Introduced by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, this anthology is a celebration of poetry and the passion it inspires. It gathers together more than 300 of our favourite poems, spanning over 400 years.
Illustrated by Amedeo Modigliani
Introduced by Eimear McBride
Translated by D. M. Thomas
This elegant edition pays homage to one of the most revered voices of Russian literature. Introduced by the celebrated novelist Eimear McBride and illustrated with evocative photographs, this selection covers the full scope of Akhmatova’s work, from her early poems to her later revolutionary pieces.
In pre-revolutionary St Petersburg, Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) was the femme fatale of Russian literature, fêted for her intimate, avant-garde verse. After the 1917 revolution her poetry became vehemently political, lamenting the persecution of her compatriots and decrying the ‘bloodstained boots’ that trampled on ‘innocent Russia’.
This new Folio Society edition, which includes poems from throughout Akhmatova’s career, and features photographs that reflect the fascination her talent and beauty inspired, is beautifully introduced by Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which won the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. D. M. Thomas’s translator’s notes are also included, while the binding features a textile design by Liubov Popova, a contemporary of Akhmatova’s. The title page includes a pencil portrait by Amedeo Modigliani, reflecting Akhmatova’ revered status, while alongside the poems are atmospheric photographs of Akhmatova and her beloved St Petersburg.
Three-quarter-bound in blocked cloth with printed Modigliani paper front board
Set in Abril Display
Frontispiece and 6 black and white photographs
9½˝ x 6¼˝
An eyewitness to terror
Anna Akhmatova was born in Odessa and raised in St Petersburg. Her first poem was published in 1907. In 1910 she married the poet Nikolai Gumilev and the couple soon became leading figures of the Acmeists, a group in opposition to the prevailing Symbolist poetic movement. Her first collection, Evening, sold out quickly; her second, Rosary, was so widely imitated that she commented, ‘I taught our women how to speak, but don’t know how to make them silent.’ Wooed by Boris Pasternak, Modigliani and others, Akhmatova became known as ‘Queen of the Neva’.
By the 1917 revolution, many of Akhmatova’s contemporaries had emigrated; others would later die in the Soviet camps, or commit suicide. In 1921, her former husband (whom she divorced in 1918) was executed. Her grief over this and the later imprisonment of their son is expressed in her famous poem ‘Requiem’, a raw, startling testimony to the agonies of loss and the anguish of the Russian women who queued in vain at prison doors.
Despite being impoverished, slandered and placed under surveillance, Akhmatova neither fled abroad nor abandoned her art; instead she chose to bear witness to the horrors of Stalinist Russia. Her modernist masterpiece, ‘Poem without a Hero’, is a memorial to the victims of Stalin; other poems speak poignantly of the brutal, alien land that replaced the Russia of her youth. When she died, outliving Stalin by 13 years, thousands of people attended her funeral.
When at night I wait for her to come,
Life, it seems, hangs by a single strand.
What are glory, youth, freedom, in comparison
With the dear welcome guest, a flute in hand?
She enters now. Pushing her veil aside,
She stares through me with her attentiveness.
I question her: ‘And were you Dante’s guide,
Dictating the Inferno?’ She answers: ‘Yes.’
From Reed (1924)
About Anna Akhmatova
Anna Akhmatova was born in Odessa in 1889. She grew up at Tsarskoye Selo, the imperial summer residence, and in 1910 married Nikolai Gumilev, a poet and leader of the ‘Acmeist’ poetic movement. Her first book of verse, Evening, was published in 1912; five further collections followed over the next nine years. In 1921 Gumilev was shot for alleged involvement in an anti-Bolshevik plot. Although Akhmatova had been divorced from him for three years, her reputation remained tainted by association. Persecuted and silenced by Stalinist authorities, Akhmatova published very little poetry until 1940, but worked in secret on her poem ‘Requiem’, documenting the suffering of the Russian people during the Terror. She chose to remain in Leningrad during the siege, but was later evacuated to Tashkent; it was during this time that she worked on her masterpiece, ‘Poem without a Hero’. After Stalin’s death her poetry began to be published again, and in 1945 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford. Akhmatova died in 1966.
About Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride studied acting at Drama Centre London. Her debut novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (2013) received the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize, the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction 2014, Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. She occasionally writes and reviews for the Guardian, the TLS and the New Statesman.
About D. M. Thomas
D. M. Thomas is a novelist, poet and translator. He studied English at New College, Oxford, graduating in 1959. His fiction includes The White Hotel (1981), Pictures at an Exhibition (1993) and Hunters in the Snow (2014); his verse collections include The Puberty Tree (1992) and Mrs English and Other Women (2014). He has also produced translations of Pushkin (The Bronze Horseman: Selected Poems, 1983) and the biography A Century in the Life of Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1998).