Анна Александровна Баркова

Anna Alexandrovna Barkova

(1901 - 1976)




Anna Alexandrovna Barkova (16 July 1901 – 29 April 1976) was born in Ivanovo – Voznesensk. where her father worked as a watchman at the gymnasium. Barkova was later to attend the same school herself.

She began publishing in local papers in 1918, and soon was able to place her work with major literary journals. In 1922 the first and, as it turned out, only collection of her poetry was published. Its title was Woman, and it had a preface by Anatoly Lunacharsky, People’s Commissar of Enlightenment.

After moving to Moscow, Barkova went on to publish work in Krasnaya nov, Novy mir, and many other major literary journals: from 1924 to 1929 she worked for the Communist Party daily Pravda.

But then came difficult times. Berkova had a rebellious character, and she was unable t keep silent or to say “yes” when her heart cried “no”. In December 1934 she was sentenced to five years in the camps. In 1939 she was freed, but sent to exile; then in 1947 she was again arrested, and given a further sentence, this time to ten years. She was sent to the Far North, and it was there, in one of the camps, that we met.

There were many remarkable people in the camp where we were serving our sentences, but even here Anna Alexandrovna’s original mind and scathing tongue made her stand out.

She was a small, ugly woman, with a cunning look in her narrowed eyes;she wore a oversized prison jacket and padded knee socks, and always had a hand-rolled cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She didn’t have any relatives “outside”, so she had no one to send her parcels or money. But she never complained; she was unfailingly courageous, and never lost her sense of humor.

Barkova was released in 1956, and went back to Moscow, but there was no welcome for her in the capital. All her efforts to get a residence permit or somewhere to live were in vain. Finally she agreed to go off with a friend of hers from the camps and find somewhere to live in the provinces. Bus this time Berkova was officially rehabilitated.

The friend was a dressmaker who worked from home. One of her clients decided to get out of paying a bill by denouncing this woman and Barkova to the authorities. Other “witnesses” also came forward to testify that the two had “disseminated slander about the Soviet press and radio”. So in 1957 Barkova and her friend got yet another ten-year sentence – and all because a bill for 120 rubles.

In 1965 Anna Alexandrovna was rehabilitated  for this “crime”. As someone in poor health without relatives to care for her. she was placed in a home for the disabled in Mordovia. However, after the intervention of two well-placed writers, Konstantin Fedin and Alexander Tvardovsky, she was able to return to Moscow. She was allocated a room in a communal apartment in the center of the city and a small pension.

Every morning (“It’s like going to work”, she would say) she went to the Dom Knigi bookshop on Kalinin Prospect; she spent her entire pension  on books. Books filled her whole room. Someone had given her an old refrigerator, but she never turned it on; even that had been pressed into services as a bookcase…

Anna Alexandrovna offered her poems to several Moscow literary magazines, but no one would take them: they were “not life-affirming and lacked optimism”.

Although she was a difficult and prickly person, Barkova was never lonely: her company was always in demand, and she was popular with young people too.

It is very difficult to track down Berkova’s poems: many are probably lost for good. How many scraps of paper covered in her decisive, angular hand must have been swept up, scattered, and carried off by the “winds of Russia”!


IRINA UGRIMOVA                                               

       NADEXHDA ZVEZDOCHOTOVA                          


from: “Till my Tale is told – Women’s memoirs of the Gulag”, edited by Simeon Vilensky, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1999 ISBN 0-253-33464-0






