- Paperback: 338 pages
- Publisher: Bloodaxe Books Ltd (1 Jun. 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1852240636
- ISBN-13: 978-1852240639
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 22.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 410,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Selected Poems Paperback – 1 Jun 1989
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McKane's Akhmatova versions are unparalleled, and a great advance on his admittedly brilliant early work on that wonderful poet. They have a restrained brilliance and an extraordinary personal power. --Peter Levi
This book is outstanding value for money. Apart from 264 pages of poems, there are notes by both writer and translator, an informative introduction and lengthy excerpts from Akhmatova's autobiographical writings. And of course the stamp of greatness is all over it; nobody could mistake the sound of someone creating on a different level. Reading these poems is like being higher up a mountain than people are meant to go; you can only take it for so long. --Sheenagh Pugh, Poetry Review
Whether epic or epigrammatic (and this new Selected Poems confirms how powerful she can be in either mood), she often expresses her sense of history by personifying it in one of the more statuesque and archetypal female modes of being: mourning, enduring, witnessing. In order to bear witness, she had to stay put, honing her gift to a tensile strength equal to any horror that war, famine or Stalin could devise . . . With so many of the later poems now in this one collection it is possible to trace the sweep of her development, and feel how the lovely early lyrics are balanced by the more tough and declarative pieces she wrote in her early seventies. --Carol Rumens, Sunday Times
About the Author
Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) was Russia's greatest modern poet. She published her first book of poems in 1912, and in the same year founded the Acmeist movement with her husband, the poet Gumilev. Her intense, highly personal love lyrics were later attacked as anti-revolutionary, and in 1925 her poetry was banned. Gumilev was shot in 1921 for alleged involvement in an anti-Bolshevik plot, and in the years of terror which followed under Stalin, Akhmatova was persecuted for her work along with fellow poets Mandelstam, who died in a camp, and Tsvetaeva, who committed suicide. She was able to publish some work during the war, but in 1946 she again came under attack, this time from Zhdanov, who denounced her with Pasternak and others for trying to poison the minds of Soviet youth. These were attacks on her published work. What she was writing but could not publish was far more dangerous. For she had entered her years of silence. As she fought for her son's release from prison, she was writing her greatest poetry: the cycle "Requiem", which commemorated all of Stalin's victims, and "Poem without a hero", which she began in 1940 and worked on for over 20 years. All she wrote she committed to memory. Several trusted friends also memorised her poems, among them Mandelstam's widow Nadezhda. She wrote nothing down, and so survived, the people's conscience, the one who kept 'the great Russian word' alive.
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The book includes a selection of Akhmatova's (1889 -- 1966) poetry from 1909 through the early 1960s. Her work is both intimate, expressivist, and personal and also gives a deeply poetical response to the wars and terrors of the first half of the Twentieth Century, including both World Wars, the Russian Revolution, and the terrors and purges of Communism. Akhmatova lived and suffered through them.
The Selected Poems includes works from seven collections; "Evening", "Rosary", "White Flock", "Plantain", "Anno Domini", "Reed" and "The Seventh Book" together with two great long works, "Requiem" and the "Poem Without a Hero." In her earlier works, Akhmatova became recognized as a major figure in the "Silver Age" of Russian literature in the years just before the Revolution. Her poems from this period tend to be short. They focus on her unhappy relationship with her first husband, killed by the communists in 1921 and with her lovers. The poems describe places in Old Russia, tend to be concentrated, and are full of lyricism and passion.
Following the Russian Revolution, the passion continues. Akhmatova, her former husband, and her son, suffered continued pressure and persecution from the new regime. Her poems continue to describe her life and her love affairs and also assume a political tone of the sufferings engendered by wars and by communism. For many years, Akhmatova was forbidden to publish and her poems were recited and preserved by memory.
The long poem "Requiem" depicts the experience of the poet and of countless others during the Soviet purges of 1937 -- 1938. In her introduction, Akhmatova writes:
"In the fearful years of the Yezov terror I spent seventeen months in prison queues in Leningrad. One day somebody 'identified me. Besides me, in the queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never heard of me; but she suddenly come out of that trance so common to us all and whispered in my ear (everybody spoke in whispers there): 'Can you describe this?' And I said 'Yes, I can.' And then something like the shadow of a smile crossed what had once been her face."
This long poem is moving and accessible. Akhmatova did indeed describe the scene, as she told her fell0w-prisoner she could.
The long "Poem without a Hero", while also moving and deeply personal, is modernist and often opaque. It includes many literary allusions and allusions to the poet's own life. The details and the individual sections of the work frequently are spare and taut. The poem describes the Siege of Leningrad. In the process, Ahkmatova reflects on her own life, on earlier history, and on the tragedies of the Twentieth Century. She wrote: "I frequently hear of certain absurd interpretations of 'Poem without a Hero'. And I have been advised to make it clearer. This I decline to do. It contains no third, seventh, or twenty-ninth thoughts. I shall neither explain nor change anything. What is written is written." The poem shows, among other things, the influence of the poetry of T.S. Elliott.
In additional to the personal poems and the historical meditations, many of Akhmatova's poems describe figures such as Sophocles, Dante, Beatrice, Rachel, Lot's Wife, and Cleopatra. Here is a late poem, "Last Rose", written in 1962 that Akhmatova read to Robert Frost during his visit to the Soviet Union.
"Bowing down to the ground with Morozova,
Dancing with the head of a lover,
Flying from Dido's Pyre in smoke
To burn with Joan at the stake --
Lord! can't you see I'm weary
Of this rising and dying and living.
Take it all, but once more bring me close
To sense the freshness of this crimson rose,"
I was glad to get to know something of Akhmatova through the thoughtful gift of this Folio Society book. Readers without the good fortune of the gift, may make the gift of the poet's acquaintance in the earlier Vintage paperback edition of her selected poems.
At the beginning of the book is a decent introduction plus extracts from Akhmatova's memoirs and there are translator's notes about the poems which are helpful in setting the scene and explaining allusions and background.
Definitely worth a read.
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