the inner life and the aspirations of the human spirit.


This is a favorite poem of mine from Anna Akhmatova. Though she wrote during some of the bleakest times of Soviet Russia, there are moments of radiant -- one might even say, transcendent -- joy that emerges in her poems.

A land not mine, still
forever memorable...


There is something of the mystic's experience in these lines. An ocean. Light. Deep rest and the sense of life. A brilliant white. Wine...

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine...


Soon, you find yourself asking, Is the day ending, or the world? Ultimately, it is you who are ending. The train of mental chatter has come to a halt. The world and what you called yourself are not as you thought at all, and both are new and alive and too vast to be called your own.

Then you know that the secret of secrets is within you. And it is so deeply familiar you must have known it before, and it is there again.

I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.



Recommended Books: Anna Akhmatova

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova Poems of Akhmatova Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems





A land not mine