Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) was one of Russia’s greatest twentieth-century poets who kept alive ‘the great Russian word’ in the darkness of Stalinism. After a childhood on the Black Sea coast, she achieved early fame in St. Petersburg. With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, she was officially scorned and silenced. Her husband was shot, her son arrested in the 1930s Terror. Standing in prison queues for seventeen months, she composed her famous sequence Requiem, bearing witness. Allowed to publish patriotic verses during the war, she was singled out for abuse when it ended, but still she wrote on in poverty, obscurity and ill health. When at last able to emerge, in the milder 1960s, she found to her joy that people loved her work, and had gone on reading it.
The translator, D. M. Thomas, is a novelist and poet. John Bayley has called these versions ‘a masterly achievement’.
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