Throughout the many travesties and struggles that Anna Akhmatova endured, she never stopped writing. She was convinced she needed to speak out and that doing the right thing meant refusing to be silenced.
Despite the legacy of Russian censorship that tried to break her, Anna’s poetry and determination changed history.
Together with Osip Mandelstam and Gumilev, Akhmatova was a founder of a movement called Acmeism. While the movement lasted only three years (1912-1914), Acmeism had a massive impact on the poetical process of Russia and an even greater effect on Anna’s creative career.
The poetry movement emerged as a reaction against Symbolism, which aimed to transfer truth indirectly, through the use of symbols. For Akhmatova, the importance of words were lost in symbolism.
In this way, Acmeists renounced mystical images and the idealization of life. Instead they returned to the clarity of words and images, and placed humanity in the center of the poet’s attention. Acmeism manifested differently in each poet. Anna’s style had a very intimate verse of love and witnessing – something that certainly did not fit with the political process and communist order, let alone a woman who was certainly expected to keep quiet.
So why not flee Russia and pursue her art in other countries, like many of Anna’s friends and other scholars and writer’s did?
One love that surpassed her love of poetry was her love for her homeland, even when it changed so much from the country where she was born and raised.
Anna stayed and fought even though her longtime friend and partner was executed. She endured the imprisonment of her son and husband, and remained steadfast against multiple regimes that tried to silence her.
Anna believed that those who fled from Russia after the Revolution “left their country for enemies to tear apart.” – Nayman. Instead, Anna refused to leave because
“she was a Russian, and to Russia, she would return no matter what awaited her there; the Soviet regime, whatever one might think of it, was the established order in her country: with it, she had lived and with it, she would die – that is what being a Russian meant”.Roberta Reeder
While Anna herself was never subject to Stalinist tortures, she suffered the nation’s punishment. Her sentence was simply to be forgotten in her own country. Except for a few close friends, no one even knew about her anti-Stalinist poetry.
Most of the poems she composed could not be written down but were relayed and memorized by her friends.
Anna’s life would drastically change with the February Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, when the Tzar regime fell. It left Russia open and censorship crept in at the same time as the Bolshevik takeover in October 1917.
Anna found herself homeless from the eve of the February Revolution up to the very end of her life, when the Soviet government granted her a country house outside of Leningrad.
Her first encounter with the Soviet censorship occurred in 1925 when an unofficial Communist Party resolution banned her publications. This was never announced – her poetry was just left to remain unpublished for the next decade and a half.
But Anna was smart and determined. Her answer was to develop a special way of writing poems, called tainopis, which means “secret writing.” Anna memorized her poems and relayed them to the friends she could trust. In turn, they also learned the poems by heart.
Reading the diaries of Lydia Chukovskaya, a close friend of the Anna, it’s apparent how daunting this must have been. Anna would ask Lydia about the poems written long ago in order to modify them, or sometimes she needed to remember not a specific poem but what was changed in it throughout time.
After Stalin’s death, Anna was slowly “rehabilitated.” Publication of her work, including her essays and translations resumed and she quickly garnered international recognition, including an honorary degree from Oxford in 1965.
Anna passed away on March 5, 1966, as one of Russia’s most revered poets. Censors failed to silence Anna’s resounding voice, which grew louder after her death. Anna was a remarkable woman who stayed and gave other women and artists the courage to fight.
She fought back when others conformed. Anna Akhmatova exemplifies the impenetrable human spirit that even when stripped of everything, she surpassed trivial measures of wealth because she had the courage to embrace her truth and do what was right.
You will hear thunder and remember me, and think: she wanted storms.Anna Akhmatova