ANNA AKHMATOVA - HISTORICAL FACTS
LIFE IN POETRY
On June 11th, 1889, in the Sarakini dacha (summer/country house), near Odessa, Bolshoy Fontan (Big Fountain) to the family of a navy officer Andrey Antonovich and his wife Inna Erazmovna Górenko, a girl was born. She was named – Anna, in honour of her grandmother. ‘It was the 11th stop of a little steam train’, as Anna Akhmatova wrote about the place she was born. "This dacha, a little house, to be more precise, stood in the depth of a very narrow and descending piece of land, close to the post office. The sea shore there is very steep and rail tracks were laid down right on the edge of it". Anna Andreyevna gave the description of this place so thoroughly because she was there in 1904. ‘When I was 15 and we lived in the dacha in Lustdorf, my mother suggested to me that I looked at the house, which I had never seen before. Near the entrance I said: ‘One day a memorial plaque will be put up here. I wasn’t ambitious. It was just as joke. My mother got upset: ‘God, how badly I’ve brought you up.’ The memorial plaque was after all placed here in 1989 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian poet – Anna Akhmatova.
Tsarskoye Selo, near St Petersburg, the famous country residence of the Russian monarchy, became home for Anna, as she was brought here as a one year old child, and lived here till she was sixteen. The beautiful Tsarskoye parks, the trees which kept the memories of Alexander Pushkin (Akhmatova’s favourite poet) who spent his Lyceum
years here and read his first poems to Derzhavin, and the same statues he admired. Her love of poetry, her best friend for life, Valeria Sergeyevna Sreznevskaya (Tyulpanova), her husband Nikolay Gumilyov, an outstanding poet and a courageous man whose life was taken from him by the Soviet authorities in August 1921 – all that came from Tsarskoye Selo.
The family of Gorenko-Stogovy (her mother’s line), a family of the Russian intelligentsia, brought up the children in the good old strict tradition, with Russian Orthodox Christian values. The Gorenko children were obliged to go to church, confess and take the Holy Mysteries. Poetry, however, was not read in the family. ‘There was just one large volume of Nekrasov, which my mother gave me to read on important days.’ So that’s how she discovered ‘Red Nose Frost’, and ‘Russian Women’ by Nekrasov. ‘Once in the upper park in Tsarskoye I found a pin in the form of a lyre, my nanny said ‘You will be a poet’.’
Anna Akhmatova started writing poetry early from the age of eleven (later she remembered that her ‘Song of the Last Meeting’, dated 29th September 1911, was her 200th poem). By age 13 she knew by heart in French Baudelaire, Verlaine, Gauthier. After graduating from the Tsarskoye Mariinskaya Gymnasium, and after her parents divorced in 1905, she was brought to Evpatoria and in May 1906 she went to Kiev, where she finished her education at Fundukleyevskaya Gymnasium and Higher Women’s Courses with good and excellent marks.
In 1907 her first poem ‘There are so many glittering rings on his hand’ which she signed ‘Anna G.’ appeared in the magazine "Sirius" in Paris. It was edited by Nikolay Gumilyov, who together with Maximilian Voloshin and Aleksey Tolstoy, published it. Unfortunately the magazine only lasted for three issues. In 1911 her first publications appeared in Russian magazines. Four poems ‘Grey-eyed king’, ‘In the Forest’, ‘Over the Water’ ‘I don’t need my legs anymore’ signed Anna Akhmatova, made her name famous. In 1912 after her first book of poetry: ‘Evening’, and in 1914 after her second book ‘Rosary’, talk of a new Russian poet started among the biggest authorities and critics of the Silver Age.
The surname Akhmatova belonged to Praskovia Fedoseyevna, the great grandmother of Anna Andreyevna on her mother’s side, and according to family legend she was a Tatar Princess coming from the last leader of the Tatar Golden Horde, Khan Akhmat, with whom after the intervention of Moscow in 1480 and his complete defeat, the Golden Horde ceased its existence. Anna Andreyevna loved this legend and insisted on her Tatar roots, addressing them in a few of her poems, so when her father, who didn’t approve of his daughter being a poet, said to her that she must not, at least, use the family name, Anna Andreyevna chose to take the name Akhmatova as her pseudonym.
