History of Literature

Anna Akhmatova 





Anna Achmatova



Anna Akhmatova 

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born June 11 [June 23, New Style], 1889, Bolshoy Fontan, near Odessa, Ukraine, Russian Empire
died March 5, 1966, Domodedovo, near Moscow

pseudonym of Anna Andreyevna Gorenko Russian poet recognized at her death as the greatest woman poet in Russian literature.

Anna Akhmatova

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 butdivorced 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. Herfirst 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 andinflection 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 A few months later, however, it was abruptly withdrawn from sale and libraries.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.

Anna Akhmatova

In August 1946, however, she was harshly denounced by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for her “eroticism, mysticism, and political indifference.” Her poetrywas 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 workappeared 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: “WhereStalin is, there is Freedom, Peace, and the grandeur of the earth”—was motivated by Akhmatova's desire to propitiateStalin 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.

Anna Akhmatova

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 Mandelshtam.

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, andher international stature continued to grow after her death. Atwo-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.


Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. Portrait of Anna Akhmatova. 1922


Anna Akhmatova

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Anna Akhmatova (Russian and Ukrainian: А́нна Ахма́това; June 23 [O.S. June 11] 1889 – March 5, 1966) was the pen name of the modernist poet Anna Andreyevna Gorenko (Russian: А́нна Андре́евна Горе́нко; Ukrainian: А́нна Андрі́ївна Горе́нко), one of the most acclaimed female writers in the Russian canon.

Akhmatova's work ranges from short lyric poems to intricately structured cycles, such as Requiem (1935–40), her tragic masterpiece about the Stalinist terror. Her style, characterised by its economy and emotional restraint, was strikingly original and distinctive to her contemporaries. The strong and clear leading female voice struck a new chord in Russian poetry. Her writing can be said to fall into two periods - the early work (1912–25) and her later work (from around 1936 until her death), divided by a decade of reduced literary output. Her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities and she is notable for choosing not to emigrate, and remaining in Russia, acting as witness to the atrocities around her. Her perennial themes include meditations on time and memory, and the difficulties of living and writing in the shadow of Stalinism.

Primary sources of information about Akhmatova's life are relatively scant, as war, revolution and the totalitarian regime caused much of the written record to be destroyed. For long periods she was in official disfavour and many of those who were close to her died in the aftermath of the revolution.


Portrait by Nathan Altman of Anna Akhmatova, 1914

Early life and family

Akhmatova was born at Bolshoy Fontan, near the Black Sea port of Odessa. Her father, Andrey Antonovich Gorenko, a civil servant, and her mother, Inna Erazmovna Stogova, were both descended from the Russian nobility. Akhmatova wrote,

"No one in my large family wrote poetry. But the first Russian woman poet, Anna Bunina, was the aunt of my grandfather Erasm Ivanovich Stogov. The Stogovs were modest landowners in the Mozhaisk region of the Moscow Province. They were moved here after the insurrection during the time of Posadnitsa Marfa. In Novgorod they had been a wealthier and more distinguished family. Khan Akhmat, my ancestor, was killed one night in his tent by a Russian killer-for-hire. Karamzin tells us that this marked the end of the Mongol yoke on Russia. [...] It was well known that this Akhmat was a descendant of Genghiz Khan. In the eighteenth century, one of the Akhmatov Princesses - Praskovia Yegorvna - married the rich and famous Simbirsk landowner Motovilov. Yegor Motovilov was my great-grandfather; his daughter, Anna Yegorovna, was my grandmother. She died when my mother was nine years old, and I was named in her honour. Several diamond rings and one emerald were made from her brooch. Though my fingers are thin, still her thimble didn't fit me."

Her family moved north to Tsarskoye Selo, near St. Petersburg when she was eleven months old. The family lived in a house on the corner of Shirokaya Street and Bezymyanny Lane; (the building is no longer there today), spending summers from age 7 to 13 in a dacha near Sevastopol. She studied at the Mariinskaya High School, moving to Kiev (1906–10) and finished her schooling there, after her parents separated in 1905. She went on to study law at Kiev University, leaving a year later to study literature in St Petersburg.

Anna started writing poetry at the age of 11, and published in her late teens, inspired by the poets Nikolay Nekrasov, Racine, Pushkin, Baratynsky and the Symbolists however none of her juvenilia survives. Her sister Inna also wrote poetry though she did not pursue the practice and married shortly after high school. Anna's father did not want to see any verses printed under his "respectable" name, so she chose to adopt her grandmother's distinctly Tatar surname 'Akhmatova' as a pen name.

Anna Akhmatova with her husband Nikolay Gumilev and son, Lev Gumilev, 1913


She met the young poet, Nikolay Gumilyov on Christmas Eve 1903, who encouraged her to write and pursued her intensely, making numerous marriage proposals from 1905. At 17 years old, in his journal Sirius, she published her first poem which could be translated as On his hand are many shiny rings, (1907) signing it ‘Anna G.’ She soon became known in St Petersburg's artistic circles, regularly giving public readings. That year, she wrote unenthusiastically to a friend,“He has loved me for three years now, and I believe that it is my fate to be his wife. Whether or not I love him, I do not know, but it seems to me that I do.”; She married Gumilyov in Kiev in April 1910, however none of Akhmatova’s family attended the wedding. The couple honeymooned in Paris, and there she met and befriended the Italian artist Modigliani.

In late 1910, she came together with poets such as Osip Mandelstam and Sergey Gorodetsky to form the Guild of Poets. It promoted the idea of craft as the key to poetry rather than inspiration or mystery, taking themes of the concrete rather than the more ephemeral world of the Symbolists. Over time, they developed the influential Acmeist anti-symbolist school, concurrent with the growth of Imagism in Europe and America. From the first year of their marriage, Gumilyov began to chafe against its constraints. She wrote that he had "lost his passion" for her and by the end of that year he left on a six month trip to Africa. Akhmatova had "her first taste of fame", becoming renowned, not so much for her beauty, as her intense magnetism and allure, attracting the fascinated attention of a great many men, including the great and the good. She returned to visit Modigliani in Paris, where he created at least 20 paintings of her, including several nudes. She later began an affair with the poet celebrated Acmeist poet Osip Mandelstam, whose wife, Nadezhda, declared later, in her autobiography that she came to forgive Akhmatova for it in time. Akhmatova's son, Lev, was born in 1912, and would go on to become a renowned Neo-Eurasianist historian.

Amedeo Modigliani
Sketch of Anna Akhmatova
, 1911

Paris is in dark mist
And probably again Modigliani
Imperceptibly follows me.
He has a sad virtue
To bring disorder even to my dreams
And be the reason of my many misfortunes.

                                     Anna Akhmatova

Amedeo Modigliani

Sketches of Anna Akhmatova
, 1911

Silver Age

In 1912, the Guild of Poets published her book of verse Evening (Vecher) - the first of five in nine years. The small edition of 500 copies quickly sold out and she received around a dozen positive notices in the literary press. It contained brief, psychologically taut pieces, acclaimed for their classical diction, telling details, and the skilful use of colour. Evening and her next four books were mostly lyric miniatures on the theme of love; her early poems usually picture a man and a woman involved in the most poignant, ambiguous moment of their relationship, much imitated and later parodied by Nabokov and others. She exercised a strong selectivity for the pieces - including only 35 of the 200 poems she had written by the end of 1911. (She noted that Song of the Last Meeting, dated 29 September 1911, was her 200th poem). The book secured her reputation as a new and striking young writer, the poems Grey-eyed king, In the Forest, Over the Water and I don’t need my legs anymore making her famous. She later wrote "These naÔve poems by a frivolous girl for some reason were reprinted thirteen times [...] And they came out in several translations. The girl herself (as far as I recall) did not foresee such a fate for them and used to hide the issues of the journals in which they were first published under the sofa cushions".

Portrait of Anna Akhmatova by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya, 1914


Her second collection, The Rosary (or Beads - Chetki) appeared in March 1914 and firmly established her as one of the most popular and sought after poets of the day. Thousands of women composed poems "in honour of Akhmatova", mimicking her style and prompting Akhmatova to exclaim: "I taught our women how to speak, but don't know how to make them silent". Her aristocratic manners and artistic integrity won her the titles "Queen of the Neva" and "Soul of the Silver Age," as the period came to be known in the history of Russian poetry. In Poem Without a Hero, the longest and one of the best known of her works, written many decades later, she would recall this as a blessed time of her life. She became close friends with Boris Pasternak (who, though married, proposed to her many times) and rumours began to circulate that she was having an affair with influential lyrical poet Alexander Blok. In July 1914, Akhmatova wrote “Frightening times are approaching/ Soon fresh graves will cover the land"; on August 1, Germany declared war on Russia, marking the start of "the dark storm" of world war, civil war, revolution and totalitarian repression for Russia.The Silver Age came to a close.

Following the breakup of her marriage, Akhmatova had an affair with the mosaic artist and poet Boris Anrep (1883 - 1969) during World War I; at least 34 of her poems are about him. He in turn created mosaics in which she features. In the Cathedral of Christ the King Mullingar, Anrep’s mosaic of Saint Anne is spelt Anna. Additionally, the saint’s image bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Akhmatova in her mid-20s.

Anrep also depicted Akhmatova in a mosaic entitled Compassion, located in the National Gallery in London.




Akhmatova had a relationship with the mosaic artist and poet Boris Anrep; many of her poems in the period are about him and in turn created mosaics in which she features.She selected poems for her third collection Belaya Staya (White Flock) in 1917, a volume which poet and critic Joseph Brodsky later described as writing of personal lyricism tinged with the “note of controlled terror”. She later came to be memorialised by his description of her as "the keening muse". [20] Essayist John Bayley describes her writing at this time as "grim, spare and laconic". In February 1917, the revolution started in Petersburg (then named Petrograd); soldiers fired on marching protestors, and others mutinied. They looked to a past in which the future was "rotting". In a city with out electricity or sewage service, with little water or food, they faced starvation and sickness. Her friends died around her and others left in droves for safer havens in Europe and America, including Anrep, who escaped to England. She had the option to leave, and considered it for a time, but chose to stay and was proud of her decision to remain. That summer she wrote:

You are a traitor, and for a green island,
Have betrayed, yes, betrayed your native
Abandoned all our songs and sacred
And the pine tree over a quiet lake.

(From Green Island. Trans. Jane Kenyon)

She also wrote of her own temptation to leave:

A voice came to me. It called out comfortingly.
It said, "Come here,
Leave your deaf and sinful land,
Leave Russia forever,
I will wash the blood from your hands,
Root out the black shame from your heart,
[...] calmly and indifferently,
I covered my ears with my hands,
So that my sorrowing spint
Would not be stained by those shameful words.

(From When in suicidal anguish (Trans. Jane Kenyon)

Vladimir Shilejko

At the height of Akhmatova's fame, in 1918, she divorced her husband and that same year, though many of her friends considered it a mistake, Akhmatova married prominent Assyriologist and poet Vladimir Shilejko.  She later said “I felt so filthy. I thought it would be like a cleansing, like going to a convent, knowing you are going to lose your freedom.” She began affairs with theatre director Mikhail Zimmerman and composer Arthur Louriť, who set many of her poems to music.



The accursed years

In 1921, Akhmatova's former husband Nikolay Gumilyov was prosecuted for his alleged role in a monarchist anti-Bolshevik conspiracy and on 25 August was shot along with 61 others. According to the historian Rayfield, the murder of Gumilev was part of the state response to the Kronstadt Rebellion. The Cheka (secret police) blamed the rebellion on Petrograd's intellectuals, prompting the senior Cheka officer Agranov to forcibly extract the names of 'conspirators', from an imprisoned professor, guaranteeing them amnesty from execution. Agranov then pronounced death sentences on a large number of them, including Gumilev. Gorky and others appealed, but by the time Lenin agreed to several pardons, the condemned had been shot. Within a few days of his death, Akhmatova wrote:

Terror fingers all things in the dark,
Leads moonlight to the axe.
There’s an ominous knock behind the
A ghost, a thief or a rat....

The murders had a powerful effect on the Russian intelligentsia, destroying the Acmeist poetry group, and placing a stigma on Akhmatova and her son Lev (by Gumilev). Lev's later arrest in the purges and terrors of the 1930s were based on being his father's son. From a new Marxist perspective, Akhmatova's poetry was deemed to represent an introspective "bourgeois aesthetic", reflecting only trivial "female" preoccupations, not in keeping with these new revolutionary politics of the time. She was roundly attacked by the state, by former supporters and friends, seen to be an anachronism - her time ended. During what she termed "The Vegetarian Years", Akhmatova's work was unofficially banned by a party resolution of 1925 and she found it hard to publish, though she didn't stop writing poetry. She made acclaimed translations of works by Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo Leopardi and pursued academic work on Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. She worked as a critic and essayist, though many critics and readers both within and outside Russia concluded she had died. She had little food and almost no money; her son was denied access to study at academic institutions by dint of his parents' alleged anti-state activities. The impact of the nation-wide repression and purges had a decimating effect on her St Petersburg circle of friends, artists and intellectuals.

Mandelstam and Achmatova, 1934

Mandelstam and Achmatova, 1934

Her close friend and fellow poet Mandelstam was deported and then sentenced to a Gulag labour camp, where he would die. She narrowly escaped arrest, though her son Lev was imprisoned multiple times by the Stalinist regime, accused of counter-revolutionary activity. She would often queue for hours to deliver him food packages and plead on his behalf. She describes standing outside the stone prison:

"One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):

" 'Can you describe this?'
"And I said: 'I can.'
"Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face."

