The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“White Night” is a short poem of twelve lines in three four-line stanzas. The title, an oxymoron, seems to bear little upon the drama of the narrative, but can be explained symbolically in terms of “white,” often associated in Anna Akhmatova’s writing with winter snow, which brings with it a meaning of loss of memory or death, and “night,” a reference point to both time, another of Akhmatova’s recurrent themes, and the oncoming fall of night for the speaker. “White Night,” then, would be a time of loss, of a remembrance of a reality fading into the darkness imposed by time’s unstoppable march.

The poem, which begins with “I,” does not simply share a personal experience with the reader. “You” is introduced in the third line of the first stanza, along with the speaker’s speculations about how the person the “you” represents feels. The continuing presence of both “I” and “you” affects the poem’s interaction with the reader, making it appear that the reader is eavesdropping on an intimate dialogue between an abandoned lover and the one who has done the abandoning.

The collection of poems in which “White Night” first appeared is recognized as novel-like in its structure—a series of scenes that together tell a story—and is also considered to be indirectly connected with biographical episodes in Akhmatova’s life; thus the spurned lover is identified both as a woman, in keeping with the other...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

While Akhmatova’s Russian poems are written in strict meters and exact rhymes, it is her straightforward narrative and logic steeped in elegant aestheticism that distinguish her style and place her in the stream of Acmeism (a movement that arose in 1912 in response to the crises of Symbolism, of which she was a leading exponent) along with other Acmeists such as Osip Mandelstam. Her work is especially noted for its synthesis of the serious and the popular. “White Night” demonstrates this blending even in translation. The moment of absolute blackness that accompanies the sense of being forsaken in love is communicated by means of casual language—contractions such as “haven’t” and “don’t,” and clichés such as “all is lost” and “life is a cursed hell”—in a setting softened by the presence of unlit candles and fields fading in the soft hues of sunset, so that the melodramatic potential of the theme is thoughtfully kept in check.

Almost every word of the poem can be explored through myriad perspectives. The door left unlocked can be a symbol of possible reconciliation as well as a means by which the past (symbolized by the missing lover) can find its way into a future moment. The candles left unlit are objects that define the lodging as primitive, but they also can be a symbol for the wounded heroine’s refusal to face a painful truth, a romantic notion proved false.

“Don’t care” following “don’t know”...

(The entire section is 542 words.)