Biographie en Français


Poemi in Italiano


Biography in Russian


Poems in Russian




Нечто автобиографическое

В коллективной яме, без гробницы,
Я закончу жизненный свой путь.
Полустертые мои страницы,
Может быть, отыщет кто-нибудь.
И придется чудаку по нраву
Едкость злых, царапающих строк,
И решит он: — Вот достойный славы
Полугений и полупророк.
А по окончаниям глагольным
Я скажу, что то была она,
Беспокойна, вечно недовольна
И умом терзающим умна.
Пусть ученики мои обрыщут
Все заброшенные чердаки,
И они, надеюсь я, отыщут
Письмена загадочной руки
И найдут, разрывши хлам бумажный,
Очень много всякой чепухи.
И к моим грехам припишут важно
И чужие скучные грехи.
Уж они сумеют постараться,
В поученье людям и себе,
Написать десятки диссертаций
О моей заглохнувшей судьбе.
Педантично, страстно и дотошно
Наплодят гипотез всяких тьму,
Так что в общей яме станет тошно,
Станет тошно праху моему.
За таинственное преступленье
Кто из нас проникнет в эту тьму? —
Поэтессу нашу, к сожаленью,
В каторжную бросили тюрьму,
Нет нигде малейшего намека,
Что она свершила и зачем.
Верно, преступленье столь жестоко,
Что пришлось бы содрогнуться всем.
А в тюрьме ее, как видно, били
Это мненье частное мое),
Но ученики ее любили,
Чтили почитатели ее.
Вывод из отрывка номер восемь:
Спас ее какой-то меценат.
Но установить не удалось нам
Обстоятельств всех и точных дат.
И в дальнейшем (там же) есть пробелы,
Нам гадать придется много лет:
За какое сумрачное дело
Пострадал блистательный поэт.
Не поэт простите! — поэтесса!
Впрочем, если углубиться в суть,
То и здесь какая-то завеса
К истине нам преграждает путь.
Едкий ум, не знающий пощады,
О, коллеги, не мужской ли ум?
О, душа, отмеченная хладом,
Нрав сухой и жгучий, как самум.
С женственностью это все несхоже.
Факты надо! Факты нам на стол!
А когда мы факты приумножим,
Мы определим лицо и пол.
Сколько здесь волнующих моментов,
Сколько завлекательнейших тем!
В поиски! Ловите документы,
Строчки прозы, писем и поэм!
Кажется, поэт достиг предела
Творчества, и славы, и годов.
И за честь покоить его тело
Спорили десятки городов.
Но его похоронила втайне
Прозелитов преданных толпа.
Их вела по городской окраине
К месту погребения тропа.
Ночь их звездным трауром покрыла,
Пламенели факелы в пути...
Только знаменитую могилу
До сих пор не можем мы найти.
Тут с негодованьем мои кости
О чужие кости застучат:
Я лежу на северном погосте.
Лжешь постыдно, наглый кандидат.
Знаю, что на доктора ты метишь,
С важностью цитатами звеня.
Но в твоем паршивом винегрете
Мой читатель не найдет меня.
В пол мужской за гробом записали...
Я всегда, всю жизнь была она,
Меценатов к черту! Не спасали
Меценаты в наши времена.
И учеников я не имела,
И никто в тюрьме меня не бил,
И за самое смешное дело
Смехотворный суд меня судил.
Я жила средь молодежи глупой
И среди помешанных старух.
От тюремного пустого супа
Угасали плоть моя и дух.
Факельное шествие к могиле
Выдумка бездарная твоя.
В яму коллективную свалили
Пятерых, таких же, как и я.

Октябрь 1953


A Few Autobiographical Facts


In a common pit, without a headstone,

I shall finish walking my life's road.

The pages of my writings, rubbed and faded,

May be found by someone in the end;

Perhaps he’ll be insane enough to like them,

To like the vicious prickles of my verse,

'Genius and power of prophecy suffice here.,

He'll say. 'to make this stuff a name of sorts.

And by the verb and adjective agreement

I’d say it was a woman who wrote these texts,

She was a restless soul and nothing pleased her ,

But she'd a sharp, a fierce intelligence.

I'll send my pupils round the dusty attics,

Yes. all the dusty attics in the town.

With luck they'll find, I hope, some other matter

That’s written in the same, though unknown. hand.

The students sift the heaped-up sheets of paper .

And grab assorted refuse by the ton.

Mixing the sins I actually committed

With other people's dull and trifling ones.

All in good time these pupils get to work and-

Enlightening themselves, enlightening others too-

They write their dissertations by the dozen

About my life, sunk in obscureness now.

Their style's by turn gushing, dull, or dogmatic,

From day to day hypotheses they mint,

So in my common pit I'm fit to vomit,

O, fit to vomit with the tripe they print.

For reasons that the years have cloaked in mystery

(For who can map the darkness of those times?)

This poetess, we're loath to tell our readers,

Was flung into a labour camp, it seems.

Records allow us to make no suggestion

Of how and for what reason she transgressed;

Without a doubt her action was detestable,

A crime that would make the law-abiding gasp.

And whilst in prison, she was often beaten

(So, at any rate, we may suppose),

But her disciples all showed her devotion,

And her students loved her none the less.

From Fragment Number Eight we may construe that

A patron of the arts came to her aid;

But the paucity of evidence is such that

We cannot speculate on names and dates.

The other texts (q.v.) all have lacunae

So that the work of many future years

Is requisite if scholars are to pinpoint

The reasons why this poet suffered thus.

Oh! Poetess", not ..poet"! Please excuse me!

