At 23, Akhmatova had her first collection of poems published. By this time, she had already been married, been abandoned by her husband, Nikolai Gumilyov, and had a son. She had also spent time in Paris, where she was painted by Amedeo Mogdigliani; some of the most famous images of her are from this period.
Nikolai Gumilyov was executed in 1921 as a traitor to the Revolution. Akhmatova was, at this point, in a relationship witho Vladimir Shileiko, who she married after divorcing Gumilyov in 1918. She separated from Shileiko and got married again to Nikolai Punin.
Punin and her son, Lev Gumilev, were arrested in 1935. This began a seemingly endless cycle of appeal, release, and re-arrest; Akhmatova personally begged Stalin for their release the first time they were taken by the secret police, but her son was arrested again in 1938. He was released and re-arrested, then freed in 1956. Punin died in a prison camp in 1953 after his re-arrest four years prior.
Samizdat (Russian: самиздат) was the clandestine copying and distribution of government-suppressed literature or other media in Soviet-bloc countries. Copies were made a few at a time, and those who received a copy would be expected to make more copies. This was often done by handwriting or typing. (Wikipedia)
The poet Anna Akhmatova was born Anna Gorenko in Odessa, in the Ukraine, in 1889; she later changed her name to Akhmtova. In 1910 she married the important Russian poet and theorist Nikolai Gumilyov. Shortly afterwards Akhmatova began publishing her own poetry; together with Gumilyov, she became a central figure in the Acmeist movement. Acmeism -- which had its parallels in the writings of T. E. Hulme in England and the development of Imagism -- stressed clarity and craft as antidotes to the overly loose style and vague language of late nineteenth century poetry in Russia.
The Russian Revolution was to dramatically affect their lives. Although they had recently divorced, Akhmatova was was nevertheless stunned by the execution of her friend and former partner Gumilyev in 1921 by the Bolsheviks, who claimed that he had betrayed the Revolution. In large measure to drive her into silence, their son Lev Gumilyov was imprisoned in 1938, and he remained in prison and prison camps until the death of Stalin and the thaw in the Cold War made his release possible in 1956. Meanwhile, Akhmatova had a second marraige and then a third; her third husband, Nikolai Punin, was imprisoned in 1949 and thereafter died in 1953 in a Siberian prison camp. Her writing was banned, unofficially, from 1925 to 1940, and then was banned again after World War Two was concluded. Unlike many of her literary contemporaries, though, she never considered flight into exile.
Persecuted by the Stalinist government, prevented from publishing, regarded as a dangerous enemy , but at the same time so popular on the basis of her early poetry that even Stalin would not risk attacking her directly, Akhmatova's life was hard. Her greatest poem, "Requiem," recounts the suffering of the Russian people under Stalinism -- specifically, the tribulations of those women with whom Akhmatova stood in line outside the prison walls, women who like her waited patiently, but with a sense of great grief and powerlessness, for the chance to send a loaf of bread or a small message to their husbands, sons, lovers. It was not published in in Russia in its entirety until 1987, though the poem itself was begun about the time of her son's arrest. It was his arrest and imprisonment, and the later arrest of her husband Punin, that provided the occasion for the specific content of the poem, which is sequence of lyric poems about imprisonment and its affect on those whose loveed ones are arrested, sentenced, and incarcerated behing prison walls..
The poet was awarded and honorary doctorate by Oxford University in
1965. Akhmatova died in 1966 in Leningrad.
To hear a presentation
of Anna Akhmatova's "Requiem," click on the photo below:
pseudonym of ANNA ANDREYEVNA GORENKO (b. June 11 [June 23, New Style], 1889, Bolshoy Fontan, near Odessa, Ukraine, Russian Empire--d. March 5, 1966, Domodedovo, near Moscow), Russian poet recognized at her death as the greatest woman poet in Russian literature.
Akhmatova began writing verse at the age of 11 and at 21 became a member of the Acmeist group of poets, whose leader, Nikolay Gumilyov, she married in 1910 but divorced in 1918. The Acmeists, through their periodical Apollon ("Apollo"; 1909-17), rejected the esoteric vagueness and affectations of Symbolism and sought to replace them with "beautiful clarity," compactness, simplicity, and perfection of form--all qualities in which Akhmatova excelled from the outset. Her first collections, Vecher (1912; "Evening") and Chyotki (1914; "Rosary"), especially the latter, brought her fame. While exemplifying the best kind of personal or even confessional poetry, they achieve a universal appeal deriving from their artistic and emotional integrity. Akhmatova's principal motif is love, mainly frustrated and tragic love, expressed with an intensely feminine accent and inflection entirely her own.