In 1910, on April 25th, Nikolay Gumilyov and Anna Akhmatova became man and wife. The Gumilyovs lived in Tsarskoye and St Petersburg and in Slepnyovo in the summers, where their only son Lev, who was born on 1st October 1912, was brought up. They went abroad – to Florence and to Paris; Nikolay Gumilyov on his exotic trips to Africa. They became members of the newly created Guild of Poets, together with O. Mandelstam, V. Narbut, M. Zenkevich, M. Lozinsky. They were the poets of a new movement in poetry: Acmeism, which came to compete with the Symbolism of Alexander Blok, Valery Bryusov, Andrey Bely, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Zinaida Gippius, Dmitry Merezhkovsky. Intensive creative life, sleepless nights at "Brodyachaya Sobaka" ("The Stray Dog") Art Café, which was open all night.
All that was changed in 1917 when Russia was shaken and split apart with the terrible events of the Soviet Revolution in October 1917 and Civil War which broke out in 1918. Akhmatova’s third book of poetry, ‘White Flock’ came out in September 1917 and had a life of three weeks as Akhmatova remembered. In September 1918, she and Gumilyov divorced and she remarried. Her new husband Vladimir Kazimirovich Shileyko, the Assyriologist and expert at deciphering cuneiform, the man who admired the poetic talent of Anna Akhmatova, was very talented himself. He knew twenty six languages, although his son from Shileyko’s last marriage insisted that his father knew forty two languages. They spent three difficult years of hunger and cold and divorced in spring 1921. This didn’t stop Anna Akhmatova from work. In 1921 her new book under the title of ‘Wayside Grass’ (‘Plantain’) came out, in 1923 – ‘Anno Domini MCMXXI’. Her next book ‘Reed’ (‘From Six Books’) appeared only in 1940.
Her third and longest marriage, to an art critic Nikolay Nikolayevich Punin lasted for 15 years. She joined her husband in Fountain House in 1923 and resided there up until the 1950s. Now the Museum of Anna Akhmatova is in Fountain House.
In 1935 her son Lev and Nikolay Punin were arrested by the NKVD. She managed to help them then by writing a letter to Stalin and they were released. But on another two occasions for Lev and one more for Punin nothing could help. Nikolay Punin died in a labour camp in 1953.
Her famous ‘Requiem’ dedicated to those who suffered and died under Stalin’s regime, describing her own feelings standing in long queues, trying to get to Lev a little parcel, experiencing horrible fear for his life. Her own life’s drama didn’t stop too. In August 1946, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party published a decree on the work of the magazines ‘Zvezda’ and ‘Leningrad’; and in Zhdanov’s speech that followed she was declared an anti-Soviet decadent poet, together with the writer Mikhail Zoshchenko. Technically it meant though alive she was dead. They even stopped her author’s food ration cards. She survived with the help of a few people, close friends and poets, who did not turn away from her at this terrible time, including Boris Pasternak, Olga Bertgolts, Korney Chukovsky, Nina Antonovna Olshevskaya, Victor Ardov.
Just before the War in 1940, Akhmatova started her ‘Poem without a Hero’, the first version of which she finished in 1942 in Tashkent, where she was evacuated to from Leningrad under siege. In fact she worked on ‘The Poem’ for twenty years and considered it to be the major work of her life. ‘Uneven’ the Seventh Book of poetry was never published as a whole book in Anna Andreyevna’s lifetime. It stayed with the publishers ‘Soviet Writer’ in manuscript from 1946 to 1952 and was returned to the author. This book was published firstly by M.M. Kralin in his two volume collection of Akhmatova ("Ogonyok's" Library 1991). In October 1958 and April 1961 (after Stalin’s death in 1953) two books of Akhmatova came out. They were both Selected Poems. Looking back on her creative work Akhmatova started compiling a new big book of poems and cycles past and new, under the title ‘The Race of Time’. This title came about from Horace’s ‘Fura temporium’, which says that there is one force, his poetry, that cannot be erased by time. There are a few plans and autographs of this book, but none of them were taken into account and in 1965, when the book came out it was badly mauled by Soviet censors. It was her last book. Anna Andreyevna died on 5th of March 1966.