But wait a moment! Let us pause for thought!

Might it not be that there is some confusion,

Might my mistaken not guide us to the truth?

This intellect, so bitter and unsparing,

Dear colleagues-surely it is masculine?

Cool clarity of spirit so unwavering,

The manner caustic, dry , as desert winds-

Yes, all quite foreign to a woman's nature:

Colleagues! We ought to track down all the facts,

And when the evidence is on the table,

We may determine character and sex.

How much there is in this that's truly touching!

How much of general interest in these themes!

Well, to the documents! Begin researching!

Gather the verse, prose, letters, all in reams!

It seems our poet attained the furthest boundaries

Of fame, poetic genius, and old age;

And every town in Russia wished to tender

For the chance to be his final resting-place;

But his bones were buried in deep secret

And proselytes in their devoted crowds

Walked to the place of burial beside him

Along a little path outside a town.

They were decked by the night in starry robes of mourning,

Torches were lit along the coffin's way...

But regretfully I must inform you

That we have yet to find the famous grave.

' But here my bones ring out in indignation,

Beating against a stranger' s in the pit:

What's this? I'm buried in a northern graveyard!

You filthy hack, you're lying through your teeth!

I know that your parade of erudition

Is meant to net you a professorship;

But readers who want to know what I have written

Won't find me in your fly-blown vinaigrette.

Beyond the grave they've given me a sex-change,

When all my life, each hour, I was a she!

Patrons- to hell with them. What use were patrons

In the days that I was forced to see?

And I never had a single pupil

And they didn't beat me in the gaol;

I was condemned by a ludicrous tribunal,

And my ..crime" was just as laughable.

I lived amongst young women who were stupid

And old ones who were senile and ran mad;

And the watery prison soup they fed me

Made my flesh dry up, my spirit fade.

The funeral procession and the torches

Are all a figment of your clichéd brain-

In a common pit my body rotted,

Whilst alongside five others did the same.’






Тоска татарская

Волжская тоска моя татарская,
Давняя и древняя тоска,
Доля моя нищая и царская,
Степь, ковыль, бегущие века.

По солёной казахстанской степи
Шла я с непокрытой головой.
Жаждущей травы предсмертный лепет,
Ветра и волков угрюмый вой.

Так идти без дум и без боязни,
Без пути, на волчьи на огни,
К торжеству, позору или казни,
Тратя силы, не считая дни.

Позади колючая преграда,
Выцветший, когда-то красный флаг,
Впереди - погибель, месть, награда,
Солнце или дикий гневный мрак.

Гневный мрак, пылающий кострами, -
То горят большие города,
Захлебнувшиеся в гнойном сраме,
В муках подневольного труда.

Всё сгорит, всё пеплом поразвеется.
Отчего ж так больно мне дышать?
Крепко ты сроднилась с европейцами,
Тёмная татарская душа.


Tatar Anguish


Tatar anguish. anguish of the Volga.

Grief from far-away and ancient times.

Fate I share with beggars and with royalty,

Steppe and steppe-grass. ages gallop by.


On the salty Kazakh steppeland

I walk, head bare beneath the skies;

The mutter of grass dying of hunger,

The dreary howl of wolves and wind.


So let me walk, fearless, unthinking.

On unmarked paths, by wolfsbane clumps.

To triumph, to shame, to execution,

Heeding no time, saving no strength.


At my back lies a palisade of barbs,

A faded flag, which once was red;

Before me, death. revenge. Rewards,

The sun, or a savage, angry dusk.


The angry twilight glows with bonfires,

Great cities blaze. put to the flames;

Knowing slave labour's agonies.

They choke and putrefy with shame.


All is alight, all flies to ash.

Yet why should breathing hurt me so?

Closely you cleave to Europe’s flesh,

Dark Tatar soul.







Translations from An Anthology of Russian Women’s Writing, 1777-1992, edited by Catriona Kelly, Oxford University Press, 1994.



Ты опять стоишь на перепутье,

Мой пророческий, печальный дух,

Перед чем-то с новой властной жутью

Напрягаешь зрение и слух.


Не родилось, но оно родится,

Не пришло, но с торжеством придет.

Ожиданье непрерывно длится,

Ожиданье длится и растет.


И последняя минута грянет,

Полыхнет ее последний миг,

И земля смятенная восстанет,

Изменяя свой звериный лик.



Ancora fermo a un bivio,

mio afflitto spirito profetico,

acuisci vista e udito davanti a che?

Ancora un nuovo superbo errore.


Non dovrebbe, ma nasce,

non dovrebbe, ma giunge solenne.

