Tuesday, March 21, 2006

we are all carousers here

Over the weekend, The New York Times reviewed a new book on Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966).

In her 76 years, Akhmatova witnessed two revolutions, two world wars, a civil war and Stalin's purges. Her first husband, Nikolai Gumilyov, himself a wonderful poet, was shot without trial on a trumped-up charge; her son, Lev, spent years in labor camps; many of her closest friends left Russia or perished. Her early fame as a poet and a legendary beauty of bohemian prerevolutionary St. Petersburg gave way to decades of forced silence and official denunciations. And yet she remained in her beloved city, the unfaltering conscience of Russia, often suffering unimaginable deprivation. And through it all, she wrote.

I once had a graduate class with Akhmatova's niece (or second cousin or something) who turned me on to a poem I love:

The Sentence

And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—

Unless . . . Summer's ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I've foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.