Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Legendary Beauty in Verse
So many stones have been thrown at me,
That I'm not frightened of them anymore,
And the pit has become a solid tower,
Tall among tall towers.
I thank the builders,
May care and sadness pass them by.
From here I'll see the sunrise earlier,
Here the sun's last ray rejoices.
And into the windows of my room
The northern breezes often fly.
And from my hand a dove eats grains of wheat...
As for my unfinished page,
The Muse's tawny hand, divinely calm
And delicate, will finish it.
- by Anna Akhmatova
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.
Akhmatova's work ranges from short lyric poems to intricately structured cycles, such as Requiem (1935–40), her tragic masterpiece about the Stalinist terror. Her style, characterized by its economy and emotional restraint, was strikingly original and distinctive to her contemporaries. The strong and clear leading female voice struck a new chord in Russian poetry. Here are poems from all her major works and some that have been newly translated for the Everyman edition.