We need more Akhmatova

With some books, you have to be ready.This poet is one of Russia’s best, but it took me this long to sit down and read her. It’s time you did, too. Anna Akhmatova’s Selected Poems in Richard McKane’s English translation were published by Bloodaxe in 1989, 100 years after her birth, and are no longer in print. To close women in translation month, here’s an appeal for them to be reissued 50 years after her death. As she said in Briefly About Myself, “I have never stopped writing poems. For me they are my connection with York, with the new life of my people. In writing them I was living in the rhythms which were to be heard in the heroic history of my country. I am happy that I have lived in these times and seen events, the like of which have never been.”

Here are some snippets from those times, decade by decade.

Akmahtova was already observing emotions with extraordinary intensity in 1909:


By the October Revolution, she knew what people – including herself – were capable of:


From the 1920s, she still wrote through her religious faith, as a woman:


In the 1930s, she remembered what could not be forgotten or hidden:

In the 1940s, she mourned the destruction of her beloved Petersburg/Leningrad, Pushkin’s Town:


By the 1950s, others knew she would write their stories:


In the 1960s, she was still looking out to the rest of Europe, so near and yet so far:


McKane admits in his afterword that he was tempted to keep these poems to himself, but as Robert Bly said, “we need more Akhmatova.” Yes we do! Reprint please, Bloodaxe!

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Posted in books, faith, history, literature, poetry, translation, Women in Translation Month

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