Later in her life she added to her main theme some civic, patriotic, and religious motifs but without sacrifice of personal intensity or artistic conscience. Her artistry and increasing control of her medium were particularly prominent in her next collections: Belaya staya (1917; "The White Flock"), Podorozhnik (1921; "Plantain"), and Anno Domini MCMXXI (1922). This amplification of her range, however, did not prevent official Soviet critics from proclaiming her "bourgeois and aristocratic," condemning her poetry for its narrow preoccupation with love and God, and characterizing her as half nun and half harlot. The execution in 1921 of her former husband, Gumilyov, on charges of participation in an anti-Soviet conspiracy (the Tagantsev affair) further complicated her position. In 1923 she entered a period of almost complete poetic silence and literary ostracism, and no volume of her poetry was published in the Soviet Union until 1940. In that year several of her poems were published in the literary monthly Zvezda ("The Star"), and a volume of selections from her earlier work appeared under the title Iz shesti knig ("From Six Books"). A few months later, however, it was abruptly withdrawn from sale and libraries. Nevertheless, in September 1941, following the German invasion, Akhmatova was permitted to deliver an inspiring radio address to the women of Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. Evacuated to Tashkent soon thereafter, she read her poems to hospitalized soldiers and published a number of war-inspired lyrics; a small volume of selected lyrics appeared in Tashkent in 1943. At the end of the war she returned to Leningrad, where her poems began to appear in local magazines and newspapers. She gave poetic readings, and plans were made for publication of a large edition of her works.
In August 1946, however, she was harshly denounced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for her "eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference." Her poetry was castigated as "alien to the Soviet people," and she was again described as a "harlot-nun," this time by none other than Andrey Zhdanov, Politburo member and the director of Stalin's program of cultural restriction. She was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers; an unreleased book of her poems, already in print, was destroyed; and none of her work appeared in print for three years.
Then, in 1950, a number of her poems eulogizing Stalin and Soviet communism were printed in several issues of the illustrated weekly magazine Ogonyok ("The Little Light") under the title Iz tsikla "Slava miru" ("From the Cycle 'Glory to Peace' "). This uncharacteristic capitulation to the Soviet dictator--in one of the poems Akhmatova declares: "Where Stalin is, there is Freedom, Peace, and the grandeur of the earth"--was motivated by Akhmatova's desire to propitiate Stalin and win the freedom of her son, Lev Gumilyov, who had been arrested in 1949 and exiled to Siberia. The tone of these poems (those glorifying Stalin were omitted from Soviet editions of Akhmatova's works published after his death) is far different from the moving and universalized lyrical cycle, Rekviem ("Requiem"), composed between 1935 and 1940 and occasioned by Akhmatova's grief over an earlier arrest and imprisonment of her son in 1937. This masterpiece--a poetic monument to the sufferings of the Soviet peoples during Stalin's terror--was published in Moscow in 1989.
In the cultural "thaw" following Stalin's death, Akhmatova was slowly and ambivalently rehabilitated, and a slim volume of her lyrics, including some of her translations, was published in 1958. After 1958 a number of editions of her works, including some of her brilliant essays on Pushkin, were published in the Soviet Union (1961, 1965, two in 1976, 1977); none of these, however, contains the complete corpus of her literary productivity. Akhmatova's longest work, Poema bez geroya ("Poem Without a Hero"), on which she worked from 1940 to 1962, was not published in the Soviet Union until 1976. This difficult and complex work is a powerful lyric summation of Akhmatova's philosophy and her own definitive statement on the meaning of her life and poetic achievement.
Akhmatova executed a number of superb translations of the works of other poets, including Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo Leopardi, and various Armenian and Korean poets. She also wrote sensitive personal memoirs on Symbolist writer Aleksandr Blok, the artist Amedeo Modigliani, and fellow Acmeist Osip Mandelstam.
In 1964 she was awarded the Etna-Taormina prize, an international poetry prize awarded in Italy, and in 1965 she received an honorary doctoral degree from Oxford University. Her journeys to Sicily and England to receive these honours were her first travel outside her homeland since 1912. Akhmatova's works were widely translated, and her international stature continued to grow after her death. A two-volume edition of Akhmatova's collected works was published in Moscow in 1986, and The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, also in two volumes, appeared in 1990.
1. Sam N. Driver, Anna Akhmatova (1972), combines a brief biography with a concise survey of the poetry.
2. Amanda Haight, Anna Akhmatova: A Poetic Pilgrimage (1976), is a critical biography analyzing the relation of the poet's life to her poetry.
3. Ronald Hingley, Nightingale Fever: Russian Poets in Revolution (1981), defines the historical and social background of the four poetical titans of 20th-century Russia.
4. Anatoly Nayman, Remembering Anna Akhmatova (1991; originally published in Russian, 1989), is a work of the poet's literary secretary who witnessed her last years.