Wild honey smells like freedom,
dust – like a ray of sun.
Violets – like a girl’s mouth,
and gold smells like nothing.
Honeysuckle smells like water,
and an apple – like love.
But finally we’ve understood
that blood just smells like blood.
And in vain the president from Texas
washed his hands in front of the people,
while cameras flashed and correspondents shouted;
and the British minister tried to scrub
the red splashes from his narrow palms
in the basement bathroom, outside
the strangers bar, in the Palace of Westminster.
Notes on this poem
This translation was commissioned by the Southbank Centre for a celebration of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova in 2004. poet Jo Shapcott writes of the commission ‘I was given Akhmatova’s most famous poems, ‘Wild Honey’, to work on. I stayed as close as possible to the tight beautiful images she creates for the first half of the poem. In the second half’s he uses the figure of Pontius Pilate, washing his hands in front of the people. I changed him to George Bush, reasoning (rightly of wrongly, I don’t know) thats he might have spoken more freely if she could; and since I live in a more open time and place, then I should.’