The first book of a poet should be called Stone
Or Evening, expressing in a single word
The modesty of being part of the earth,
The goodness of evening and stone, beyond the poet.
The second book should have a name blushing
With a great generality, such as My Sister Life,
Shocking in its pride, even more in its modesty:
Exasperated, warm, teasing, observant, tender.
Later books should withdraw into a mysterious
Privacy such as we all make for ourselves:
The White Stag or Plantain. Or include the name
Of the place at which his book falls open.
There is also the seventh book, perhaps, the seventh,
And called The Seventh Book because it is not published,
The one that a child thinks he could have written,
Made of the firmest stone and clearest leaves,
That a people keep alive by, keep alive.
A fine tribute to the indomitable spirit of Russian poetry and the poets who kept faith with it during the Stalinist era while undergoing the kind of persecution that makes at least one English poet reflect that being of no interest whatsoever to the state or media may not be so bad after all…
It is perhaps unnecessary to explain that ‘Stone’ was the title of Osip Mandelstam’s first collection, ‘Evening’ was the title of Anna Akhmatova’s first collection, ‘My Sister Life’ was the title of Boris Pasternak’s second collection, ‘Plantain’ and ‘Seventh Book’ were further collections by Akhmatova; the last named was never separately published.