Final Meeting: Selected Poetry of Anna Akhmatova (7 page)

BOOK: Final Meeting: Selected Poetry of Anna Akhmatova
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И тихо идут по Неве корабли.


Март 1940

Фонтанный Дом




I’ve come to know how tired faces shrivel,

How fear, from underneath the eyelids, peeks,

How suffering and torment leaves a scribble

Of cuneiform across the dried up cheeks,

I’ve seen how dark or ash-blond strands of hair

Would unexpectedly turn silver soon thereafter,

How smiles fade from the submissive stares,

And terror trembles in the hollow laughter.

And now I pray, not for myself, but all

Who stood beside me, on that very street,

Beneath the blind and towering red wall,

Through bitter chill and scorching July heat.




The hour of remembrance is here once again.

I see, I hear, I feel you near, my friends:

The one by the window, who could barely stand,

The one, who no longer walks on this land,

She flung back her hair, as she said with a tear:

“I feel like I’m home every time I come here.”

I wish I could call each by name, but the list

Was taken away and no longer exists.

For all of them, I wove this gorgeous shawl

From fragments of phrases I took from them all.

I think of them always, wherever I go.

I'll never forget them in new times of woe.

And soon, when my mouth is sealed once again, -

The mouth that screamed for a million men, -

Let them remember me in a similar way, -

On the eve of my future memorial day.

And if, in this country, they come to agree

To raise up a statue in remembrance of me,

I’ll grant my consent to this fine celebration –

Only if promised that it never be stationed

In the land of my birth, by the picturesque coast,

(My last link to the sea has already been lost),

And not in Tsar’s garden, by the sacred old tree,

Where the grief–stricken shadow is looking for me,

But here, where I stood for three hundred hours,

Where the strong iron bars obstructed the towers.

For even in death, I’m afraid to forget

The way black marias clanged up ahead,

The way the gate shut when it was released,

As the old woman wailed like a wounded beast.

And there, unexpectedly, teardrops will flow

From the eyelids of bronze with the melting of snow,

And prison-yard pigeons will rise to the sky,

As the ships, on the Neva, pass quietly by.


March 1940

Fontannyi Dom


Anna Andreyevna Akhmatova was born Anna Gorenko into an upper-class family in Odessa, the Ukraine, in 1889. Her interest in poetry began in her youth, but when her father found out about her aspirations, he told her not to shame the family name by becoming a "decadent poetess". He forced her to take a pen name, and she chose the last name of her maternal great-grandmother. She attended law school in Kiev and married Nikolai Gumilev, a poet and critic, in 1910. Shortly after the marriage, he travelled to Abyssinia, leaving her behind. While Gumilev was away, Akhmatova wrote many of the poems that would be published in her popular first book,
. Her son Lev was also born in 1912. He was raised by his paternal grandmother, who disliked Akhmatova. Akhmatova protested this situation, but her husband supported his family. She would visit with her son during holidays and summer. Later, Akhmatova would write that "motherhood is a bright torture. I was not worthy of it."


's publication in 1912, Akhmatova became a cult figure among the intelligentsia and part of the literary scene in St. Petersburg. Her second book,
(1914), was critically acclaimed and established her reputation. With her husband, she became a leader of Acmeism, a movement which praised the virtues of lucid, carefully-crafted verse and reacted against the vagueness of the Symbolist style which dominated the Russian literary scene of the period. She and Gumilev divorced in 1918. Akhmatova married twice more, to Vladimir Shileiko in 1918, whom she divorced in 1928, and Nikolai Punin, who died in a Siberian labor camp in 1953. The writer Boris Pasternak, who was already married, had proposed her numerous times.



Nikolai Gumilev was executed in 1921 by the Bolsheviks, and, although Akhmatova and he were divorced, she was still associated with him. As a result, after her book
Anno Domini MCMXXI
was published in 1922, she had great difficulty finding a publisher. There was an unofficial ban on Akhmatova's poetry from 1925 until 1940. During this time, Akhmatova devoted herself to literary criticism, particularly of Pushkin, and translations. During the latter part of the 1930s, she composed a long poem,
dedicated to the memory of Stalin's victims. In 1940, a collection of previously published poems,
From Six Books,
was published. A few months later it was withdrawn.


