Study Guide

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

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Article abstract: Akhmatova was one of the most acclaimed and revered poets of twentieth century Russia, struggling throughout her life to express with intimacy and insight the plight of a woman in an adversive society. For long periods she was forbidden to publish her works, but by the end of her life her constant poetic inspiration of others had earned for her the International Taormina Poetry Prize (Italy, 1964) and an honorary degree from the University of Oxford (England, 1965).

Early Life

Anna Andreyevna Gorenko was born in a suburb of Odessa, in the czarist Ukraine, on June 23, 1889. Her father, Andrei Gorenko, was a naval officer who left the military soon after her birth to take a position as maritime engineer with the government. This position required him to move to Tsarskoe Selo (now Pushkin), a town near the capital city of St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) in which one of the czar’s palaces was located together with the residences of many of the nobles and highly placed government functionaries. This move well suited Anna’s mother, the aristocratic Inna Erazmovna (née Stogova), since her family, the Stogovs, claimed a noble heritage. She liked to socialize with the nobility, yet she took pride in her early associations with members of the “People’s Will” Party of radicals who had assassinated Czar Alexander II in 1881. This ambiguity of sympathies had the effect upon young Anna and her four siblings, Inna, Andrei, Iya, and Victor, of restraining them from political alignments throughout their lives.

Anna grew up in the privileged atmosphere of Tsarskoe Selo, attending school in the same town where the great poet Alexander Pushkin had once been a student. She was attracted to poetry and could recite both French and Russian verse from memory. She attended poetry readings at the home of Innokenty Annensky, an influential Symbolist poet, and began to write verse of her own in about 1904. Through her elder brother, she met the talented young poet Nikolai Gumilyov, who was immediately attracted to her. Anna’s slim figure and distinctive face, with its slightly humped Roman nose, gave her a prepossessive presence which later attracted the attention of artists. Gumilyov courted her persistently, sponsoring her into participation in the “Guild of Poets,” an organization seminal to the development of “Acmeism,” a philosophy of poetry which demanded communicative clarity and a sense of connection with the poetic heritage of Western Europe. In 1907, Gumilyov was the first to publish one of Anna’s poems in his journal Sirius. It was in this year also that Anna’s father’s extravagant life-style and his constant womanizing caused a separation in the Gorenko family. Anna went to Kiev with her mother, finishing her studies at the Fundukleevskaya Gymnaziya there and enrolling in the faculty of law at the Kiev College for Women. She soon withdrew from the study of law and moved back to St. Petersburg to study literature. It was at this time that she chose the pseudonym “Akhmatova,” the name of her maternal great-grandmother, a Tatar princess. She took a pseudonym at the request of her father that the Gorenko family not be embarrassed by her publication of poetry.

Life’s Work

In 1910, Akhmatova married Gumilyov. For the next two years they traveled abroad, spending much of the time in Paris, where Akhmatova became friendly with the still unknown artist Amadeo Modigliani, who sketched her as a dancer and as an Egyptian queen. The marriage, however, soon foundered, with both Akhmatova and Gumilyov chafing under its traditional confinements. Gumilyov traveled on his own to Abyssinia to collect African folksongs, and Akhmatova returned to stay with her mother at a cousin’s estate in order to give birth to her son, Lev Nikolayevich Gumilyov, in October of 1912. In 1912 also, Akhmatova’s first collection of verse, Vecher (evening), appeared. The collection’s lyrics on a young woman’s realization of love and her expectation of grief brought Akhmatova both acclaim and popularity in a degree only to be envied by Gumilyov. The subsequent successes of Akhmatova’s collections—Chetki (1914; rosary) and Belaia staia (1917; white flock)—and her long poem, “U samogo morya” (1914; “By the Seashore,” 1969), only served to increase their estrangement. In 1914, Gumilyov joined the cavalry and went off to fight in World War I, where he was decorated for bravery. Akhmatova stayed with a succession of friends, leaving her son to be reared by Gumilyov’s widowed mother.

The social turmoil associated with the end of the war, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the subsequent civil war effectively beheaded the country, with a great many intellectuals and people of established artistic reputations leaving to live and work elsewhere. Akhmatova, however, would not leave, even though her life became more difficult. In 1918, she divorced Gumilyov to marry Vladimir Shileiko, a scholar of Assyrian antiquity who opposed his wife’s poetic activities. Nevertheless, Akhmatova managed to publish the collection Podorozhnik (1921; plantain), giving therein her poetic refusal to emigrate. She visited frequently with other poets, including Osip Mandelstam, and she attended the funeral of Aleksandr Blok. In 1921 she grieved over the death of Gumilyov, who was executed by the Soviet Cheka for his alleged involvement in a counterrevolutionary plot. In the 1922 collection Anno Domini...

