Monday, 26 March 2007

Remembering Anna Akhmatova

Remembering Anna Akhmatova by Anatoly Nayman.
(Cover illustration shows a drawing by Modigliani)

Billo asked me some time ago to tell him some books about Akhmatova.
This is one by someone who knew her intimately in the last years of her life.
Akhmatova's life was tragic. During Stalin's years of terror she had seen her husband and son taken away to prison camps, suffered the disappearance of many friends, and had lived in cultural isolation and utter deprivation.

Anatoly Nayman was Akhmatova's literary secretary and disciple during her last years and he recalls here their conversations about literature and friends, anecdotes about family life and vignettes, some amusing, some ordinary and some tragic: Joseph Brodsky digging a fall-out shelter for her to her utter bemusement; Akhmatova's bravery in intervening with the authorities on behalf of Brodsky....
Throughout the book, the narrative of conversations and events is illustrated by quotations from poems by Akhmatova and others. This is one of her poems which Nayman quotes. It was written about a bouquet of roses given to her by a friend:

No doubt you're someone's spouse and also someone's lover
My casket's themes suffice without including you,
All day I've been entreated by the flute celestial
To make a gift of words as partners for her sounds.
And you were not the object which seduced my gaze.
So many avenues the night extends before me,
So many sad chrisanthmums September gives.

In his Foreword to Nayman's book (1991), Isaiah Berlin writes:
Anna Andreevna Akhmatova, a noble and most moving writer, is one of the four great poets whose art dominated and continues to dominate Russian literature; her genius and monstrous persecution by the state will be remembered as long as the history and literature of Russia continue to be known.

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