Last modified on 21 September 2014, at 21:50

Anna Akhmatova

I stand as witness to the common lot,
survivor of that time, that place.
O let the organ, many-voiced, sing boldly,
O let it roar like spring's first thunderstorm!
I go forth to seek —
To seek and claim the lovely magic garden
Where grasses softly sigh and Muses speak.

Anna Andreevna Gorenko [А́нна Андре́евна Горе́нко] (23 June {11 June O.S.} 1889 - 5 March 1966) was a Russian poet, known primarily by her pen name Anna Akhmatova [А́нна Ахма́това]. Her work was condemned and censored by Soviet authorities and she notably chose not to emigrate, but remained in Russia, acting as witness to the difficulties of living and writing in the shadow of Stalinism.

QuotesEdit

You thought I was that type:
That you could forget me,
And that I'd plead and weep
And throw myself under the hooves of a bay mare...
I will never come back to you.
I don't know if you're alive or dead.
Why is this century worse than those others?
You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms.
There have been numerous translations of Akhmatova's poems into English, with some variation in the titles of poems or their sections. The date of publication of her later works is often many years or decades after their composition.
  • O let the organ, many-voiced, sing boldly,
    O let it roar like spring's first thunderstorm!

    My half-closed eyes over your young bride's shoulder
    Will meet your eyes just once and then no more.
    • Translated by Irina Zheleznova
  • I go forth to seek —
    To seek and claim the lovely magic garden
    Where grasses softly sigh and Muses speak.
    • Translated by Irina Zheleznova
  • You thought I was that type:
    That you could forget me,
    And that I'd plead and weep
    And throw myself under the hooves of a bay mare...
    • "You Thought I Was That Type"
  • Damn you! I will not grant your cursed soul
    Vicarious tears or a single glance.

    And I swear to you by the garden of the angels,
    I swear by the miracle-working icon,
    And by the fire and smoke of our nights:
    I will never come back to you.
    • "You Thought I Was That Type"
  • I don't know if you're alive or dead.
    Can you on earth be sought,
    Or only when the sunsets fade
    Be mourned serenely in my thought?
    • "I Don't Know If You're Alive Or Dead" (1915)
  • No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured
    Me more, not
    Even the one who betrayed me to torture,
    Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.
    • "I Don't Know If You're Alive Or Dead" (1915)
  • Why is this century worse than those others?
    Maybe, because, in sadness and alarm,
    It only touched the blackest of the ulcers,
    But couldn't heal it in its span of time.
    • "Why is this century worse than those others?" (1919), translated by Yevgeny Bonver (2000)
  • All has been looted, betrayed, sold;
    black death's wing flashed ahead.
    • "Looted" (1921), as translated by Dmitri Obolensky
  • You will hear thunder and remember me,
    And think: she wanted storms. The rim
    Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
    And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.
    • "You will hear thunder and remember me...", translated by D. M. Thomas
    • There will be thunder then. Remember me.
      Say 'She asked for storms.' The entire
      world will turn the colour of crimson stone,
      and your heart, as then, will turn to fire.
      • "Thunder," translated by A.S.Kline
  • That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
    when, for the last time, I take my leave,
    And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
    Leaving my shadow still to be with you.
    • "You will hear thunder and remember me...", translated by D. M. Thomas
    • That day, in Moscow, a true prophecy,
      when for the last time I say goodbye,
      soaring to the heavens that I longed to see,
      leaving my shadow here in the sky.
      • "Thunder," translated by A.S.Kline
  • A multi-colored crowd streaked about,
    and suddenly all was totally changed.
    It wasn't the usual city racket.
    It came from a strange land.
  • Natural thunder heralds the wetness of fresh water
    high clouds
    to quench the thirst of fields gone dry and parched,
    a messenger of blessed rain,
    but this was as dry as hell must be.
    My distraught perception refused
    to believe it, because of the insane
    suddenness with which it sounded, swelled and hit,
    and how casually it came
    to murder my child.
    • "The First Long Range Artillery Fire On Leningrad," translated by Daniela Gioseffi (1993)
I am not one of those who left the land
to the mercy of its enemies.
Their flattery leaves me cold,
my songs are not for them to praise.
  • Give me bitter years of sickness,
    Suffocation, insomnia, fever,
    Take my child and my lover,
    And my mysterious gift of song —
    This I pray at your liturgy
    After so many tormented days,
    So that the stormcloud over darkened Russia
    Might become a cloud of glorious rays.
    • "Prayer," translated by Judith Hemschemeyer in Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (1989)
  • Now no one will listen to songs.
    The prophesied days have begun.

