(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Requiem, never published in the Soviet Union, describes an intensely personal and national struggle for survival. The preface, dedication, two epilogues, and the intervening series of poems combine to form a brief epic about the grieving mother of a prisoner and her fellow sufferers who stand in the prison lines of Leningrad. Although never acknowledged, the first-person-narrator “I” leaves little doubt of the directly autobiographical nature of the poem.

The preface, “Dedication,” and “Prologue” provide the exposition for the work, establishing the historical scene and providing the introduction to the persona—a grieving mother longing to know the fate of her imprisoned son. In the preface the narrator answers, “Yes, I can,” to a woman’s inquiry about her ability to describe the awful terror of “where, unhappily, my people were.” She identifies the cars of the secret police as the dreaded symbols of death and despair, as carrying people, including her son, away at dawn.

The literary devices of her previous works form a multilayered journey into a terrifying time in human history. Akhmatova uses concrete imagery and symbolism, both universal and biblical, to convey the significance of the story she has to tell. For example, when she addresses death, she uses a series of similes to dramatize the various forms it may take: “like a bandit,” “like a typhus-germ,” or “like a fairy tale of your own...

(The entire section is 414 words.)