Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova is an enormous work comprising the more than seven hundred original poems that Akhmatova wrote in her lifetime, with translations by Judith Hemschemeyer on the facing pages. Volume 1 includes Akhmatova’s first five books: Vecher (1912; evening), Chetki (1914; rosary), Belaia staia (1917; white flock), Podorozhnik (1921; plantain), and Anno Domini MCMXXI (1922, 1923). Each book was a single composition in itself, thematically and structurally unified, and the translator and editor have preserved Akhmatova’s own divisions and the order within them. Volume 2 begins with two collections that Akhmatova was never able to publish as separate volumes: Reed and Seventh Book, which later (although thoroughly censored) were incorporated into other books. Then, in more or less chronological order, come uncollected poems from various years. These include “Requiem,” written between 1935 and 1940 in witness to Joseph Stalin’s purges, and “Poem Without a Hero,” written between 1940 and 1962 as a kind of memory of Akhmatova’s doomed generation. Volume 1 includes a translator’s introduction and a scholarly essay by the editor Roberta Reeder; volume 2 begins with essays by poet Anatoly Nayman, who collaborated with Akhmatova on translations and served as literary secretary in her later years, and by Isaiah Berlin, the British scholar and diplomat whose encounters with Akhmatova immediately after World War II were to have profound political and artistic consequences....

(The entire section is 643 words.)