    Latest poem of mine, the world has lost its
    wonder,
    Don't break my heart, don't ring out.
    • "Now no one will listen to songs..." from Plantain (1921), translated by Richard McKane
  • I am not one of those who left the land
    to the mercy of its enemies.
    Their flattery leaves me cold,
    my songs are not for them to praise.
    • I am not one of those who left the land..." (1922), translated in Poems of Akhmatova (1973) by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
A new epoch has begun. You and I will wait for it together.
  • But here, in the murk of conflagration,
    where scarcely a friend is left to know
    we, the survivors, do not flinch
    from anything, not from a single blow.
    Surely the reckoning will be made
    after the passing of this cloud.
    We are the people without tears,
    straighter than you ... more proud...
    • I am not one of those who left the land..." (1922), translated in Poems of Akhmatova (1973) by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
  • Sweet to me was not the voice of man,
    But the wind's voice was understood by me.

    The burdocks and the nettles fed my soul,
    But I loved the silver willow best of all.
    • "Willow" (1940)
  • Each of our lives is a Shakespearean drama raised to the thousandth degree. Mute separations, mute black, bloody events in every family. Invisible mourning worn by mothers and wives. Now the arrested are returning, and two Russias stare each other in the eyes: the ones that put them in prison and the ones who were put in prison. A new epoch has begun. You and I will wait for it together.
    • Remarks to her friend Lydia Chukovskaya (March 1956), as quoted in Joseph Stalin : A Biographical Companion (1999) by Helen Rappaport, p. 2
  • The sand as white
    as old bones, the pine trees
    strangely red where the sun comes down.
    I cannot say if it is our love,
    or the day, that is ending.

In Memory of M. B.Edit

File:Bulgak ov .jpg
You lived aloof, maintaining to the end
your magnificent disdain.
A poem dedictated to Mikhail Bulgakov - Full text online : From Poems of Akhmatova (1973), translated and introduced by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward
  • You lived aloof, maintaining to the end
    your magnificent disdain.
  • Now you're gone, and nobody says a word
    about your troubled and exalted life.

    Only my voice, like a flute, will mourn
    at your dumb funeral feast.
  • Oh, who would have dared believe that half-crazed I,
    I, sick with grief for the buried past,
    I, smoldering on a slow fire,
    having lost everything and forgotten all,
    would be fated to commemorate a man
    so full of strength and will and bright inventions,
    who only yesterday it seems, chatted with me,
    hiding the tremor of his mortal pain.
Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem too insignificant for our concern? Yet in my heart I never will deny her, who suffered death because she chose to turn.

Lot's WifeEdit

In my heart she will not be forgot
Who, for a single glance, gave up her life.
A poem on the biblical account of Lot's wife - Full text online : From Poems of Akhmatova (1973) translated and introduced by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward
  • And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
    over a black mountain, in his giant track,
    while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
    "It's not too late, you can still look back
    at the red towers of your native Sodom,
    the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
    at the empty windows set in the tall house
    where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."
    • The just man followed then his angel guide
      Where he strode on the black highway, hulking and bright;
      But a wild grief in his wife's bosom cried,
      Look back, it is not too late for a last sight
      Of the red towers of your native Sodom, the square
      Where once you sang, the gardens you shall mourn,
      And the tall house with empty windows where
      You loved your husband and your babes were born.
      • Translator unknown
  • Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
    too insignificant for our concern?
    Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
    who suffered death because she chose to turn.
    • Who'll mourn her as one of Lot's family members?
      Doesn't she seem the smallest of losses to us?
      But deep in my heart I will always remember
      One who gave her life up for one single glance.
      • Translated by Tanya Karshtedt (1996)
    • A loss, but who still mourns the breath
      of one woman, or laments one wife?
      Though my heart never can forget,
      how, for one look, she gave up her life.
      • Translated by A.S.Kline
    • Who would waste tears upon her? Is she not
      The least of our losses, this unhappy wife?
      Yet in my heart she will not be forgot
      Who, for a single glance, gave up her life.
      • Translator unknown

