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

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.

This particular poem conveys the powerful, yet utterly intimate experience of many mystics in the ecstatic state.

Often, there is a perception of “water.” It is seen as white or golden, shining. It is as if one is embraced by a living golden ocean, floating in it.

And there is also a sense of drinking, or of a subtle liquid or sweet "air" flowing gently down the back of the throat. There is an awareness of sweetness almost tasted on the palette that can have a divinely inebriating quality. Akhmatova speaks of drinking air "like wine."

She refers to the sun -- light, radiance everywhere.

Soon, you find yourself asking, Is the day ending, or the world? Ultimately, you find it is you who are ending. The train of mental chatter has come to a screeching halt, and you are surprised to find how much that busyness of thought had restricted your perception, allowing you only brief, blurred glimpses. 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.

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