Anna Akhmatova: Poems
By: Anna Akhmatova
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
A legend in her own time both for her brilliant poetry and for her resistance to oppression, Anna Akhmatova—denounced by the Soviet regime for her “eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference”—is one of the greatest Russian poets of the twentieth century. Before the revolution, Akhmatova was a wildly popular young poet who lived a bohemian life. She was one of the leaders of a movement of poets whose ideal was “beautiful clarity”—in her deeply personal work, themes of love and mourning are conveyed with passionate intensity and economy, her voice by turns tender and fierce. A vocal critic of Stalinism, she saw her work banned for many years and was expelled from the Writers’ Union—condemned as “half nun, half harlot.” Despite this censorship, her reputation continued to flourish underground, and she is still among Russia’s most beloved poets. Here are poems from all her major works—including the magnificent “Requiem” commemorating the victims of Stalin’s terror—and some that have been newly translated for this edition.
So I was introduced to Anna Akhmatova when I was completing my first two degrees, and actually wrote about her as part of my Masters thesis. Funnily enough though I never actually read any of her work, maybe a poem or two as I was researching. So when I was perusing through the poetry books, I decided to finally pick up her poems to read.
Well suffice to say this was a stunning collection of poems spanning from all of her major works. The themes she tackles range from love and loneliness to life and fate, Russia and survival. Having studied her life and her thoughts as a poet, I did find myself analysing her poetry a bit and was pleased to read those poems she wrote about her experiences during the Second World War and her move to Tashkent. I had a few favourites scattered throughout the collection that sadly I did not mark to post here, but I was rather surprised by the last poem that was included, “Poem Without a Hero” as it was markedly different from her other poems up to that point; it felt like a frenzy reading it, I was very surprised that she had it memorised for so long without writing it down.
Anyway, I don’t know what else to say about her poems really except that they are well worth checking out. I can see now why she is so revered amongst the 20th century Russian poets; I just wish I had read them sooner!