Thinking Of The Sun (1911)Edit

As translated by Michael Cuanach
Thinking of the sun causes quick
beating of my heart …
What darkness!
From this night winter begins.
  • Thinking of the sun causes quick
    beating of my heart —
    snowy weather comes on the wind
    lightly drifting.
  • The silvery tree opens
    to an empty sky —
    maybe it is better
    that I am not your husband.
    • Variant translations:
    • The willow in the empty sky
      spread her transparent fan
      perhaps it were better
      that I not be
      your wife.
      • "Memory of the Sun" (alternate translation by Paula Goodman)
  • Thinking of the sun makes
    my heart beat faster — too fast!
    What darkness!
    From this night winter begins.
    • Variant translations:
    • Memory of sun fades in my heart
      What is this? Darkness? Maybe! —
      During the night comes
      winter.
      • "Memory of the Sun" (alternate translation by Paula Goodman)

The Guest (1914)Edit

I know: his delight
Is the tense and passionate knowledge
That he needs nothing,
That I can refuse him nothing.
Full text online: Translated by Carl R. Proffer. From The Silver Age of Russian Culture (1975), edited by Carl Poffer and Ellendea Proffer
  • All as before: against the dining-room windows
    Beats the scattered windswept snow,
    And I have not changed either,
    But a man came to me.
    I asked: "What do you want?"
    He replied: "To be with you in Hell."
    I laughed: "Oh, you'll foredoom
    Us both to disaster."
  • But lifting his dry hand
    He lightly touched the flowers:
    "Tell me how men kiss you,
    Tell me how you kiss men."
  • Not a single muscle quivered
    On his radiantly evil face.
    Oh, I know: his delight
    Is the tense and passionate knowledge
    That he needs nothing,
    That I can refuse him nothing.

As a White Stone... (1916)Edit

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver (August 2000) Full text online
As a white stone in the well's cool deepness,
There lays in me one wonderful remembrance.
  • As a white stone in the well's cool deepness,
    There lays in me one wonderful remembrance.
    I am not able and don't want to miss this:
    It is my torture and my utter gladness.

    I think, that he whose look will be directed
    Into my eyes, at once will see it whole.

  • I knew: the gods turned once, in their madness,
    Men into things, not killing humane senses.
    You've been turned in to my reminiscences
    To make eternal the unearthly sadness.

Red Winged Birds (1917)Edit

As translated by Michael Cuanach
I do not need your loving words
or hurried kiss
as night comes down
in the place where we once lived
innocent as children,
and happier.
  • I hear always the sad voices
    of summer
    passing like red winged birds
    over the high grass
  • I do not need your loving words
    or hurried kiss
    as night comes down
    in the place where we once lived
    innocent as children,
    and happier.

White Flock (1917)Edit

We aged a hundred years, and this
happened in a single hour,
When we started losing one after the other
so each day became
remembrance day,
we started composing poems
about God's great generosity
and — our former riches.
  • We aged a hundred years, and this
    happened in a single hour
    :
    the short summer had already died,
    the body of the ploughed plains smoked.
    • "In Memoriam, July 19, 1914"
  • We thought: we're poor, we have nothing,
    but when we started losing one after the other
    so each day became
    remembrance day,
    we started composing poems
    about God's great generosity
    and — our former riches.
    • "We thought: we're poor"
    • We thought we were beggars, we thought we had nothing at all
      But then when we started to lose one thing after another,
      Each day became
      A memorial day -
      And then we made songs
      Of great divine generosity
      And of our former riches.
      • Translated by Ilya Shambat (2001)

"This Cruel Age has deflected me..." (1944)Edit

The grave I go to will not be my own.
Translated in Poems of Akhmatova (1973) by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
  • This cruel age has deflected me,
    like a river from this course.

    Strayed from its familiar shores,
    my changeling life has flowed
    into a sister channel.
    How many spectacles I've missed:
    the curtain rising without me,
    and falling too. How many friends
    I never had the chance to meet.
  • I know beginnings, I know endings too,
    and life-in-death, and something else
    I'd rather not recall just now.
  • The grave I go to will not be my own.
    But if I could step outside myself
    and contemplate the person that I am,
    I should know at last what envy is.

Poem without a Hero (1963)Edit

I have lit my treasured candles,
one by one, to hallow this night.
Translated in Poems of Akhmatova (1973) by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
I am that shadow on the threshold
defending my remnant peace.
He is no better and no worse,
but he is free of Lethe's curse:
his warm hand makes a human pledge.
From childhood I have been afraid
of mummers. …
You are as old as the Mamre oak,
ancient interrogator of the moon…
What have poets, in any case, to do with sin?
They must dance before the Ark of the Covenant
or die!
There is no death, each of us knows —
it's banal to say.
I'll leave it to others to explain.
  • I have lit my treasured candles,
    one by one, to hallow this night.

