Her real name is Anna Andreevna Gorenko, a Russian poet credited with a large influence on Russian poetry.
Akhmatova’s work ranges from short lyric poems to universalized, ingeniously structured cycles, such as Requiem (1935-40), her tragic masterpiece about the Stalinist terror. Her work addresses a variety of themes including time and memory, the fate of creative women, and the difficulties of living and writing in the shadow of Stalinism. She has been widely translated into many languages and is one of the best-known Russian poets of 20th century.
In 1910, she married the poet, Nikolay Gumilyov, who very soon left her for lion hunting in Africa, the battlefields of World War I, and the society of Parisian grisettes. Her husband did not take her poems seriously, and was shocked when Alexander Blok declared to him that he preferred her poems to his. Their son, Lev, born in 1912, was to become a famous Neo-Eurasianist historian. Nikolay Gumilyov was executed in 1921 for activities considered anti-Soviet; Akhmatova then married a prominent Assyriologist Vladimir Shilejko, and then an art scholar, Nikolay Punin, who died in the Stalinist Gulag camps. After that, she spurned several proposals from the married poet, Boris Pasternak.
After 1922, Akhmatova was condemned as a bourgeois element, and from 1925 to 1940, her poetry was banned from publication. She earned her living by translating Leopardi and publishing essays, including some brilliant essays on Pushkin, in scholarly periodicals. All of her friends either emigrated or were repressed. Her son spent his youth in Stalinist gulags, and she even resorted to publishing several poems in praise of Stalin to secure his release. Their relations remained strained, however.
Akhmatova died at the age of 76 in St. Peterburg. She was interred at Komarovo Cemetery. There is a museum devoted to Akhmatova at the apartment where she lived with Nikolai Punin at the garden wing of the Fountain House (more properly known as the Sheremetev Palace) on the Fontanka Embankment, where Akhmatova lived from the mid 1920s until 1952.
The scent of freedom
Wild honey has the scent of freedom,
dust–of a ray of sun,
a girl’s mouth–of a violet,
and gold–has no perfume.
and like an apple–love,
but we have found out forever
that blood smells only of blood.
–Translated by Jane Kenyon
On the Way
Although this is not my native land
Forever the memory is in me
Of the tenderly icy sea
And the fresh waters.
The sand on the bottom is whiter than chalk,
And the drunken air, like wine,
And the rosy body of the pine
Is naked in the twilight hour.
And the sun itself sets in waves of ether
In such a way that I cannot comprehend
Whether it is the end of the day, the end of the world,
Or the secret of secrets is within me again.
To the Many
I — am your voice, the warmth of your breath,
I — am the reflection of your face,
The futile trembling of futile wings,
I am with you to he end, in any case.
That’s why you so fervently love
Me in my weakness and in my sin;
That’s why you impulsively gave
Me the best of your sons;
That’s why you never even asked
Me for any word of him
And blackened my forever-deserted home
With fumes of praise.
And they say — it’s impossible to fuse more closely,
Impossible to love more abandonedly. . .
As the shadow from the body wants to part,
As the flesh from the soul wants to separate,
So I want now — to be forgotten..
— translated from the Russian by Judith Hemschemeyer
We’re all drunkards here
We’re all drunkards here. Harlots.
Joylessly we’re stuck together.
On the walls, scarlet
Flowers, birds of a feather
Pine for clouds. Your black pipe
Make strange shapes rise.
I wear my skirt tight
To my slim thighs.
Windows tightly shut.
What’s that? Frost? Thunder?
Did you steal your eyes I wonder
From a cautious cat?
Oh my heart how you yearn
For your dying hour…
And that woman dancing there
Will eternally burn.