Changes in the political climate finally allowed her acceptance into the Writer's Union, but following World War II, there was an official decree banning publication of her poetry and Andrey Zhadanov, the Secretary of the Central Committee, expelled her from the Writer's Union, calling her "half nun, half harlot". Her son, Lev, was arrested in 1949 and held in jail until 1956. To try to win his release, Akhmatova wrote poems in praise of Stalin and the government, but it was of no use. Later she requested that these poems not appear in her collected works. She began writing and publishing again in 1958, but with heavy censorship. Young poets like Joseph Brodsky flocked to her. To them, she represented a link with the pre-Revolutionary past which had been destroyed by the Communists.


Though Akhmatova was frequently confronted with official government opposition to her work during her lifetime, she was deeply loved and lauded by the Russian people, in part because she did not abandon her country during difficult political times. Her most accomplished works,
(which was not published in its entirety in Russia until 1987) and
Poem Without a Hero
, are reactions to the horror of the Stalinist Terror, during which time she endured artistic repression as well as tremendous personal loss.

Akhmatova also translated the works of Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo Leopardi, and various Armenian and Korean poets, and she wrote memoirs of Symbolist writer Aleksandr Blok, the artist Amedeo Modigliani, and fellow Acmeist
Osip Mandelstam. In 1964 she was awarded the Etna-Taormina prize and an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1965. Her journeys to Sicily and England to receive these honors were her first travels outside Russia since 1912. Two years before her death at the age of 76, Akhmatova was chosen president of the Writers' Union. Akhmatova died in Leningrad, where she had spent most of life, in 1966.

Joseph Stalin:
(December 18, 1878 – March 5, 1953) was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953.

   In the Russian language, Stalin’s 1930s purges are named after Nikolai Yezhov, the psychotic chief of the secret police, or NKVD. Yezhov enthusiastically participated in torture ses
sions and took pride in wearing “the blood of enemies” on his uniform. When Stalin at last decreed his execution, Yezhov begged on his knees for his life. When it was clear that all pleading was futile, Yezhov declared, “Tell Stalin that I shall die with his name on my lips.”

An allusion to a poem by Aleksander Pushkin written in 1827, expressing support for the Decembrists in exile. The Decembrist uprising occurred in the Senate Square in St. Petersburg in 1825, as Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Nicholas I’s assumption of the throne.

   A slang terms for the automobiles by the NKVD while making arrests.

   In the year 1698, the Russian palace guard, or Streltsy, mutinied against the policies of Peter the Great. Those involved were subjected to brutal executions, including being broken on the wheel and burial alive. As in the time of Stalin, the cities were filled with destitute wives and children of the regime’s victims.

   Anna Akhmatova’s first husband, the poet Nikolai Gumilyov, was arrested and shot in 1922. The Soviet secret police falsely accused him, and several other veterans of the Tsar’s army, of planning a monarchist coup. Akhmatova’s son, Lev Gumilyov, was arrested and imprisoned in 1935. Akhmatova spent 17 months in queues near prison gates.

Tsarskoye Selo is a suburb of St. Petersburg best known for its imperial palaces and its lyceum. The great Russian poet, Aleksander Pushkin graduated from the Lyceum 1817. He has immortalized Tsarskoye Selo in his poetry as a literary image. Akhmatova, who moved there with her husband, Nikolai Gumilyov, at the beginning of the twentieth century, has always considered Pushkin to the ideal of Russian poetry and Tsarskoye Selo became her link to Russia’s rich literary tradition.

The quote is taken from the Ninth Ode of the Canon of the Blessed Saturday in the Orthodox Christian Celebration. “Lament not for me, Mother, beholding me in the grave, the son whom you have born in seedless conception, for I will arise and be glorified, and will exalt with glory, unceasingly as God, all those who with faith and love glorify you.”

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BOOK: Final Meeting: Selected Poetry of Anna Akhmatova
3.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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