Expansive Poetics – (Anna Akhmatova – 3)

Akhmatova, Anna

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

Allen’s discussion of Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem” continues,

AG: This (passage) is discussing her son, I think, this next one – “At dawn they came and took you away./ You were my dead – I walked behind./ In the dark room children cried,/ The holy candle gasped for air.Your lips were chill rom the ikon’s kiss/sweat bloomed on your brow – those deathless flowers!/ Like the wives of Peter’s troopers in Red Square/ I’ll stand and howl under the Kremlin towers.” – There was a revolt among the private troops of Peter the Great – 1400 troops, so he had them all slaughtered in the Kremlin. And the wives of this little army came outside the Kremlin and screamed for days. It’s like old barbaric Russian history. She’s reflecting old Russian history and Russian tradition, actually.

And the next is one of my favorites, because there’s one image in it that’s so absolutely accurate and chilling. I mentioned it before  (‘To Death” (Section VIII of Requiem)- “You will come in any case – so why not now?/How long I wait and wait.The bad times fall./I have put out the light and opened the door/for you, because you are simple and magical./Assume, then, any form that suits your wish,/take aim and blast at me with poisoned shot,/or strangle me like an efficient mugger,/or else infect me – typhus be my lot -” – (typhus and  malnutrition, starvation, were the lot of Khlebnikov) – “or spring out of the fairytale you wrote,/the one we’re sick of hearing, day and night,/where the blue hatband marches up the stairs,/led by the janitor, pale with fright.” – (That’s the police, the police that came. I think we explained those two lines before. The police that came had that same uniform with the blue hat-band. And that’s a really uncanny image – “where the blue hat-band marches up the stairs,/led by the janitor, pale with fright.”…) “It’s all the same to me. The Yenisei swirls,” – ( I guess that’s a river, maybe near Moscow, Petersburg , or wherever she was living) – “the North Star shines, as it will forever,/and the blue lustre of my loved one’s eyes/is clouded over by the final horror” – (So it’s absolute, there’s no way out.)

The “House on the Fontanka” is the house that she lived in on the outskirts of Petersburg, which was a little aristocratic village where there was a school where (Alexander) Pushkin went to school, and which she’ll recollect at greater length in a later poem, her masterpiece (which I don’t have xeroxed here, because I didn’t xerox it up, because I didn’t understand it completely, but we have it to look at, in any case),  “A Poem Without A Hero”, which comes later.

“Already madness lifts its wing/to cover half my soul./That tastes of opiate wine!/Lure of the dark valley!/  Now everything is clear/I admit my defeat. The tongue/of my ravings in my ear/is the tongue of a stranger./  No use to fall down on my knees.and beg for mercy’s sake./Nothing I counted mine, out of my life/is mine to take -/  not my son’s terrible eyes,/not the elaborate stone flower/of grief, nor the day of the storm/not the trial of the visiting hour/  not the dear coolness of his hands,/not the lime trees agitated shade/not the thin cricket-sound/of consolation’s parting word” – (Those are really accurate – “the thin cricket-sound/of consolation’s parting word”, the trial(s) of the visiting hour (of the prison)).

Then, the epilogue to the poem. The earlier poems, you notice here (that) they’re pretty despairing. After all the chutzpah and brass and imagination and enthusiasm and arrogance and beauty and liveliness and spriteliness and fun and bohemianism of the Stray Dog Cafe years and ofthe founding of poetic movements like Acmeism and Futurism and literary fights between them, now she, who’s relatively aristocratic and elegant and stern and strong and noble-faced – “I have learned how faces fall to bone,/how under the eyelids terror lurks,/how suffering inscribes on cheeks/the hard lines of its cuneiform texts,/how glossy black or ash-fair locks/turn overnight to tarnished silver,/how smiles fade on submissive lips,/and fear quavers in a dry titter./And I pray not for myself alone…/for all who stood outside the jail,/in bitter cold or summer’s blaze,/with me under that blind red wall.”

– Then, the last of the poems in this series (you don’t have the whole text here, the whole text is worth looking at. there are other little parts). (This) is the most powerful of the pieces, I guess – “Remembrance hour returns with the turning year,/I see, I hear, I touch you drawing near:/ the one we tried to help to the sentry’s booth/and who no longer walks this precious earth,/ and that one who would toss her pretty mane/ and say, “It’s just like coming home again”/ I want to name the names of all that host,/but they snatched up the list and now it’s lost.” – (that’s either burned manuscripts or manuscripts that were seized) – “I’ve woven them a garment that’s prepared/out of poor words,those that I overheard,/ and will hold fast to every word and glance/ all of my days, even in new mischance/ and if a gag should blind my tortured mouth,/ through which a hundred million people shout,/ then let them pray for me, as I do pray/ for them, this even of my remembrance day/And if my country ever should assent/to casting in my name a monument,/ I should be proud to have my memory graced,/but only if the monument be placed/ not near the sea on which my eyes first opened -/ my last link with the sea has long been broken – /not in the Tsar’s garden near the sacred stump,/where a grieved shadow hunts my body’s warmth,/ but here where I endured three hundred hours/in line before the implacable iron bars./ Because even in blissful death I fear/to lose the clangor of the Black Marias/to lose the banging of that odious gate/and the old crone howling like a wounded beast/ And from my motionless bronze-lidded sockets/ may the melting snow, like teardrops, slowly trickle,/ And a prison dove coo somewhere, over and over,/ as the ships sail softly down the flowing Neva” – (That’s pretty powerful, actually)

So she, actually,of that whole galaxy of poets was the one that, not only survived but was able to make some kind of iron line, iron poetry out of it. And those poems, though not published [1981] are circulated. Some of “Requiem” was published, actually, after Stalins death, I think, in the (19)50’s, the mid-(19)50’s. There was a book of her Collected Poems but some sections of “Requiem” were still left out. [Editorial note – 2014 – not any more – “Requiem” is, of course, comprehensively included in  Judith Hemschemeyer’s  The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-four-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-three minutes in] 

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