The Garden: New and Selected Poetry and Prose Analysis

Bella Akhmadulina

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Bella Akhmadulina began publishing poetry at the end of the 1950’s. After the publication of her first collection, Struna (1962; the string), she became a prominent figure in the new generation of Russian poets during the “thaw” period following Joseph Stalin’s death. Her poetry also brought expulsion from the Union of Soviet Writers for her “dangerous unconcern” with social questions of the day. Each new collection solidified her position as a leading member among the promising young poets that included Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, and Robert Rozhdestvensky, among others.

Born in Moscow of mixed Russian-Italian-Tartar origins, Akhmadulina approached poetry in an uncertain fashion, “frail and infantile,” as her former husband Yevtushenko put it. At that time, poetry was for her more a matter of personal confession than a matter of a strong social or philosophical statement. As she matured, she was able to leave her cocoon and to assume the role of a voice of conscience that has been traditional in Russian literature. Her inner makeup, however, prevented her from becoming a social bard in the mold of Yevtushenko and Voznesensky, although her concern for the burning issues of the day is no less strong or sincere.

In the following decades, several themes crystallized in her poetry. Throughout her career, she has been searching for her poetic self. A set of thirteen poems under the title “A Fairy Tale About Rain” expresses this quest. The rain, as a life-sustaining substance, is the metaphor for the poetic inspiration accompanying her everywhere, including on a visit to people steeped in a vulgar, materialistic world. Soaked with rain, she feels apologetic for soiling the exquisite furniture (“I’ve been wallowing about, like a pig in the mud. . . . I’m lost in foggy bubbles. . . . t’was Rain that led me into trouble”). As the party progresses and the philistines and snobs pester her with asinine questions—“Is your husband really rich?” and “Who gives presents to the ones/ God has endowed? And how would it be done?”—the visitor, the lyric persona, loses her temper and answers caustically, all the time watching the rain, which had camped outside. When, finally, the rain comes to her rescue and floods everything inside the house, the poet walks away happily, convinced that the two worlds will never mix and that the enmity between them will always exist. Through this self-realization, the poet finds her rightful place, learning to bear her alienation as the price for being different. A...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Bella Akhmadulina belongs to a prominent group of women writers in Russian literature of the twentieth century, securing the legitimate place of women in that literature. Considering the fact that there were relatively few women writers in all the preceding centuries, the progress is considerable, especially after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In the beginning, Akhmadulina was only one member of a group of poets—on equal footing, to be sure—but after having established herself, she came to enjoy an independent status.

Her strongly independent spirit has made her respected among her peers from the outset. Her independence is reflected not only in poetic matters but also in her social status. While she has not been prominently involved in the dissident movement in her country, the strength of her character and her achievements have garnered her high esteem, making her a role model for younger Russian women writers. The issues present in her poetry are not revolutionary, but she has shown a remarkable aplomb in voicing them. Perhaps the fact that she has not been very vocal has made her position all the more effective. Her unobtrusive preoccupation with moral issues has enhanced Akhmadulina’s status as one of the most respected spokespersons of the new spirit in Russian literature.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Brown, Deming. “The Younger Generation of Poets.” In Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1978. A brief treatment of Akhmadulina’s poetry, together with other poets of her generation such as Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky.

Feinstein, Elaine. “Poetry and Conscience: Russian Women Poets of the Twentieth Century.” In Women Writing and Writing About Women, edited by Mary Jacobus. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979. Akhmadulina is appraised, along with other Russian woman poets. Examines her contribution and establishes her place in relationship to her contemporaries.

Ketchian, Sonia I. The Poetic Craft of Bella Akhmadulina. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993. This book-length survey of Akhmadulina’s poetry, the first in English, traces in clear and concise terms her development, influences, and contribution to Russian literature, focusing on the main characteristics and formal aspects of her verses.

Rydel, Christine. “A Bibliography of Works by and About Bella Akhmadulina.” Russian Literature Triquarterly 1 (1971): 434-441. A thorough, unannotated bibliography of books, poems in periodicals and anthologies, translations of and by Akhmadulina, and critical articles in English, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovak.

Rydel, Christine. “The Metaphysical World of Bella Akhmadulina.” Russian Literature Triquarterly 1 (1971): 326-341. A pithy discussion of Akhmadulina’s poetry through 1970, establishing its main features and exploring the relationship between the personal and the impersonal nature of her art.