The challenge of articulating in poetic form the human experience of young love, the pains of love, and the love of country is inherent in much of Akhmatova’s poetry. Her love for the Russian people, as shown in her collections Rekviem (1963; Requiem, 1964) and Poema bez geroya (1960; A Poem Without a Hero, 1973), made her one of the most admired figures of modern Russia. Most of all, it is her resilient, individualistic spirit that all readers embrace. Whether in the romantic persona in Belaya staya or in the melancholy persona of Chetki, Akhmatova gave her voice to the Russian people during a tragic period in their history.
Akhmatova uses concrete imagery to convey the themes of passionate, young love in her first collections. Unlike the Russian Symbolists of the early twentieth century, she sought to describe the experience of love using concrete, natural images, not religious, imaginary ones. The Acmeist literary movement, of which the poet was a part, dramatically influenced Akhmatova’s earlier works. The Acmeists insisted on clarity of expression. Akhmatova used objective, concrete things to convey strong emotions. For example, in one poem, the wind, given the human attribute of recklessness, conveys the poet’s emotional state to the reader: “And we observe the rites of our bitter meetings,/ When suddenly the reckless wind/ Breaks off a sentence just begun.”
In her later works, as Akhmatova faced the challenges of adulthood and as her country experienced the pains of World War I and a subsequent civil war, her poetry adopted a more mature voice, and her literary devices became infused with her individual style. From Anno Domini MCMXXI, the following illustrates her more experienced persona:
Seven days of love, seven terrible years of separation,War, revolution, a devastated home,Innocent blood on delicate hands,Over the rosy temple a gray strand.
The images of love and death became linked in her poetic vision as they were in her experience.
By 1922, Akhmatova’s political difficulties had become unrelenting and her poetry was banned from publication. Although she was officially denounced by the government, people continued to read her poetry, passing copies of her poems among themselves. In addition, Akhmatova continued to write, dramatizing her personal tragedies. Intensely personal, her poetic voice reveals itself without the objective distance of earlier poems. Her poetic voice resonates with the knowledge that she speaks for more than herself: “I somehow sense the groaning and the sorrows/ Of unrecognized, imprisoned voices.”
In addition to articulating the agonized voice of her people, Akhmatova sought to capture the essence of the art of writing poetry. In one poem she writes: “it carves, it shifts, it weaves,/ And slips through my hands alive.” The difficulties of writing, of holding on to the muse, become a source of inspiration.
Requiem announces the birth of a national poet, capable of giving voice to the horrors imposed on the Russian people by Stalin’s regime. In the preface of the work, she greets a woman who, like her, is standing outside a Leningrad prison waiting to hear the fate of a loved one. The woman asks the poet: “Can you describe this?” The poet answers: “Yes, I can.” Amanda Haight, who interviewed Akhmatova during the last few years of Akhmatova’s life, describes the poet as experiencing a personal resurrection in the final poems of Requiem. Further, she characterizes the poet as accepting her place in life and in history, no matter what the price. Accepting her suffering as part of her fate, the poet began to take stock of the past. The poetic voice is intensely personal yet dramatically universal. Akhmatova uses biblical allusions to accentuate the universality of her suffering. For example, in the poem “Crucifixion,” she describes the mother of Christ as the ultimate symbol of suffering. Ultimately, the brief epic describes the individual’s experience as it represents a moment in the history of a nation. The poet gives voice to not only a personal but also a national tragedy:
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. . . .
(The entire section is 1910 words.)