    With you, who do not come,
    I wait the birth of the year.
    Dear God!
    the flame has drowned in crystal,
    and the wine, like poison, burns
    Old malice bites the air,
    old ravings rave again,
    though the hour has not yet struck.
  • Dread. Bottomless dread...
    I am that shadow on the threshold
    defending my remnant peace.
  • Let the gossip roll!
    What to me are Hamlet's garters,
    or the whirlwind of Salome's dance,
    or the tread of the Man in the Iron Mask?
    I am more iron than they.
  • Prince Charming, prince of the mockers —
    compared with him the foulest of sinners
    is grace incarnate...
  • That woman I once was,
    in a black agate necklace,
    I do not wish to meet again
    till the Day of Judgement.
  • Are the last days near, perhaps?
    I have forgotten your lessons,
    prattlers and false prophets,
    but you haven't forgotten me.

    As the future ripens in the past,
    so the past rots in the future —
    a terrible festival of dead leaves.
  • All the mirrors on the wall
    show a man not yet appeared
    who could not enter this white hall.
    He is no better and no worse,
    but he is free of Lethe's curse:
    his warm hand makes a human pledge.

    Strayed from the future, can it be
    that he will really come to me,
    turning left from the bridge?
  • From childhood I have been afraid
    of mummers. It always seemed
    an extra shadow
    without face or name
    had slipped among them...
  • You...
    you are as old as the Mamre oak,
    ancient interrogator of the moon,
    whose feigned groans cannot take us in.
    You write laws of iron.
  • Creature of special tastes,
    you do not wait for gout and fame
    to elevate you
    to a luxurious jubilee chair,
    but bear your triumph
    over the flowering heather,
    over wildernesses.
    And you are guilty of nothing: neither of this,
    that, nor anything..
  • Besides
    what have poets, in any case, to do with sin?
    They must dance before the Ark of the Covenant
    or die!
    But what am I trying to say?
  • In the black sky no star is seen,
    somewhere in ambush lurks the Angel of Death,
    but the spices tongues of the masqueraders
    are loose and shameless
    A shout:
    "Make way for the hero!"
    Ah yes. Displacing the tall one,
    he will step forth now without fail
    and sing to us about holy vengeance...
  • There is no death, each of us knows —
    it's banal to say.
    I'll leave it to others to explain.
  • Is this the visitor from the wrong side
    of the mirror? Or the shape
    that suddenly flitted past my window?
    Is it the new moon playing tricks,
    or is someone really standing there again
    between the stove and the cupboard?
  • This means that gravestones are fragile
    and granite is softer than wax.
    Absurd, absurd, absurd! From such absurdity
    I shall soon turn gray
    or change into another person.
    Why do you beckon me with your hand?

    For one moment of peace
    I would give the peace of the tomb.

Requiem; 1935-1940 (1963; 1987)Edit

No foreign sky protected me,
no stranger's wing shielded my face.
Written over many years, this work was first published in 1963, but not in complete form until 1987. The base translation used here is that of Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward, with variant translations used as noted.
  • No foreign sky protected me,
    no stranger's wing shielded my face.
    I stand as witness to the common lot,
    survivor of that time, that place.

    — 1961
    • Translated in Poems of Akhmatova (1973) by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
    • No, not under a foreign heavenly-cope, and
      Not canopied by foreign wings
      I was with my people in those hours,
      There where, unhappily, my people were.
    • No, not under the vault of another sky,
      not under the shelter of other wings.
      I was with my people then,
      there where my people were doomed to be.
      • Translator unknown.

Instead of a PrefaceEdit

Such grief might make the mountain stoop,
reverse the waters where they flow,
but cannot burst these ponderous bolts
that block us from the prison cells
crowded with mortal woe...
  • In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad. Once, someone "recognized" me. Then a woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who, of course, had never heard me called by name before, woke up from the supor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):
    "Can you describe this?"
    And I answered: "Yes, I can."
    Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.
    • Leningrad, 1 April 1957

DedicationEdit

  • Such grief might make the mountain stoop,
    reverse the waters where they flow,
    but cannot burst these ponderous bolts
    that block us from the prison cells
    crowded with mortal woe...
    • The mountains bow before this anguish,
      The great river does not flow.
      In mortal sadness the convicts languish;
      The bolts stay frozen.
      • Translated by D. M. Thomas
  • For some the wind can fleshly blow,
    for some the sunlight fade at ease,
    but we, made partners in our dread,
    hear but the grating of the keys,
    and heavy-booted soldiers' tread.
    As if for early mass, we rose
    and each day walked the wilderness,
    trudging through silent street and square,
    to congregate, less live than dead.
  • Where are they now, my nameless friends
    from those two years I spent in hell?
    What specters mock them now, amid
    the fury of Siberian snows,
    or in the blighted circle of the moon?
    To them I cry, Hail and Farewell!
    — March 1940

