Monday, October 29, 2007

Poems of Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova was a reticent woman, and even if she had not lived in the extraordinary isolation to which the circumstances of her time condemned her, we would doubtless still know little of her life--except what she chose to say in her verse, and in the brief autobiographical note published in Moscow not long before her death. (first line from Poems of Akhmatova, translated by Stanley Kunitz)

So I've been waiting to read Michael Dirda's
Classics for Pleasure for months, ever since it caught my eye in Publisher's Weekly. It came out this month, and I immediately scanned the table of contents for a writer I'd never heard of before, much less read.

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) is not very well-known in the States, but in her homeland of Russia she is revered for her Acmeist poetry. She lived a tragic life-- divorced, forced to give up custody of her son to her mother-in-law, her ex-husband later shot by the government, her son imprisoned as an adult, suffering from a debilitating thyroid imbalance, and forced to burn her political poetry for years during Russia's instability. I could go on to compare her to Virginia Woolf for ages, but I'm simply going to leave you with a link to more information and then two poems of hers with which I've fallen in love. one will connect to the Pushkin Museum--go to the "Meeting Modigliani" website, then on "Drawings" to see a few of Modigliani's 16 sketches of Anna.)

"Three things enchanted him"

Three things enchanted him:
white peacocks, evensong,
and faded maps of America.
He couldn't stand bawling brats,
or raspberry jam with his tea,
or womanish hysteria.
...And he was tied to me.

"I am air and fire..." Shakespeare

She had already kissed Antony's dead lips,
she had already wept on her knees before Caesar...
and her servants have betrayed her. Darkness falls.
The trumpets of the Roman eagle scream.

And in comes the last man to be ravished by her beauty--
such a tall gallant!--with a shamefaced whisper:
"You must walk before him, as a slave, in the triumph."
But the slope of her swan's neck is tranquil as ever.

Tomorrow they'll put her children in chains. Nothing
remains except to tease this fellow out of mind
and put the black snake, like a parting act of pity,
on her dark breast with indifferent hand.

No comments: