Dr. Thomas DuBose
December 9, 2014
Anna Akhmatova: “A Poet in the Shadow of a Dictator”
Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, or Anna Akhmatova was born June 11, 1889. She was a Russian modernist poet and she was one of the most acclaimed writers in the Russian canon. Akhmatova's work ranges from short lyric poems to intricately structured cycles, such as Requiem (1935–40), her most well-known work about the terror of living in Stalin’s Russia. Her writing style is characterised by its pithiness and emotional restraint; it was one of a kind and stood out to her contemporaries. The strong and clear leading female voice brought something fresh to Russian poetry. Her writing is divided into two periods: Earlier work and later work; There was a ten year period in between where she put out very little literary work. Her work was condemned and censored by Stalin and his administration and she is notable for not fleeing to the West as so many others did, inadvertently acting as witness to the atrocities surrounding Stalin’s regime.
Her recurring themes include time and memory, and the hardships of living and being a poet under the threat of Stalin’s Russia. First person sources of information about Akhmatova's life are relatively few and far between, because of the tumult of war, revolution and the dictatorial regime caused most of any written record to be destroyed. Over long periods, she found herself in official disfavor and many of her close friends died in the aftermath of the revolution. Akhmatova's first husband, Nikolai Gumilyov was accused of plotting against the regime and later executed, and her son Lev Gumilyov and her common-law husband Nikolay Punin spent many years in concentration. Punin later died.
Akhmatova was born at Bolshoy Fontan, near the Black Sea port of Odessa. Her father, Andrey Antonovich Gorenko was an engineer for the Russian Navy, and her mother, Inna Erazmovna Stogova, were both descended from the Russian nobility. Her family moved north to Tsarskoye Selo, near St. Petersburg when she was less than a year old. The three of them lived in a house on the corner of Shirokaya Street and Bezymyanny Lane, the building is no longer standing. She spent summers from the ages 7 to 13 in a small cottage near Sevastopol. She attended school at Mariinskaya High School, then moved to Kiev (1906–10) and finished her school there, after her parents separated in 1905. She continued on and studied law at Kiev University. She left a year later to study literature in St. Petersburg.
Akhmatova started writing poetry when she was eleven, and began Publishing in her late teens, drawing inspiration from the poets Nikolay Nekrasov, Jean Racine, Alexander Pushkin, Evgeny Baratynsky and the Symbolists; however, none of her earliest work survived. Her sister Inna also wrote poetry, but she did not continue to write, deciding to marry shortly after high school. Akhmatova's father did not want to have his "respectable" name on any of her poetry, so she took her grandmother's last name Akhmatova as a pen name.
On Christmas Eve 1903, Akhmatova met a young poet named Nikolay Gumilyov who encouraged her to write and pursued her fiercely. He made numerous marriage proposals. In 1907 at the age of 17, 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. None of Akhmatova’s family were in attendance.
In late 1910, she got together a group of writers, with poets such as Osip Mandelstam and Sergey Gorodetsky, to form The Guild of Poets. It promoted the belief of ability over inspiration or mystery being the key to brilliant poetry, using themes of the concrete and visceral rather than the more abstract world of the Symbolists. Over time, they developed the influential “Acme” anti-symbolist school, in keeping with the surge of Imagism…