Senza fine si prolunga l'attesa,

si prolunga e cresce.


Scoccherà l'ultimo attimo,

e la sua frazione deflagrerà,

insorgerà la terra stravolta,

alterando il suo volto ferino.


Traduzione trovata qui             


Белая ночь. Весенняя ночь.

Падает северный майский снег.

Быстро иду от опасности прочь

На арестантский убогий ночлег.


В душном бараке смутная тьма,

На сердце смута и полубред.

Спутано все здесь: весна и зима,

Спутано «да» с замирающим «нет»,




Notte bianca. Notte di primavera

Cade neve nordica di maggio.

Fuggo via dal pericolo

Verso lo squallido alloggio dei detenuti.


La baracca afosa in una torbida oscurità

Il cuore ribelle e delirante,

Si confonde tutto qui: primavera e inverno 

Un sì con un no smorzato.


Traduzione trovata qui             





Где верность какой-то отчизне
И прочность родимых жилищ?
Вот каждый стоит перед жизнью -
Могуч, беспощаден и нищ.


Вспомянем с недоброй улыбкой
Блужданья наивных отцов.
Была роковою ошибкой
Игра дорогих мертвецов.


С покорностью рабскою дружно
Мы вносим кровавый пай
Затем, чтоб построить ненужный
Железобетонный рай.


Живет за окованной дверью
Во тьме наших странных сердец
Служитель безбожных мистерий,
Великий страдалец и лжец.




What’s the point of faith to some fatherland,

Why pretend that we’ve one settled home?

Now, facing life’s judgement, each one of us

Is merciless, indigent, strong.


With a sneer of disapprobation,

We’ll remember our fathers’ mistakes;

We know now that our sainted relations

Were gambling for worthless stakes.


And with a slave’s quiescence

We shall pay our blood-stained toll,

In order to build a useless

Heaven of concrete and steel.


Behind a door hoped with iron

In the dark of our tortuous hearts

A priest conducts godless rituals,

A suffering saint, and a liar.








Пропитаны кровью и желчью

Наша жизнь и наши дела.

Ненасытное сердце волчье

Нам судьба роковая дала.

Разрываем зубами, когтями,

Убиваем мать и отца,

Не швыряем в ближнего камень-

Пробиваем пулей сердца.

А! Об этом думать не надо?

Не надо—ну так изволь:

Подай мне всеобщую радость

На блюде, как хлеб и соль.




Scarlet blood and yellow bile

Feed our life, and all we do;

Malignant fate has given us

Hearts insatiable as wolves,

Teeth and claws we use to maul

And tear our mothers and our fathers;

No, we do not stone our neighbours,

Our bullets rip their hearts in two.

Oh! Better not to think like this?

Very well, then – as you wish.

Then hand me universal joy,

Like bread and salt upon a dish.








Жил в чулане, в избушке, без печки,

В Иудее и Древней Греции.

«Мне б немного тепла овечьего,

Серной спичкой могу согреться».


Он смотрел на звездную россыпь,

В нищете своей жизнь прославил.

Кто сгубил жизнелюба Осю,

А меня на земле оставил?


Проклинаю я жизнь такую,

Но и смерть ненавижу истово,

Неизвестно, чего взыскующ,

Неизвестно, зачем воинствую.


И, наверно, в суде последнем

Посмеюсь про себя ядовито,

Что несут серафимы бредни

И что арфы у них разбиты.


И что мог бы Господь до Процесса

Все доносы и дрязги взвесить.

Что я вижу? Главного беса

На прокурорском месте.




He lived in a cold back garret

In Judea, in ancient Greece.

“I shall borrow the warmth of a lamb’s breath,

Warm my blood with a match’s heat.”


He gazed at the constellations,

Was a beggar, sang hymns to life;

Who murdered Osip, * life’s lover,

Yet chose to leave me alive?


With all my heart I curse life,

But just as intently hate death.

Who knows for what I am searching,

Who knows for what reason I battle on?


No doubt on the Day of Judgement

I shall laugh to myself in contempt

When I hear the seraphs talk nonsense,

And see that their harpstrings are frayed.


The refuse of denunciation

Has seen sifted by God himself,

And the acting Procurator

Is the Master and Chief of the Devils.


22 January 1976

* The poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the Vladivostok transit camp in 1938.





Героям нашего времени
Не двадцать, не тридцать лет.
Тем не выдержать нашего времени,

Мы герои, веку ровесники,
Совпадают у нас шаги.
Мы и жертвы, и провозвестники,
И союзники, и враги.