By 1935, she records, every time she went to see someone off at the train station as they went into exile, she'd find herself greeting friends at every step as so many of St Petersburg's intellectual and cultural figures would be leaving on the same train. In her poetry circles Yesenin, Mayakovsky and Esenin committed suicide and Akhmatova's sister poet Marina Tsvetaeva would follow them in 1941, after returning from exile.

Akhmatova married an art scholar and lifelong friend, Nikolai Punin, whom she stayed with until 1935. He too was repeatedly taken into custody and would die in the Gulag. Her tragic cycle Requiem, documents her personal experience of this time; as she writes, "one hundred million voices shout" through her "tortured mouth".

Seventeen months I’ve pleaded
for you to come home.
Flung myself at the hangman’s feet.
My terror, oh my son.
And I can’t understand.
Now all’s eternal confusion.
Who’s beast, and who’s man?
How long till execution?

(from Requiem. Trans. A.S. Kline, 2005).

Nikolai Punin and Anna Akhmatova.

From 1939: The thaw

In 1939, Stalin approved the publication of one volume of poetry, From Six Books, however the collection was withdrawn and pulped after only a few months. In 1993, it was revealed that the authorities had bugged her flat and kept her under constant surveillance, keeping detailed files on her from this time, accruing some 900 pages of "denunciations, reports of phone taps, quotations from writings, confessions of those close to her". Although officially stifled, Akhmatova's work continued to circulate in secret (samizdat), her work hidden, passed and read in the gulags. Akhmatova's close friend and chronicler Lydia Chukovskaya described how writers working to keep poetic messages alive used various strategies. A small trusted circle would, for example, memorise each others' works and circulate them only by oral means. She tells how Akhmatova would write out her poem for a visitor on a scrap of paper to be read in a moment, then burnt in her stove. The poems were carefully disseminated it this way, however it is likely that many complied in this manner were lost. "It was like a ritual," Chukovskaya wrote. "Hands, matches, an ashtray. A ritual beautiful and bitter."

During World War II, Akhmatova witnessed the 900 day Siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg). In 1940, Akhmatova started her Poem without a Hero, finishing a first draft in Tashkent, but working on "The Poem" for twenty years and considering it to be the major work of her life, dedicating it to "the memory of its first audience - my friends and fellow citizens who perished in Leningrad during the siege". She was evacuated to Chistopol in the autumn of 1941 and then to greener, safer Tashkent in Uzbekistan, along with other artists, such as Shostakovitch. During her time away she became seriously ill with typhus (she had suffered from severe bronchitis and tuberculosis as a young woman). On returning to Leningrad in May 1944, she writes of how disturbed she was to find "a terrible ghost that pretended to be my city".

If a gag should blind my tortured mouth,
through which a hundred million people shout,
then let them pray for me, as I do pray
for them
From Requiem (1940).

(Trans. Kunitz and Hayward)

She regularly read to soldiers in the military hospitals and on the front line; indeed, her later pieces seem to be the voice of those who had struggled and the many she has outlived. She moved away from romantic themes towards a more diverse, complex and philosophical body of work and some of her more patriotic poems found their way to the front pages of Pravda. She was condemned for a visit by the liberal, western, Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin in 1946, and Official Andrei Zhdanov publicly labelled her "half harlot, half nun", her work "the poetry of an overwrought, upper-class lady". He banned her poems from publication in the journals Zvezda and Leningrad, accusing her of poisoning the minds of Soviet youth. Her surveillance was increased and she was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers. Berlin described his visit to her flat: It was very barely furnished—virtually everything in it had, I gathered, been taken away—looted or sold—during the siege . . . . A stately, grey-haired lady, a white shawl draped about her shoulders, slowly rose to greet us. Anna Akhmatova was immensely dignified, with unhurried gestures, a noble head, beautiful, somewhat severe features, and an expression of immense sadness.

Akhmatova's son Lev was arrested again at the end of 1949 and sentenced to 10 years in a Siberian prison camp. She spent much of the next years trying to ensure his release, to this end, and for the first time, she published overtly propagandist poetry, “In Praise of Peace,” in the magazine Ogoniok, openly supporting Stalin and his regime. Lev remained in the camps until 1956, well after Stalin's death, his final release potentially aided by his mother's concerted efforts. Bayley suggests that her period of pro-Stalnist work may also have saved her own life; notably however, Akhmatova never acknowledged these pieces in her official corpus. Akhmatova's stature among Russian poets was slowly conceded by party officials, her name no longer cited in only scathing contexts and she was readmitted to Union of Writers in 1951, being fully recognised again following Stalin's death in 1953.

