Those Forgotten Poets: Anna Akhmatova

CHRONICLE – Under Stalinist terror, the “Queen of the Neva” puts simple, pure and translucent words on paper.

Anna Akhmatova’s face is the only beautiful thing left in the world “, notes, just after the death of the poetess, on March 5, 1966, the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky. And what a face! It’s all there: each of her features reflects this tragic dignity, this volcanic power that Anna Akhmatova embodied.

During the great terror exiled from within she has despite herself become the voice of the oppressed Russian people. His weapons? Simple words and sentences. Breaking with symbolism, the one we nicknamed “ the Queen of the Neva » has given its letters of nobility to everyday things, combining conciseness and sobriety. In a crystalline and musical poetic language, she builds her rhymes in flexibility. Everything seems clear, obvious.

The voice of the Russian people

Anna Akhmatova was born in Imperial Russia in 1889 in Odessa, on the shores of the Black Sea. His family moved the following year to Tsarskoye Selo, not far from Saint Petersburg. Anna learns French there and devours the works of Pushkin. His teachers also introduced him to Verlaine, Baudelaire and the great Greek authors. Very early, she decides that she wants to write poems. Her father, a naval engineer, does not oppose it, provided that she finds a pseudonym, so as not to “ dirty his surname, Gorenko. She thus chose as her pen name that of her Tatar grandmother: Akhmatova.

In 1910, she married the poet Nikolai Goumiliev, founder of the poetic movement called “acmeism”, which advocated Latin clarity in opposition to the vagueness of symbolism. His first collections The evening (1912) and The Rosary (1914), where she describes the beginnings of a relationship between a man and a woman, made her famous.

When the night I wait for his arrival, / It seems that life hangs by a thread. / What are honors, youth, freedom worth, / In front of the dear visitor with her flute

During the 1917 Revolution, Anna Akhmatova was 29 years old. She could have left her country, but the poet chose to stay. A way of sealing her fate with that of the Russian people, victim of the madness of a man – whom Anna nicknamed “ The mustachioed “. The young woman was then part of this generation of poets of the “ Silver Age »: Ossip Mandelstam, Sergei Essenin, Alexander Blok, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaïeva… So many immense talents who almost all had dramatic destinies. Anna was one of the few to escape the steamroller of the Soviet era, helpless witnessing the disappearance, one after another, of her loved ones.

In 1921, her husband was shot for “ anti-Bolshevik activities “. Her husbands, her lovers, then her son, are in turn shot, imprisoned, deported. Anna is constantly tracked, monitored and, above all, banned from publication.

So Akhmatova composes at night. ” When the night I wait for his arrival, / It seems that life hangs by a thread. / What are honors, youth, freedom worth, / In front of the dear visitor with her flute “, she writes. In the morning, she recites her poems to her friend Lydia Chukovskaya, who memorizes each line. There “ Queen of the Neva then makes her writings disappear, which she burns with her cigarettes. His relatives, like Lydia, thus become living collections of poetry.

When she’s not writing, Anna Akhmatova waits in the endless line of Kresty » (« The crosses ), the Leningrad prison. Like thousands of Russian mothers whose children are behind this wall “ blind and blushed she brings her son, Lev, clothes and food. The latter will remain there for twenty years. Requiemwhich recounts the fate of mothers waiting for news of the disappeared in the USSR, will not be published until thirty years later.

A text by Anna Akhmatova: “The rosehip blossoms and other poems”

To Alexander Blok

I went to see the poet.
At noon. Sunday.

No noise in the vast room,
At the windows, frost.

A crimson sun emerges
Puffs of gray smoke…
On me, my taciturn host
Look so clear!

Such eyes, for sure, are engraved
In all memories;
For me, careful, I prefer
Don’t dive mine into it.

I remember our words,
Noon, the mist, this Sunday,
In the tall gray house
At the mouth of the Neva.

(January 1914, translated from Russian by Marion Graf and José-Flore Tappy)

“Requiem, Poem without heroes and other poems”

Some exchange caresses of glances,
The others drink until first light,
But me, all night, I negotiate
With my indomitable conscience.

I say, “I carry your burden,
And it’s heavy, you know for how many years. »
But for her time does not exist,
And for her there is no space in the world.

Here comes the dark carnival evening,
The evil park, the horse’s slow race,
The wind loaded with happiness and cheerfulness,
Which falls on me from the slopes of the sky.

Above me a quiet witness
Shows its double horn… Oh, to go away,
By the old alley of the Chinese Pavilion,
There, where you see swans and dead water.

November 1935, translated from Russian by Jean-Louis Backès

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