Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467

Undeniably, the poem is about a meeting between two people. Loyalty appears to be an issue, and the mood is not cheerful. It is difficult to know the source of the sorrowful emotions the poet mentions at the start and returns to in the final stanza. The lines say that the music is sad—the violins are “mournful”—and without commentary, the poet lets the reader associate the sadness with the speaker’s mood, as though she recalls those details that reflected her own feelings. The poem is intriguing because it appears to develop a romantic meeting without providing enough confirmation for the reader to be certain. The speaker’s attention to subtleties and her sensory awareness contrasts with the poem’s understated quality. Rich with detail, the poem lacks emotional commitment to any single statement or point of view other than that of the poet, whose attitude is noncommittal. For all the reader knows, the poem may be about a profound disappointment. The man’s avowal speaks of friendship, not love. His gesture is not that of a lover. Rather, it reminds the speaker of a spectator watching others. The man’s apparent emotional distance from her—he is a “true friend,” not a lover—may be a response to her own detachment. The poem seems to contradict itself, appearing to describe a romantic moment while creating ambivalence, doubt.

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The poem’s meaning, then, may be inferred not from what the poet says but from what she does with a handful of details. The poem’s true subject is not the remembered meeting between two friends but how the poet remembers the meeting, how she felt then and how she feels as she remembers. Since she gives more attention to the setting and to the associations a gesture causes than to her male companion, the reader loses sight of him, sees the hands gesturing and the slender equestriennes riding, hears the mournful music, sees the drifting smoke, and hears the poet’s voice praising heaven, or telling the reader to praise heaven. The man’s one remark—“I am your true friend!”—stands out because it lacks motivation and has no definite relationship to the rest of the poem. The reader is not told what prompted it or what the speaker thinks of it. It is a non sequitur, like watching young women riding on horseback—like the final two lines, in fact. The poet has managed to express her own ambivalence toward the male friend by collecting disparate images in a poem that refuses to focus on any one meaning. The poem is about what was or what could have been. Anna Akhmatova might also be advising the reader, based on her own disappointments, about the value of time alone “with the man you love.”

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Analysis