With the press still heavily controlled and censored under Nikita Khrushchev, a translation by Akhmatova was praised in a public review in 1955, and her own poems began to re-appear in 1956. In this year Lev was released from the camps, embittered, believing that his mother cared more about her poetry than her son and that she had not worked hard for his release. Akhmatova's status was confirmed by 1958, with the publication of Stikhotvoreniya (Poems) and then Stikhotvoreniya 1909-1960 (Poems: 1909-1960) in 1961.  Beg vremeni (The flight of time), collected works 1909-1965, published in 1965, was the most complete volume of her works in her lifetime, though the long damning poem Requiem, condemning the Stalinist purges, was conspicuously absent. Isaiah Berlin predicted at the time that could never be published in the Soviet Union.

Anna Akhmatova  and Boris Pasternak, 1946

Last years

A land not mine, still
forever memorable,
the waters of its ocean
chill and fresh.

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine,
late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.

Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again.

A land not mine 1964

(Trans. Jane Kenyon)

During the last years of her life she continued to live with the Punin family in Leningrad, still translating, researching Pushkin and writing her own poetry. Though still censored, she was concerned to re-construct work that had been destroyed or suppressed during the purges or which had posed a threat the life of her son in the camps, such as the lost, semi-autobiographical play Enuma Elish. She worked on her official memoirs, planned novels and worked on her epic Poem without a hero, 20 years in the writing.

Anna Akhmatova  in Italy, 1964

Anna Akhmatova  in London, 1964

Akhmatova was widely honoured in Russia and the West. In 1962 she was visited by Robert Frost; Isaiah Berlin tried to visit her again, but she refused him, worried that her son might be re-arrested due to family association with the ideologically suspect western philosopher. She inspired and advised a large circle of key young Soviet writers. Her dacha in Komarovo was frequented by such poets as Yevgeny Rein and Joseph Brodsky, whom she mentored. Brodsky, arrested in 1963 and interned for social parasitism, would go on to win of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1987) and become Poet Laureate (1991) as an exile in the US. As one of the last remaining major poets of the Silver Age, she was newly acclaimed by the Soviet authorities as a fine and loyal representative of their country and permitted to travel. At the same time, by virtue of works such as Requiem, Akhmatova was being hailed at home and abroad as an unofficial leader of the dissident movement, and reinforcing this image herself. She was becoming representative of both Russias, more popular in the 1960s than she had ever been before the revolution, this reputation only continuing to grow after her death. For her 75th birthday in 1964, new collections of her verse were published.


Akhmatova was able to meet some of her pre-revolutionary acquaintances in 1965, when she was allowed to travel to Sicily and England, in order to receive the Taormina prize and an honorary doctoral degree from Oxford University, accompanied by her life-long friend and secretary Lydia Chukovskaya. Akhmatova's Requiem in Russian finally appeared in book form in Munich in 1963, the whole work not published within Russia until 1987. Her long poem The Way of All the Earth or Woman of Kitezh (Kitezhanka) was published in complete form in 1965.

In November 1965, soon after her Oxford visit, Akhmatova suffered a heart attack and was hospitalised. She was moved to a sanatorium in Moscow in the spring of 1966 and died of heart failure on March 5, at the age of 76. Two ceremonies were held - one in Moscow and one in Leningrad - which crowds of thousands attended. After being displayed in an open coffin, she was interred at Komarovo Cemetery in St Petersburg.


Anna Akhmatova on his deathbed

Anna Akhmatova on his deathbed



At Akhmatova's funeral.
Yevgeny Rein and Joseph Brodsky.
Brodsky stands to the right

Lev Gumilev, 1966



Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin described the impact of her life, as he saw it:

The widespread worship of her memory in Soviet Union today, both as an artist and as an unsurrendering human being, has, so far as I know, no parallel. The legend of her life and unyielding passive resistance to what she regarded as unworthy of her country and herself, transformed her into a figure [...] not merely in Russian literature, but in Russian history in [the Twentieth] century.



Anna Ahmatova's grave, St Petersburg


Joseph Brodsky

"…All the same, the five open a’s of Anna Akhmatova had a hypnotic effect and put this name’s carrier firmly on top of the alphabet of Russian poetry. In a sense, it was her first successful line; memorable in its acoustic inevitability, with its Ah sponsored less by sentiment than by history. This tells you a lot about the intuition and quality of the ear of this seventeen-year-old girl who soon after publication began to sign her letters and legal papers as Anna Akhmatova. In its suggestion of identity derived from the fusion of sound and time, the choice of the pseudonym turned out to be prophetic…"


Joseph Brodsky





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