This poem above is actually a very loose translation of “Wild Honey” by the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.
The slightly altered title here is an acknowledgement of just how loose the translation is. The poem’s original was written (I think) in 1933. Stalin had been in power for around a decade and his purges were beginning.
I do not know Russian and have worked instead from other English translations, principally those by Jo Shapcott (as reproduced by “Moderrn Poetry in Translation) and Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky (as reproduced by the Indiana Review, Indiana University).
Akhmatova’s first verse, or section, is the more famous and the second is often left out of reproductions of her poem.
In that second section, Akhmatova uses two images of an unworthy leader : the first, Pontius Pilate (who washed his hands) ; the second, Mary Queen of Scots (who is suspected of being party to the murder of Lord Darnley). The poet would perhaps have preferred to refer more directly to Stalin, if she had been free to.
In the second section here, I go largely my own way and refer to my own time and country for images of unworthy leadership. In this, I am partly following Jo Shapcott’s example. But whereas her second section refers to the Iraq war, mine refers to the UK, in 2020. In doing so, I have no intention of implying that Mr Johnson’ s deployment of power is as tyrannical as Stalin’s, or includes Stalin’s murderousness. I am just observing a similar kind of fealty to the irresponsible Self and to the Lie.