Monday, August 24, 2020

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova (1889—1966) is a Russian poet who suffered extensively under communism. In the ‘20s she was officially criticised for her poetry’s preoccupations with love and God. Her first husband was executed on trumped-up charges, she was present at the arrest of her friend Osip Mandelstam (who died in a concentration camp), her son was twice imprisoned (the second time serving five years in a gulag), and her work was often kept from the public. In 1946 she was denounced by the communist party for “eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference.”

Extensively, between 1935 and 1940, she worked in secret on her long poem Requiem which she finally completed in 1961. It appeared in book form in 1963, but wasn’t published in the Soviet Union until 1987. Requiem uses Biblical themes, such as Christ’s crucifixion, to reflect the situation in Russia ― particularly using images of Jesus’ mother and of Mary Magdalene to express the suffering of women under the Stalinist government.

In 1950 she wrote a few poems praising Stalin, in an attempt to gain her son’s freedom and to gain favour with the authorities. These poems were eliminated from all Russian editions of her work after the Soviet premier’s death.

She was short-listed for the Nobel Prize in 1965. At the time of her death she was recognized as the greatest woman in Russian literature.

I Taught Myself to Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life's decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.