Introduction

Bella Akhmadulina 1937-

Full name Bella Akhatovna Akhmadulina; also transliterated as Bella Axmadulina or Isabella Akhatovna Akhmadulina. Russian poet, short story writer, and translator.

Akhmadulina is considered one of the foremost contemporary Russian poets. She is a member of the Russian New Wave literary movement, a group of writers who embraced Western ideology during the 1960s. Her poetry is traditional in form but distinguished by inventive use of rhyme, syntax, and metaphor. Akhmadulina's verse is characterized by her exploration of identity, the limits of personal and artistic freedom, and the place of the poet in society.

Biographical Information

Akhmadulina was born in Moscow, Russia, April 10, 1937, of Tartar, Italian, and Russian descent. Before attending the A. M. Gorky Institute of World Literature in the mid-1950s, she studied in the literary circles of the Stalin car plant mentored by the poet Yuri Vinokurov. She married poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in 1954. In 1960, she completed her education at the Gorky Institute, preceding an expulsion due to her overly apolitical verse. That same year, she also divorced Yevtushenko and married short story writer Yuri Navigin. In 1962 her first book of poems, Struna (The String) was published. She divorced Navigin in 1968. In 1974 she married the artist Boris Messerer. She has served as secretary to the Soviet Union of Writers and is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Major Works

Influenced by the Acmeists, a Russian poetic movement established in the early twentieth century in reaction to the dominant symbolist school of poetry, Akhmadulina began to publish poetry in the early 1960s as part of the Russian New Wave. Her first two collections, Struna and Uroki muzyki (1969; translated as “Music Lessons”), contain what many critics regard as her finest poems. A selection of these early works was translated into English in Fever and Other New Poems (1969). Two of Akhmadulina's best-known poems are “Oznob” (“Fever”) and “Skazka o dozhde” (“Fairytale about the Rain”). In “Oznob,” the narrator's inspiration to compose poetry is likened to a strange illness that makes her a social outcast. In “Skazka o dozhde,” the poet's creativity and special place in society is symbolized by the rain that follows her wherever she goes. The narrator is initially embarrassed at being singled out from the dry world around her, but when a group of friends conspire to eliminate the rain, the narrator defends herself and learns to embrace her unique identity. “Moya rodslovnaya” (1964; “My Family Tree”) is a poem that alludes to a work by Aleksandr Pushkin, and “I Swear,” is a poetic vendetta against the social forces that drove the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, an early influence on Akhmadulina's writing, to suicide in 1941. Children, flowers, animals, and rain are dominant poetic symbols in Akhmadulina's early works, but in later collections, including Stikhi (1975; translated as “Poems”), Sny o Gruzii (1977; translated as “Dreams of Georgia”), Metel (1978; translated as “Candle”), Taina (1983; translated as “Secret,”) and Sad (1987; translated as “Garden”), Akhmadulina has explored graver themes including death, eternity, and the transitory nature of existence.

Critical Reception

Struna was criticized by the then-Soviet government for being too personal and emotional and caused Akhmadulina problems in publishing later poems. Critics have compared Akhmadulina's poetry to that of Acmeist poets Anna Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva, and have noted her acknowledged literary debt to her predecessors Pushkin and Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov. Scholars have praised Akhmadulina's distinctive poetic voice, lively style, and original use of themes. For example, in Taina, Akhmadulina skillfully manipulates structure and poetic voice to depict the gradual aging of the narrator throughout the poem and creates a circular pattern through the “secret” located at the end of the poem. Although relatively little has been written in English or Russian about her work, critics are in general agreement in their high regard for Akhmadulina's stylistic and thematic variety. They also commend her witty use of metaphor to comment on society and the natural world, and her ability to create and sustain her personal perspective in her poems.