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Anna Akhmatova Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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Akhmatova’s life and literary career illustrate the challenges that creative intellectuals faced under the restrictions imposed by the Soviet Union’s communist regime. Her poetry is introspective and personal, with unfulfilled love and strained relationships common themes throughout her graceful compositions. Her imagery contrasts hardship and disappointment with elements of tenderness and even optimism. She also occasionally addressed political themes. Her famous “Requiem” deals with the Stalinist purges of the 1930’s.

After Akhmatova published her earliest work between 1912 and 1922, she endured a literary hiatus until the early 1940’s, when she was allowed to publish A Selection from Six Books. In 1946, on the threshold of the Cold War, Soviet authorities branded Akhmatova’s poetry as “bourgeois” and expelled her from the Union of Soviet Writers. What little writing she did over the last twenty years of her life conformed to Communist Party rules.

Under the more open atmosphere of Mikhail Gorbachev’s regime during the 1980’s, Akhmatova’s writings were again published in the Soviet Union. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, appreciation of her poetry has seen a renaissance, and Akhmatova has won recognition as one of the significant Russian poets of the twentieth century.

Anna Akhmatova Biography (World Poets and Poetry)

Anna Akhmatova—the pen name of Anna Andreyevna Gorenko—was born in a suburb of Odessa in 1889, into the family of a naval officer. Akhmatova began to write poetry when she was eleven, and her first poem was published in 1907. She achieved great popularity with her first books, Vecher and Chetki. After joining the literary movement called Acmeism, she played an important part in it together with Osip Mandelstam and with her husband, Nikolay Gumilyov, from whom she was later divorced. During World War I and the Russian Revolution, Akhmatova stood by her people, even though she did not agree with the ideas and methods of the revolutionaries. Never politically inclined, she saw in the war and the revolution an evil that might eventually destroy the private world in which she had been able to address herself exclusively to her own problems. When the end of that world came, she refused to accept it, believing that she would be able to continue her sequestered life. She also refused to emigrate, saying that it took greater courage to stay behind and accept what came.

The effect of the revolution on her life and creativity was not immediately evident, for she subsequently published two more collections of poetry. When her former husband and fellow Acmeist Gumilyov was shot, however, Akhmatova realized that the new way of life was inimical to her own. Compelled to silence, she ceased to exist publicly, instead remaining an inner émigré for eighteen years and occupying...

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Anna Akhmatova Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anna Akhmatova (ak-MAH-tuh-vah), the third child of Andrey and Inna Erazovna, was born Anna Andreyevna Gorenko on June 23, 1889, in Bol’shoy Fontan, Russia. Her mother and younger sister Irina suffered from tuberculosis; at four years of age Irina died from the deadly disease. Only a year older, Anna felt as if a great shadow covered her entire childhood as a result of the death of her younger sister.

Moving north eleven months after Anna’s birth, the Gorenkos settled in Tsarskoye Selo, the czar’s village, where Anna spent most of her childhood. The aspiring poet found little support from her father, who, when hearing of her poetry, asked her not to bring shame upon his name. Anna Gorenko therefore became Anna...

(The entire section is 807 words.)

Anna Akhmatova Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anna Akhmatova is one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century because of her lyrical artistry and universal themes. Her own personal struggle to maintain artistic integrity and independence in the face of death embodies the spirit of the artist. Amanda Haight, her biographer, describes Akhmatova as “the instrument of a higher power” who accepted her function as poet to describe “this drama that is life.” With her death her work was completed, but the primary purpose for her life remains with readers forever in her poetry.

(The entire section is 89 words.)

Anna Akhmatova Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111225005-Akhmatova.jpgAnna Akhmatova Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Anna Akhmatova (ak-MAH-tuh-vuh) was born Anna Andreyevna Gorenko on the Black Sea coast not far from the port city of Odessa. Her father, a retired naval engineer, soon resettled the family in the town of Tsarskoe Seko, a suburb of St. Petersburg where the Imperial Summer Palace was located. Even though her parents’ household had virtually no books, Anna had read Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine and had written her first poems by the age of thirteen.{$S[A]Gorenko, Anna Andreyevna;Akhmatova, Anna}

Around Christmas, 1903, Anna met another teenage poet, Nikolay Gumilyov, who fell passionately in love with her; for the next fifteen years his poetry was obsessed with her. For several years, Gumilyov entreated her to...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

Anna Akhmatova Biography (Poetry for Students)

Anna Akhmatova was born on June 23, 1888, in the Russian town of Bolshoy Fontan, near the resort town Odessa. Her real name was Anna...

(The entire section is 323 words.)