PrologueEdit

  • That was a time when only the dead
    could smile, delivered from their wars,
    and the sign, the soul, of Leningrad
    dangled outside its prison-house...
    • As translated by Stanley Kunitz
    • In those years only the dead smiled,
      Glad to be at rest:
      And Leningrad city swayed like
      A needless appendix to its prisons.
  • The stars of death stood over us.
    And Russia, guiltless, beloved, writhed
    under the crunch of bloodstained boots,
    under the wheels of Black Marias.
    • Stars of death stood
      Above us, and innocent Russia
      Writhed under bloodstained boots, and
      Under the tyres of Black Marias.
      • Translated by D. M. Thomas
  • At dawn they came and took you away.
    You were my dead: I walked behind.
    In the dark room children cried,
    the holy candle gasped for air.
    • They led you away...
      They took you away at daybreak. Half wak-
      ing, as though at a wake, I followed.
      In the dark chamber children were crying,
      In the image-case, candlelight guttered.
      At your lips, the chill of icon,
      A deathly sweat at your brow.
      I shall go creep to our walling wall,
      Crawl to the Kremlin towers.
      • Translated by D. M. Thomas
  • This woman is sick to her marrow-bone,
    this woman is utterly alone,
    with husband dead, with son away
    in jail. Pray for me. Pray.
  • Not, not mine: it's somebody else's wound.
    I could never have borne it. So take the thing
    that happened, hide it, stick it in the ground.
    Whisk the lamps away...
    Night.
    • No, it is not I, it is else who is suffering.
      I could not have borne it.
      And this thing, which has happened
      Let them cover it with black cloths,
      And take away the lanterns...
      Night.
      • Translated by D. M. Thomas
  • For seventeen months I have cried aloud
    calling you back to your lair.
    I hurled myself at the hangman's foot.
    You are my son, changed into nightmare.
    Confusion occupies the world,
    and I am powerless to tell
    somebody brute from something human,
    or on what day the word spells, "Kill!"

The SentenceEdit

I was prepared,
am somehow ready for the test.
Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again…
  • The word dropped like a stone
    on my still living breast.
    Confess: I was prepared,
    am somehow ready for the test.
    • As translated by Stanley Kunitz
    • Then fell the word of stone on
      My still existing, still heaving breast.
      Never mind, I was not unprepared, and
      Shall manage to adjust to it somehow.
    • And the stone word fell
      On my still-living breast.
      Never mind, I was ready.
      I will manage somehow.
  • Today I have so much to do:
    I must kill memory once and for all,
    I must turn my soul to stone,
    I must learn to live again—
    Unless ...
    Summer's ardent rustling
    Is like a festival outside my window.
    • Translated by Judith Hemschemeyer from Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (1989)

To DeathEdit

  • You will come in any case — so why not now?
    How long I wait and wait. The bad times fall.
    I have put out the light and opened the door
    for you, because you are simple and magical.
    Assume, then, any form that suits your wish,
    take aim, and blast at me with poisoned shot,
    or strangle me like an efficient mugger,
    or else infect me — typhus be my lot —
  • It's all the same to me. The Yenisei swirls,
    the North Star shines, as it will shine forever;
    and the blue lustre of my loved one's eyes
    is clouded over by the final horror.
    — The House on the Fontanka, 19 August 1939

9Edit

  • Already madness lifts its wing
    to cover half my soul.
  • Now everything is clear.
    I admit my defeat. The tongue
    of my ravings in my ear
    is the tongue of a stranger.
  • No use to fall down on my knees
    and beg for mercy's sake.
    Nothing I counted mine, out of my life,
    is mine to take...

