Explanation and analysis of Anna Akhmatova’s poem cycle “Requiem,” including overviews of the major groupings, trends, and overall themes. Anna Akhmatova. Requiem. No foreign sky protected me, no stranger’s wing shielded my face. I stand as witness to the common lot, survivor of that time, that. To avoid persecution by Stalin, Anna Akhmatova burnt her writings and memorised the words of her poem Requiem. By doing so she ensured.

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To avoid persecution by Stalin, the poet Anna Akhmatova burnt her writings and instead taught a circle of friends the words of her ajnatova Requiem off by heart.

When Anna Akhmatova began working on her long poem Requiem sometime in the s, she knew that she would not be allowed to publish it. Stalin was keeping a tight grip on the printing presses, and he would not endorse a poem that grappled with the gulag, the vast prison system his regime had set up across the Soviet Union.

Undeterred, Akhmatova wrote the poem anyway, weaving together her experience of standing outside the prison with other desperate woman, hoping to catch a glimpse of a loved one or an encouraging piece of news, with other impressions of life under Stalin. His control extended beyond the printing presses to most areas of life. Akhmatova knew that the secret police might search her apartment and find her writings, so she burnt the paper on which composed drafts of the poem, after learning it by heart.

But what if she were arrested and executed?

View image of Credit: To ensure the survival of her poem, she taught it to her closest female friends who would remember the poem after her own death. Their minds became the paper on which Akhmatova preserved and revised her poem word by word, comma by comma, with the precision typical of literature crafted with an eye towards the permanence of writing. Even that description was an understatement, since Stalin forced Akhmatova and her friends to live in something that almost resembled an oral culture, reduced as they were to reciting words from memory.


Almost, but not quite: Akhmatova had composed her poem on paper, not orally, and Requiem had none of the structures of oral literature, such as exchangeable building blocks, repeated phrases, and improvisation.

Improvisation was particularly intolerable to Akhmatova. When she made changes to her poem, she asked her friends to remember them, insisting that the ajmatovs draft of the poem be the one they would remember from now on. Akhmatova had good reasons to be worried about Stalin, who was particularly obsessed with literature.

Understanding the Poem Cycle “Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova

Akhmatova had made a name for herself in the pre-revolutionary era, coming to be known as the Russian Sappho, and this made her automatically suspect in the new world ushered in by the Russian Revolution.

She tried to fit into the new system, but Stalin remained suspicious and kept her under close watch. Akhmatova came to learn that worse than a regime indifferent to poetry, was one obsessed with it. A poem about the terror, about the experience of living under totalitarianism, a poem that named the chief of the secret police and captured the de-humanising effects of the entire system, would never be tolerated.

The lives of dissident writers improved when Stalin was distracted by World War Two Akhmatova took to the radio to give courage to her fellow citizens of St Petersburg, recently renamed Leningradbut Akhmatova made the mistake, right after the war, of meeting with the young British intellectual Isaiah Berlin.

When Stalin ajmatovz of the meeting through an informant, he was reported to have said: But even in this new climate, a poem about the terror, about the experience of living under totalitarianism, a poem that named the chief of the aimatova police and captured the de-humanising effects of the entire system, would never be tolerated.

Stalin was dead, but the system of censorship he had created was still in place. Without access to print, leading dissident writers created an underground system of publication based on hand-written editions or carbon copies made with typewriters up to 15 carbon copies could be made in a single sitting. This publication system — still pre-Gutenberg — was called samizdator self-publishing, in contrast to the alternative tamizdator publishing abroad, ajkatova involved smuggling photocopied manuscripts to the West and having them published there and smuggled back.


Samizdat began with poems, which were short and therefore easy to multiply by hand or typewriter, but it soon extended to novels and political essays as well.

Samizdat material was typically read alone or in groups in a single sitting, often at night, and passed on to the next trustworthy reader. It was against the law and risky, but it proved unstoppable. State censorship and control over writers had turned reqhiem writers into heroes of resistance, making them the most dangerous enemies of the regime.

Gradually, samizdat increased its reach, turning Russian dissident literature into a potent weapon. Paradoxically, state censorship and control over writers had turned those writers into heroes of resistance. The very fact that it was suppressed gave it added significance, slowly eroding the legitimacy of the regime. Requiem was published only in the s, when Akhmatova was officially rehabilitated by Mikhail Gorbachev, one year before the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

When I read Requiem now, I find myself compelled by its powerful images, by a voice that registers the effects of terror in everyday life, and by the snippets of overheard conversation arranged in individual vignettes that create a powerful effect of despair and resilience.

Understanding the Poem Cycle “Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova | Owlcation

I am moved by the history of the poem and the struggles that were necessary for it to be published and make it into my hands. Above all, I am in awe of the unequal struggle between Akhmatova and the state — and that it was Akhmatova who won. A poll of writers and critics, stories that shaped the world, ajmatoav be announced in May. Stories that shaped the world Literature Requiem: How a poem resisted Stalin. By Martin Puchner 15 May