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Selections

On a Monday morning the bus stopped, as a herd of reindeer scattered in front of it. I could not see the reindeer at first, but when we looked out of the window, we could see a reindeer running through the snow towards the sea. The reindeer…the snow…the sea… We can never live this again.

De Profundis is the name given to a letter composed by Oscar Wilde between January and March of 1897 while serving his term for gross indecency at Reading prison. The title for the letter was subsequently provided by Robert Ross, a friend, former lover, and literary executor of Oscar Wilde. 1905, five years after Wilde’s death, marks the date of its original English publication. I note the English publication here as a German publication preceded the English version by roughly two weeks. I cannot help but wonder what Ross thought of this German edition. Although, it must be said Ross was a man of extraordinary compassion. The title, De Profundis, comes from Psalms 130 as, “From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord.” De Profundis—from the depths—from the depths of despair.

Like “At Work,” the sequence for “A Russian Poet” is part of a larger collection of vignettes shared between myself and the photographer Wes Kline. I have forgotten why I chose to read Akhmatova’s Selected Poems, though her line “It was a bad time for heart” hasn’t been easy to shake. As much as I go on finding myself in Akhmatova’s moments, there are depths to her work I will never reach. My lack of Russian language is a significant barrier. I remember reading Death of Ivan Ilyich as an undergraduate, being told then there are layers to Tolstoy’s novella that our English speaking hearts cannot penetrate. So be it. We can still have hope that translations might touch our hearts in a way that even the poet would be moved. The translations here are my own, though translation is not the best word. Perhaps assemblages? Re-shaping? Giving it a shot? If nothing more, I did have the benefit of a Russian speaker and translator who transcribed as literarily as possible the Russian originals for me, which gave me a reasonable starting point. For the period I was reading them, Akhmatova’s poems made hard days more bearable. And that’s enough reason to keep reading—to make hard days more bearable.