Akhmatova, Anna (Pseudonym of Anna Andreyevna Gorenko)
Akhmatova, Anna (Pseudonym of Anna Andreyevna Gorenko) 1889?–1966
Poet, translator, and essayist, Akhmatova is often seen as Pasternak's successor in the Silver Age of Russian poetry and is generally considered the finest woman poet Russia has produced. Participating with the Acmeists in a reaction against symbolist poetry, she wrote in a concise and accessible style. Words are used logically, imagery is concrete. Hers is an intimate and authentic poetry, showing a love of art, of nature, of Russia, and of love itself. Though intensely personal, it achieves a sense of universal statement through a wide range of moods. The darker side of Akhmatova's work reflects the struggle of Russia under siege, the unhappiness of the people, the suffering of her own family, the war. Akhmatova was expelled from the Writer's Union under Stalin's rule, and her work was considered subversive and banned from publication until after Stalin's death. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20; obituary, Vols. 25-28; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)
Sam N. Driver
In [Akhmatova's] four collections after Rosary, the love theme remains dominant despite the cataclysm of war and revolution, and the total destruction of the world that [she] had known. If the tone of these volumes reflects the turmoil of the times and becomes less capricious and more austere, the focus remains inward, on a woman's ill-starred love. (p. 55)
It is interesting to note that even in Akhmatova's very earliest work (two poems from the first copy book), desertion and abandonment provide the setting. (p. 58)
In the later volumes, the motif of tragic love escapes over-sentimentality in its expression through an almost calm, epic resignation before suffering. In the earliest work, however, the persona is more often unreconciled to love's pain, and the lyrical statement lacks the indirection characteristic for more restrained works of the later period. (pp. 59-60)
It is the stance or point of view of the persona—somehow apart from herself, observing herself—which is most unusual. The peculiar stance permits an emotional distance, a degree of restraint and a certain objectivity in the expression of intense lyrical emotion. This device, with its shifts in grammatical person and the unusually infrequent use of the first person, is one of the principal reasons that Akhmatova's almost exclusive treatment of the difficult subject of love's pain avoids any impression of...
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The 'I' of [Akhmatova's] poems is without egotism, though autobiography is her natural medium. How can we fail to be moved by the story of the victimisation, silence and persistence of a poet who loved her country but not the revolution? Her work survives on memory ('Flaubert, insomnia, the smell of lilacs') as Eliot's does, and it is a poetry of that social class. Indeed, Acmeism has clear affinities with Imagism. But unlike H. D., Akhmatova's perspective is stoical and humanistic. She too appeals for the preservation of her language, but in her case it is so that it may be 'fit for the songs of our children's children, / pure on their tongues, and free'. She too writes of the London blitz, but typically evokes not Karnak but Shakespearean tragedy. (pp. 230-31)
John Fuller, in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), February 15, 1974.
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Akhmatova was a very unselfconscious poet in many ways; she had qualities of elemental force, utterance haunted and Delphic; yet these went together with elegance and sophistication, even a certain kind of mirror-gazing and a cunning which is chétif, or, as the Russians say zloi. She is not in the least like Blake or Eliot, and yet those are the English poets—different as they are—who offer some sort of parallel with her finest work. The incongruity in coupling such names shows how exceptional is her own poetic being….
Strangely enough she has as a poet more in common with what are—in a degraded form—Soviet ideals: restraint, correctness, propriety. Her poetry is dignified in the grandest sense without pretending to dignity, an equivalent in art of what she called the severe and shapely spirit of Russian orthodoxy….
The role of conscience in her poetry reminds us how unfamiliar such a possession is to most poets, whose natural tendency in the Nietzschean and modern era is to say that "such as I cast out remorse". She was deeply religious, and religion—as Dr Johnson noted—does not come over in poetry, but conscience, its precursor and attendant, can and does.
It figures largely, and strangely, in Poem Without a Hero, whose title itself suggests the collapse of a Nietzschean world in which men of action, or the hero as poet and seer, could play a part. Its...
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