I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
For a poet that has a historical reputation of being a celibate, god fearing, old maid, Emily Dickinson brings a sensuality to her writing that few can match. I hope E. D. had a secret lover, a passion which hid neatly in her small town, beneath everyone’s nose, for it sure seems like she understood all matters and qualities of paradise.
Anna Gorenko, known under her pen name Anna Ahkmatova, was a poet whose sensuality is vital in her poetry, as is her suffering. Akhmatova’s first husband, Nikolai Gumilev, was arrested and shot during the Stalinist repression of intellectuals in St. Petersburg. Her only son, fathered by Gumilev, was also arrested and died in prison, despite continuous desperate pleas on his behalf by Ahkmatova. Her common law husband, art scholar and life long friend, Nikoli Punin, was arrested repeatedly and eventually died in a Gulag in 1953.
Akhmatova’s poems were suppressed during her lifetime, to the point that it was a dangerous act of sedition to even read them. Her poetry was distributed in an underground network of artists and friends. Although a surprising amount of her poetry survived, much of her writing was lost. Akhmatova’s close friend, Lydia Chukovskaya described how a small trusted circle would memorize each other’s works and circulate them only by reciting them from memory to each other. Akhmatova would write a poem on a scrap of paper to be read aloud and then destroy the original by burning the paper. “It was like a ritual,” Chukovskaya wrote. “Hands, matches, an ashtray. A ritual beautiful and bitter.”
During World War II, Akhmatova witnessed the 900-day Siege of St. Petersburg. In 1940, Akhmatova started Poem without a Hero, finishing a first draft that year, but continued to work on it for the next two decades, dedicating it to “my friends and fellow citizens who perished.” With a direct order from Stalin, because of her importance in literature, she was evacuated in spring of 1942. Despite that official recognition, authorities continued to monitor and suppress her writing up until her death. A full text of Requiem was not published in Russia until 1988.
Ahkmatova lived an unconventional life. She remained true to her beliefs, loyal to her friends, loved courageously and found a way to survive and create great art despite the tragic circumstances of the world in which she lived.
by Anna Ahkmatova
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver.
It wasn’t at all that quite mysterious painter,
which has well-pictured Hoffman’s misty dreams, –
From that unknown and far spring, it seems,
I can observe a plantain in its flatter.
And it was greening – our town, plain,
Trimming its steps, like some wings, wide and soaring,
And with a torch of chorals freely rolling,
Psyche was going into my domain.
And near the tree, in deep of the fourth yard,
Were dancing children in their full delight
To the one-legged hand-organ’s strident giggle,
And life was knellling with all bells anew,
And crazy blood was leading me to you
Along the path, so commonplace and single.