Anna Akhmatova, the pride of Russian culture and its conscience, a courageous woman, who dedicated more than sixty years of her life to what she did best: poetry. In that same 1965 she received an Honorary Doctorate (Honoris Causa) from Oxford University in England, following receiving in 1964 the Etna-Taormina award for cultural achievements. This musical work is our tribute to the poet.
The books of Anna Akhmatova's poetry:
'Evening' - 1912
The first book of Anna Akhmatova's poetry. It came out in March, 1912, 300 copies from the 'Guild of Poets'' publishers in St Petersburg, with a foreword by M. Kuzmin. 46 poems.
'Rosary' - 1914
The second book of poetry came out in spring 1914 in St Petersburg from 'Hyperborea' publishers, 1000 copies, 52 poems. The book was immediately sold out. Soon it was republished: in 1915, 1916, 1918, 1919 - in Berlin and Odessa (without the author's permission); 1920 - in Berlin, 1922 - in Petrograd, in 1923 - again in Berlin. The book had a tremendous success. (Critics noticed the change of in Akhmatova's poetry: it had a new quality, combining real lyricism and the epic.
'White Flock' - 1917
The third book of poetry came out in September 1917 from 'Hyperborea' in St Petersburg, 2000 copies and a long poem 'By the Sea Shore'. In 1918, 1922 and 1923 'White Flock' was republished, although with changes, after the long poem 'By the Sea Shore' was published in 1921 as a separate book it was never included in the book again.
'Wayside Grass' ('Plantain') - 1921
The fourth book of poetry came out in April 1921 from 'Petropolis' publishers; 1000 copies. It came out in nearly the same form as the third part of 'Anno Domini' (came out in 1922, on the title - 1921) and in 'Anno Domini' published in Berlin in 1923, as the fourth final part.
'Anno Domini' - 1923
The second edition of the fifth book of poetry. The first edition came out from 'Petropolis' in Petrograd in 1922 with the epigraph: 'Nec sine te, nec tecum vivere possum' from Ovid's 'Love Elegies' by Ovid (III, 11) - 'I cannot live with you, or without you.'
After 'Anno Domini' (1923) a 2 Volume Selected Poems (1924-1926) was compiled but never published. A new book of Akhmatova came out in 1940 'From Six Books', from 'Soviet Writer', Leningrad. It began with a section called 'Willow'. She thought the title 'Willow' was accidental and she was thinking of a large sixth book of new poems entitled 'Reed'. In the plan of the book on which she worked in 1940-1944 she included 37 poems (then later she crossed out 2) and the long poem 'The Way of All the Earth'.
Seventh book of poetry. Like 'Reed', the book 'Uneven' was never published. The first appearance of this title was in a section of the Selected Poems which she was preparing for 'Goslitizdat', but after the Communist Party declaration it never came out: there are only a few copies of this book left. The original plan of the book included poems written in 1936-1946 in chronological order. Later Akhmatova added new poems, so that poems of 1940-1962 were added to it. In this form 'Uneven' was included in 'The Race of Time' and in some other editions.
'The Race of Time'
This book was a compilation of the best written and published poems and new ones written in the 1960s. Poems written in the 1930s, including 'Requiem' were included in the plan of the book, however neither the full text of 'Poem Without a Hero', nor anti-Stalin poems were included, since a negative reader's report had been written and the book was 'cut'. It came out badly mutilated by editors and censors.
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