Ворожили мы вместе с Блоком,
Занимались высоким трудом.
Золотистый хранили локон
И ходили в публичный дом.

Разрывали с народом узы
И к народу шли в должники.
Надевали толстовские блузы,
Вслед за Горьким брели в босяки.

Мы испробовали нагайки
Староверских казацких полков
И тюремные грызли пайки
У расчетливых большевиков.

Трепетали, заводя ромбы
И петлиц малиновый цвет,
От немецкой прятались бомбы,
На допросах твердили «нет».

Мы всё видели, так мы выжили,
Биты, стреляны, закалены,
Нашей родины злой и униженной
Злые дочери и сыны.





The Heroes of our Time

Our time has its own heroes,

Not twenty, not thirty years old.

Such could not bear this burden,



We’re the heroes, born with the century,

Walking in step with the years;

We are victims, we’re prophets and heralds,

Allies and enemies.


We cast spells with Blok the magician,

We fought the noble fight,

We treasured one blond curl as keepsake,

And slunk to brothels at night.


We struck off our chains with “the people”,

And proclaimed ourselves in their debt;

Like Gorky, we wandered with beggars;

Like Tolstoy, we wore peasant shirts.


The troops of Old Belief Cossacks

Bruised our backs with their flails,

And we gnawed at the meagre portions

Served to us in Bolshevik jails.


We shook when we saw diamond emblems

or collars of raspberry hue:

We sheltered from German bombardment

And answered our inquisitors, “No!”


We’ve seen everything, and survived it,

We sere shot, beaten, tempered like steel;

The embittered sons, angry daughters,

Of a country embittered, brought low.







Я не сплю. Заревели бураны

С неизвестной забытой поры,

А цветные шатры Тамерлана

Там, в степях... И костры, и костры.


Возвратиться б монгольской царицей

В глубину пролетевших веков,

Привязала б к хвосту кобылицы

Я любимых своих и врагов.


Поразила бы местью дикарской
Я тебя, завоеванный мир...

Побежденным в шатре своем царском

Я устроила б варварский пир.


А потом бы в одном из сражений,

Из неслыханных оргийных сеч

В неизбежный момент пораженья

Я упала б на собственный меч.


Что, скажите, мне в этом толку,

Что я женщина и поэт?

Я взираю тоскующим волком

В глубину пролетевших лет.


И сгораю от жадности странной

И от странной, от дикой тоски.

А шатры и костры Тамерлана

От меня далеки, далеки.


Караганда, 1935


In the Prison-Camp Barracks


I can’t sleep, and blizzards are howling

In a time that has left no trace,

And Tamburlaine’s gaudy pavilions

Strew the steppes… Bonfires blaze, bonfires blaze.


Let me go, like a Mongol tsaritsa,

To the depths of the years that have fled;

I’d lash to the tail of my steppe mare

My enemies, lovers, and friends.


And you, the world that I’d conquered,

My savage revenge would lay waste;

While in my pavilion the fallen

Ate the barbarous meats of my feast.


And then, at one of the battles –

Unimaginable orgy of blood –

And defeat’s ineluctable moment

I’d throw myself on my own sword.


So I am a woman, a poet:

Now, tell me: what purpose has that?

Angry and sad as a she-wolf

I gaze at the years that are past.


And burn with a strange savage hunger,

And burn with a strange savage rage.

I am far from Tamburlaine’s bonfires,

His tents are far away, far away.



Karaganda 1935





Помилуй, боже, ночные души.

Не помню чье

Прости мою ночную душу
И пожалей.
Кругом всё тише, и всё глуше,
И всё темней.

Я отойду в страну удушья,
В хмарь ноября.
Прости мою ночную душу,
Любовь моя.

Спи. Сон твой хочу подслушать,
Тревог полна.
Прости мою ночную душу
В глубинах сна.





Forgive, O Lord, nocturnal spirits

(I don’t remember who wrote this)


Forgive me, my nocturnal spirit,

Take pit now,

All around it’s quieter, thicker,

The darkness grows.


I’m travelling to asphyxiation

To November fogs.

Forgive me my nocturnal spirit,

My only love.


Sleep. I’ll eavesdrop on your reveries,

Full of disquiet.

Forgive me my nocturnal spirit

Wherever you are.


            21 January 1976





The last six poems were translated by Catriona Kelly, translations found in “Till my Tale is told – Women’s memoirs of the Gulag”, edited by Simeon Vilensky, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1999 ISBN 0-253-33464-0