Other literary forms

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In addition to poetry, Anna Akhmatova (ak-MAH-tuh-vuh) wrote an unfinished play and many essays on Russian writers. Her spirited book O Pushkine: Stat’i i zametki (1977), published in its complete version posthumously, is one of the most discerning tributes to the greatest Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin, by a fellow poet. Akhmatova also translated poems from the Old Egyptian, Hindu, Armenian, Chinese, French, Italian, and many other languages, most of these in collaboration with native speakers.

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Achievements

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Anna Akhmatova enriched Russian literature immeasurably, not only with the quality of her poetry but also with the freshness and originality of her strong talent. Through Acmeism, a literary movement of which she was one of the founders and leading members, she effected a significant change of direction in Russian poetry in the second decade of the twentieth century. The Acmeists’ insistence on clarity and precision of expression—much in the spirit of the Imagists, although the two movements developed independently of each other—represented a reaction against the intricate symbols and otherworldly preoccupations of the Symbolists. Akhmatova’s youthful love poems brought her early fame, and her reputation was further enhanced during the long reign of terror in her country, through which she was able to preserve her dignity, both as a human being and as a poet. With Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, and Marina Tsvetayeva, Akhmatova is universally regarded as one of the four great poets of postrevolutionary Russia. Having been generously translated into English, Akhmatova’s works are constantly gaining stature in world literature as well.

Discussion Topics

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Anna Akhmatova’s early illness helped her to become a poet. Did her preoccupation with illness needlessly limit her range of subject matter?

Despite the horrors of her life under Soviet Communism, especially under the rule of Joseph Stalin, Akhmatova continued to live in the Soviet Union. Was this decision a mistake?

How do you explain a person of such individualistic spirit being reconciled to the oppressiveness of the society in which she lived?

Is Akhmatova’s notion that confusion is a part of love true? Is it an unhappy truth?

Investigate the word “requiem” and its appropriateness as the title of her poems that are considered to be a short epic.

Was Akhmatova a hero as well as a great poet?

Bibliography

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Akhmatova, Anna A. Poems. Translated by Lyn Coffin, with an introduction by Joseph Brodsky. New York: W. W. Norton, 1983. Selected, high-quality verse translations of Akhmatova’s poems, including several not found elsewhere. The insightful introduction by Brodsky lends the book biographical and critical significance.

Akhmatova, Anna A. Poems of Akhmatova. Translated by Stanley Kunitz, with an introduction by Kunitz and Max Hayward. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973. A concise biographical sketch by Max Hayward, together with verse translations by Kunitz. A nice feature of this collection is that it pairs Akhmatova’s Russian versions with Kunitz’s translations on opposing pages.

Akhmatova, Anna A. Selected Poems. Edited by Walter Arndt. Translated by Arndt, Robin Kemball, and Carl R. Proffer. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1976. This collection includes a fine article entitled “The Akhmatova Phenomenon” and a chronicle of Akhmatova’s life. The translations are especially well done and well explained by notes.

Driver, Sam N. Anna Akhmatova. New York: Twayne, 1972. This is the first English biography, written six years after Akhmatova’s death. The first third of the book deals with biographical facts and the remainder with a thematic explanation of the poetry. It is a concise yet scholarly work, still serving as the best primary introduction to Akhmatova’s life.

Haight, Amanda. Anna Akhmatova: A Poetic Pilgrimage. London: Oxford University Press, 1976. A substantially more detailed biographical treatment of Akhmatova’s life by a Western scholar personally acquainted with Akhmatova. This work is a valuable resource for the specialist as well as the layperson.

Ketchian, Sonia. The Poetry of Anna Akhmatova: A Conquest of Time and Space. Munich: Otto Sagner Verlag, 1986. A brilliant scholarly study of themes and method in Akhmatova’s poetry. Here too is the most complete inclusion and recapitulation of recent Akhmatova scholarship, both Soviet and Western. The work, however, would appeal primarily to literary scholars.

Leiter, Sharon. Akhmatova’s Petersburg. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983. A review of Akhmatova’s life in her beloved St. Petersburg and of political circumstances providing the material for, and leading to, her poetry inspired by St. Petersburg. The book also discusses Akhmatova’s vision of this city.

Mandelstam, Nadezhda. Hope Against Hope: A Memoir. Translated by Max Hayward, with an introduction by Clarence Brown. New York: Atheneum, 1976. This memoir by Mandelstam’s widow includes many a glimpse into Akhmatova’s life as well and is especially valuable to those wishing to understand what a poet’s life was like in the Soviet Union of the Stalin era.

Reeder, Roberta. Anna Akhmatova: Poet and Prophet. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. (See Magill’s Literary Annual review) In the most extensive book in English on Akhmatova, Reeder discusses in scholarly fashion all facets of her life and work. Stressing the artistic aspects of her poems, the author also examines the political circumstances in which she had to live. A forty-six-page bibliography is particularly useful.

Rosslyn, Wendy. The Prince, the Fool, and the Nunnery: The Religious Theme in the Early Poetry of Anna Akhmatova. Amersham, England: Avebury, 1984. An examination of the interplay of religion and love in Akhmatova’s early collections, this book also contains considerable biographical detail. Poems are included in both Russian and English translation.

Verheul, Kees. The Theme of Time in the Poetry of Anna Axmatova. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. This was one of the first English scholarly monographs devoted to Akhmatova’s poetry and is still one of the most cited. The book is written for the specialist and includes many untranslated Russian citations.

Wells, David N. Anna Akhmatova: Her Poetry. Oxford, England: Berg, 1996. Wells offers a succinct overview of Akhmatova’s life and poetry from the beginnings to her later works. His is a penetrating study, with many citations from her poetry in both Russian and English, stressing her main achievements.

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