Thursday, August 16, 2007

Twentieth Century Poets: Two poems by Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam and Marina Tsvetaeva are the most prominent Russian poetic voices from the first half of twentieth century. These were the poets continuously contained, arrested or prosecuted by Stalin and communist police, and yet their continued to sing beautiful rhymes throughout the turbulent 1920s and thereafter. Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature (which he refused to accept) after his novel Doctor Zhivago was smuggled and translated outside Russia and got him instant fame in the West. Mandelstam was prosecuted, and it was left to his wife Nazareth to bring his poems to print, and she also wrote two thick memoirs capturing the torrid times at the backdrop of the work of these poets.

Akhmatova was a poetess who won hearts of too many to count. She had the rare distinction of having both Pasternak and Mandelstam under her sway: both (two of the greatest poets on Russia) are said to have proposed to her (in spite of their wifes) and both were turned down by her. She also translated all the poems (eight volumes) of Rabindranath Tagore's poetry.

Right from an early age, she possessed the ability to write poems that become popular with the masses. Her poems became love letters in hands of many, she became the spoken word of women, she was the tacit, controlled, measured, rhymed, metered expression of love, empathy and dismay at the fate of Russia and Russians after the revolution.

Many of her poems are available in translation on this page. Read Muse, "If the moon on the skies", Requim, To Boris Pasternak, Crucifix, etc. There are some more poems in translation here. Her biography is available on Wikipedia link and on the page, here.

Here are two poems by her (my favorites). Rather than typing just her poems, I let myself write a short commentary about her. To be a poet in her circumstances requires a courage that is beyond heroism, and to write so well, with so much pathos, kindness, clarity and purity, puts her at forefront of the most important poets of last century.

In lieu of a dedication

I hide in the wood, go adrift on the swell,
Float on limpid enamel about it,
Separation I'll probably bear pretty well,
But a meeting with you - I doubt it.



I have been at the edge of something
For which there's no tag, no shelf...
An importunate, drowsy, numb thing,
A sliding away from oneself....


I am foot up the gangway for some journey
Which all many take, but not at equal cost...
Upon this ship there is a cabin for me,
The wind hangs in sails - and the dread moment
When my own shore will dwindle and be lost.

No comments: