Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), Russian poet and translator, was born on June 23 as Anna Andreyevna Gorenko. Akhmatova was her pen name. She was one of the most acclaimed writers in Russian literature, but her work was suppressed in the Soviet Union for decades, and she was kept under constant surveillance. Her poetry was circulated in secret, often memorized, the only written copy burned, and her words whispered from one memorizer to the next. Many of her poems were lost when the chain was broken, as people fell under the displeasure of the Soviet regime.
“If a gag should bind my tortured mouth,
through which a hundred million people shout,
then let them pray for me, as I do pray
for them . . .”
During her last years, in Leningrad, she continued to work on translations, to research the great Russian poet Pushkin, and to write or reconstruct her own poetry. She was widely honored in the West – Robert Frost visited her in 1962. She also inspired a large circle of young Soviet writers, including Joseph Brodsky, whom she mentored. He would be expelled from the USSR in 1972, and lived the rest of his life in the United States, writing his poetry there in English, and becoming U.S. Poet Laureate in 1991.
Akhmatova was finally acclaimed by Soviet authorities, and allowed to travel, which she did, to Italy and England. For her 75th birthday in 1964, new collections of her verse were published. She suffered a heart attack in November, 1965, and died in a sanatorium of heart failure at age 76 on March 3, 1966. Thousands attended the two memorial ceremonies, one held in Moscow, and the other in Leningrad.
To read Akhmatova’s poem “You Will Hear Thunder” click:
You Will Hear Thunder
by Anna Akhmatova
You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.
That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
when, for the last time, I take my leave,
And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.
You Will Hear Thunder” from The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova – Zephyr Press, 2020 edition