CrucifixionEdit

Also translated as "Crucifix"
...and if a gag should bind my tortured mouth,
through which a hundred million people shout,
then let them pray for me, as I do pray
for them, this eve of my remembrance day.
  • A choir of angels glorified the hour,
    the vault of heaven was dissolved in fire.
    "Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?
    Mother, I beg you, do not weep for me..."
    • This greatest hour was hallowed and thundered
      By angel's choirs; fire melted sky.
      He asked his Father:"Why am I abandoned...?"
      And told his Mother: "Mother, do not cry..."
  • Mary Magdalene beat her breasts and sobbed,
    His dear disciple, stone-faced, stared.
    His mother stood apart. No other looked
    into her secret eyes. Nobody dared.
    — 1940-1943
    • Magdalena struggled, cried and moaned.
      Piter sank into the stone trance...
      Only there, where Mother stood alone,
      None has dared cast a single glance.
    • Mary Magdalene beat her breast and sobbed,
      The beloved disciple turned to stone,
      But where the silent Mother stood, there
      No one glanced and no one would have dared.
      • Translated by Judith Hemschemeyer

EpilogueEdit

  • I have learned how faces fall to bone,
    how under the eyelids terror lurks,
    how suffering inscribes on cheeks
    the hard lines of its cuneiform texts,
    how glossy black or ash-fair locks
    turn overnight to tarnished silver,
    how smiles fade on submissive lips,
    and fear quavers in a dry titter.
    And I pray not for myself alone..
    for all who stood outside the jail,
    in bitter cold or summer's blaze,
    with me under that blind red wall.
  • I've woven them a garment that's prepared
    out of poor words, those that I overheard,

    and will hold fast to every word and glance
    all of my days, even in new mischance,
    and if a gag should bind my tortured mouth,
    through which a hundred million people shout,
    then let them pray for me, as I do pray
    for them, this eve of my remembrance day.

    • I should like to call you all by name,
      But they have lost the lists...
      I have, woven fore them a great shroud
      Out of the poor words I overheard them speak.
      I remember them always and everywhere,
      And if they shut my tormented mouth,
      Through which a hundred million of my people cry,
      Let them remember me also...

Quotes about AkhmatovaEdit

The importance of Akhmatova's works in the Russian poetic tradition can scarcely be exaggerated. ~ Olga P. Hasty
Akhmatova's is a "poetry of witness" that defends the individual against all forms of coercion. ~ M.L. Raina
  • The importance of Akhmatova's works in the Russian poetic tradition can scarcely be exaggerated. These works also hold a place of honor in the history of artistic engagement of moral responsibility.
    • Olga P. Hasty, Princeton University
  • Anna Andreevna Akhmatova used poetry to give voice to the struggles and deepest yearnings of the Russian people, for whom she remains the greatest of literary heroines. She has lately come to symbolize for the world even beyond Russia the power of art to survive and transcend the terrors of our century.
    • Judith Hemschemeyer in A Stranger to Heaven and Earth (1993)
  • Akhmatova was neither a woman poet in the narrow militant feminist sense in which the term is understood today, nor just a poet of Russia alone.... Her poetic involvements went beyond the domesticated lyricism of conventional feminine poetry and embraced larger questions of political and social inequity. Though essentially a poet of "the keening muse", as Joseph Brodsky described her, Akhmatova rose above personal sorrows (too numerous to relate here) to create a disciplined yet many-layered work of haunting reverberation. ... Akhmatova's is a "poetry of witness" that defends the individual against all forms of coercion. Such poetry does not go into "holes of oblivion" as Hannah Arendt would put it, but nags our guilt of connivance with tyrants like Hitler or Stalin. It invokes religious symbolism to reinforce the language of extremity and to compensate for the fragmentation of social vision caused by the turmoil of the times. ... The poetry of witness draws upon what Akhmatova calls "the invisible ink" of others to strengthen its claims to authenticity, not as a substitute for ones tattered memories but as a reminder that others have gone down the same path as oneself.
  • One of the great Russian poets and a national heroine, Anna Akhmatova (née Gorenko) is not venerated outside Russia as a major poetic voice of the twentieth century. She seemed born to endure the great tragedy in her life and indeed was one of Stalin's most long-suffering literary victims. Her tremendous will to survive, in her self-appointed role as witness of the Great Terror, testifies to huge inner reserves of moral strength that sustained her through years of extreme poverty and isolation, to ultimately become a latter-day nemisis of the dark days of Stalinism. ... Her individualism survived the early days of foment in Soviet literature, when literary experimentation was for a short while tolerated, but her work was soon looked upon as insufficiently socialist in its concerns and was suppressed as "bourgeois" after the publication of her collection Anno Domini MCMXXI in 1922. It was the appearance of this work that prompted the eminent Soviet literary critic Boris Eichenbaum to famously deride Akhmatova as "half nun, half harlot" (an epithet later reprised by Andrey Zhdanov in the campaign against Akhmatova in the 1940s).
    • Helen Rappaport, in Joseph Stalin : A Biographical Companion (1999), p. 1

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