Anna Akhmatova

Akhmatova died in 1966, but the power of her poetry has not diminished with time. Generations of Russians have known by heart the love lyrics from her first two celebrated collections, “Evening” (1912) and “Rosary” (1914); no other poet has had quite her intonation of passionate, fragile restraint, her laconic poignancy, her ability to convey depths of feeling through the simple image of a woman who, in walking away from a lover, pulls her left glove onto her right hand. If the early Akhmatova is often compared to Sappho, in the later volumes “White Flock” (1917) and “Anno Domini MCMXXI” (1922) she speaks with the sonorous voice of Cassandra. Later yet came “Requiem,” a banned cycle of poems written at the time of Stalin’s Great Terror, during the endless months she spent waiting outside the St. Petersburg prison for news of her son’s fate. Published in Russian in its entirety only in 1987, the stark lines (cited here in Judith Hemschemeyer’s fine translation) still ring out with the force of shattering revelations:

That was when the ones who smiled

Were the dead, glad to be at rest.

And like a useless appendage, Leningrad

Swung from its prisons.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.