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Requiem (excerpt) -- Anna Akhmatova

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #231) Requiem (excerpt)
In the fearful years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months in prison
queues in Leningrad. One day somebody 'identified' me. Beside me, in the
queue, there was a woman with blue lips. She had, of course, never heard of
me; but she suddenly came out of that trance so common to us all and
whispered in my ear (everybody spoke in whispers there): "Can you describe
this?" And I said: "Yes, I can." And then something like the shadow of a
smile crossed what had once been her face.

1 April, 1957, Leningrad



  Again the hands of the clock are nearing
  The unforgettable hour. I see, hear, touch

  All of you: the cripple they had to support
  Painfully to the end of the line; the moribund;

  And the girl who would shake her beautiful head and
  Say: "I come here as if it were home."

  I should like to call you all by name,
  But they have lost the lists....

  I have woven for them a great shroud
  Out of the poor words I overheard them speak.

  I remember them always and everywhere,
  And if they shut my tormented mouth,

  Through which a hundred million of my people cry,
  Let them remember me also....

  And if in this country they should want
  To build me a monument

  I consent to that honour,
  But only on condition that they

  Erect it not on the sea-shore where I was born:
  My last links there were broken long ago,

  Nor by the stump in the Royal Gardens,
  Where an inconsolable young shade is seeking me,

  But here, where I stood for three hundred hours
  And where they never, never opened the doors for me

  Lest in blessed death I should forget
  The grinding scream of the Black Marias,

  The hideous clanging gate, the old
  Woman wailing like a wounded beast.

  And may the melting snow drop like tears
  From my motionless bronze eyelids,

  And the prison pigeons coo above me
  And the ships sail slowly down the Neva
-- Anna Akhmatova
This is an unbearably moving moving poem. It comes at the end of Akhmatova's
great Requiem sequence, which she wrote during the oppression of rhe Stalin
years. During those years she was harassed a great deal, and her son was
taken away by the police. It was for him that she stood in the lines outside
the prison gates. But any comments are irrelevant with such a poem.

Don't have exact biographical details about Akhmatova with me at the moment.
Is there anything on the Net?

[Yes - from [broken link]

  Anna Akhmatova

  Anna Akhmatova, who changed her name from Anna Gorenko at the
  age of seventeen, was born into a noble family in Odessa, Ukraine, in
  1889. She attended law school in Kiev and married Nikolai Gumilev, a
  poet and critic, in 1910. Her second book, Rosary, published in 1914,
  was acclaimed and established her reputation. With her husband, she
  became a leader of Acmeism, a movement which praised the virtues of
  lucid, carefully-crafted verse and reacted against the vagueness of
  the symbolist style which dominated the Russian literary scene of the

  Nikolai Gumilev was executed in 1921 by the Bolsheviks, and, though
  Akhmatova and he were divorced, she was still associated with him. As a
  result, after her book Anno Domini was published in 1922, she had great
  difficulty in finding publishers for her work, and at one point went
  seventeen years without a publisher. Changes in the political climate
  finally allowed her acceptance into the Writer's Union, but following the
  Second World War, she was thrown out of the Union and her son was
  arrested. She began writing and publishing again in 1958, and eventually
  her membership to the Union was reinstated.

  Though Akhmatova was frequently confronted with official goverment
  opposition to her work during her lifetime, she was deeply loved and
  lauded by the Russian people, in part because she did not abandon her
  country during difficult political times. Her most accomplished works,
  Requiem (which was not published in its entirety in Russia until 1987) and
  Poem Without a Hero, are reactions to the horror of the Stalinist Terror,
  during which time she endured artistic repression as well as tremendous
  personal loss. She was awarded an honorary degree from Oxford University
  in 1965 and died in Leningrad, where she had spent most of life, in 1966.

The site also has a picture of her. -- m.]

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