Biography Anna Akhmatova
Anna Akhmatova (Russian: А́ннаАхма́това, real name А́нна Андре́евна Горе́нко) (1889 — 1966) is regarded as one of Russia’s greatest poets. She was born in Odessa to a family of Russian and Tatar nobility. She was educated in Tsarskoe Selo outside of St. Petersburg. Inspired by poets such as Racine, Pushkin, and Baratynsky, she started writing poetry at the age of eleven, under pseudonym chosen at the request of her father. Her former husband and co-founder of the Acmeist movement in poetry, a WWI hero Nikolay Gumilev, whom she married in 1910, was shot for anti-Soviet activities. Her son was arrested several times and spent eighteen years in Soviet labor camps. Her later husband, Nikolai Punin, was sent to the camps too, where he died in 1953.
In 1912, Akhmatova published her first collection, entitled Evening. Her work addresses a variety of themes including a woman’s perception of love, especially frustrated and tragic love, time and memory, the fate of creative women, and grief. The originality of Akhmatova’s poetry lies not only in Acmeist poetics, but also in the novelty of the feminine voice expressing a woman’s perception of love. Her second book, Rosary, (1914) was even more popular. In some of her poems Akhmatova transformed personal experience in her work through a series of masks, in other verses she draws upon folkloric imagery and language that bring her works close to the women’s lament in the Russian folk tradition. In her third collection, White Flock (1917), Akhmatova broadened the thematic range by including many poems of strong patriotic sentiment.
Between 1923 and 1930, Akhmatova was rarely published due to her condemnation by the authorities as a “bourgeois element.” She earned her living by translating poetry from different languages and publishing essays. During her forced silence (1922-1940), Akhmatova researched the life and works of Pushkin, producing scholarly articles published posthumously under the title On Pushkin. From 1925 to 1952, Akhmatova’s works were not allowed in publication or distribution.
Between 1935 and 1940 she composed Requiem, a sequence of poems that 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. This tragic masterpiece on a mother’s anguish over her son’s imprisonment during the Stalinist terror. Akhmatova 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.
Akhmatova had good reasons to be worried about Stalin’s control, as he was particularly obsessed with literature. To ensure the survival of her poem, she taught it to her closest female friend Lydia Chukovskaya who would remember the poem after her own death. When visiting Lydia, Akhmatova would whisper parts of it for Lydia to retain, but in her own bugged apartment she would gesture at the ceiling and say in a loud voice, “Will you have some tea?” while passing over a handwritten page. Lydia would memorize the poems on it and give it back. “How early autumn has come this year,” Anna would then muse, striking a match and burning the paper over the ashtray.
During the war she was evacuated to Tashkent where a volume of her poetry appeared in 1943 with the cycle From a Tashkent Notebook.
Inspired by Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, she spent 22 years of her life to compose Poem without Hero (1940-1962). Written in Leningrad, Tashkent and Moscow, this is the longest of her works, a collection of poems where multiple voices and different genres compose the lyric chronicle, which is permeated with literary and biographical allusions.
Although in 1949, in the USSR Akhmatova was thrown out of the Writers’ Union, internationally, Isaiah Berlin and Robert Frost sang Akhmatova’s praises. She was awarded Italy’s Taormina prize in 1964 and received her honorary doctorate at Oxford University in 1965. She died of a heart failure on March 5, 1966.
Elaine Feinstein, Anna of All the Russians (New York: Vintage, 2007).
Lidiia Korneevna Chukovskaia, Zapiski ob Anne Akhmatovoi (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1976; revised and enlarged, 2 volumes, 1980); translated by Milena Michalski and Sylva Rubashova as The Akhmatova Journals, 2 volumes (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994).
Konstantin M. Polivanov, ed., Anna Akhmatova and Her Circle,translated by Patricia Beriozkina (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994).