Poetry: Anna Akhmatova - I Don't Know If You're Alive Or Dead - I Wrung My Hands - March Elegy - Bio data - Photo gallery - Links
Posted by ricardo marcenaro | Posted in Poetry: Anna Akhmatova - I Don't Know If You're Alive Or Dead - I Wrung My Hands - March Elegy - Bio data - Photo gallery - Links | Posted on 7:38
I don't know if you're alive or dead.
Can you on earth be sought,
Or only when the sunsets fade
Be mourned serenely in my thought?
All is for you: the daily prayer,
The sleepless heat at night,
And of my verses, the white
Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.
No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured
Me more, not
Even the one who betrayed me to torture,
Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.
I Wrung My Hands
I wrung my hands under my dark veil. . .
"Why are you pale, what makes you reckless?"
-- Because I have made my loved one drunk
with an astringent sadness.
I'll never forget. He went out, reeling;
his mouth was twisted, desolate. . .
I ran downstairs, not touching the banisters,
and followed him as far as the gate.
And shouted, choking: "I meant it all
in fun. Don't leave me, or I'll die of pain."
He smiled at me -- oh so calmly, terribly --
and said: "Why don't you get out of the rain?"
I have enough treasures from the past
to last me longer than I need, or want.
You know as well as I . . . malevolent memory
won't let go of half of them:
a modest church, with its gold cupola
slightly askew; a harsh chorus
of crows; the whistle of a train;
a birch tree haggard in a field
as if it had just been sprung from jail;
a secret midnight conclave
of monumental Bible-oaks;
and a tiny rowboat that comes drifting out
of somebody's dreams, slowly foundering.
Winter has already loitered here,
lightly powdering these fields,
casting an impenetrable haze
that fills the world as far as the horizon.
I used to think that after we are gone
there's nothing, simply nothing at all.
Then who's that wandering by the porch
again and calling us by name?
Whose face is pressed against the frosted pane?
What hand out there is waving like a branch?
By way of reply, in that cobwebbed corner
a sunstruck tatter dances in the mirror.
Akhmatova's work ranges from short lyric poems to intricately structured cycles, such as Requiem (1935–40), her tragic masterpiece about the Stalinist terror. Her style, characterised by its economy and emotional restraint, was strikingly original and distinctive to her contemporaries. The strong and clear leading female voice struck a new chord in Russian poetry. Her writing can be said to fall into two periods – the early work (1912–25) and her later work (from around 1936 until her death), divided by a decade of reduced literary output. Her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities and she is notable for choosing not to emigrate, and remaining in Russia, acting as witness to the atrocities around her. Her perennial themes include meditations on time and memory, and the difficulties of living and writing in the shadow of Stalinism.
Primary sources of information about Akhmatova's life are relatively scant, as war, revolution and the totalitarian regime caused much of the written record to be destroyed. For long periods she was in official disfavour and many of those who were close to her died in the aftermath of the revolution. Akhmatova's first husband, Nikolai Gumilev was executed by the Soviet secret police, and her son Lev Gumilev and her common-law husband Nikolay Punin spent many years in the Gulag, where Punin died.
Work and themes
Akhmatova joined the Acmeist group of poets in 1910 with poets such as Osip Mandelstam and Sergey Gorodetsky, working in response to the Symbolist school, concurrent with the growth of Imagism in Europe and America. It promoted the use of craft and rigorous poetic form over mysticism or spiritual in-roads to composition, favouring the concrete over the ephemeral. Akhmatova modelled its principles of writing with clarity, simplicity, and disciplined form. Her first collections Evening ( 1912 ) and Rosary ( 1914 ) received wide critical acclaim and made her famous from the start of her career. They contained brief, psychologically taut pieces, acclaimed for their classical diction, telling details, and the skilful use of colour. Evening and her next four books were mostly lyric miniatures on the theme of love, shot through with sadness. Her early poems usually picture a man and a woman involved in the most poignant, ambiguous moment of their relationship, much imitated and later parodied by Nabokov and others. Critic Roberta Reeder notes that the early poems always attracted large numbers of admirers: "For Akhmatova was able to capture and convey the vast range of evolving emotions experienced in a love affair, from the first thrill of meeting, to a deepening love contending with hatred, and eventually to violent destructive passion or total indifference. But [...] her poetry marks a radical break with the erudite, ornate style and the mystical representation of love so typical of poets like Alexander Blok and Andrey Bely. Her lyrics are composed of short fragments of simple speech that do not form a logical coherent pattern. Instead, they reflect the way we actually think, the links between the images are emotional, and simple everyday objects are charged with psychological associations. Like Alexander Pushkin, who was her model in many ways, Akhmatova was intent on conveying worlds of meaning through precise details." 
Akhmatova often complained that the critics "walled her in" to their perception of her work in the early years of romantic passion, despite major changes of theme in the later years of The Terror. This was mainly due to the secret nature of her work after the public and critical effusion over her first volumes. The risks during the purges were very great. Many of her close friends and family were exiled, imprisoned or shot; her son was under constant threat of arrest, she was often under close surveillance. Following artistic repression and public condemnation by the state in the 1920s, many within literary and public circles, at home and abroad, thought she had died. Her readership generally did not know her later opus, the railing passion of Requiem or Poem without a Hero and her other scathing works, which were shared only with a very trusted few or circulated in secret by word of mouth (samizdat).
Between 1935 and 1940 Akhmatova composed, worked and reworked the long poem Requiem in secret, a lyrical cycle of lamentation and witness, depicting the suffering of the common people under Soviet terror. She carried it with her as she worked and lived in towns and cities across the Soviet Union. It was conspicuously absent from her collected works, given its explicit condemnation of the purges. The work in Russian finally appeared in book form in Munich in 1963, the whole work not published within USSR until 1987. It consists of ten numbered poems that examine a series of emotional states, exploring suffering, despair, devotion, rather than a clear narrative. Biblical themes such as Christ's crucifixion and the devastation of Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdelene, reflect the ravaging of Russia, particularly witnessing the harrowing of women in the 1930s. It represented, to some degree, a rejection of her own earlier romantic work as she took on the public role as chronicler of the Terror. This is a role she holds to this day.
Her essays on Pushkin and Poem Without a Hero, her longest work, were only published after her death. This long poem, composed between 1940 and 1965, is often critically regarded as her best work and also one of the finest poems of the twentieth century. It gives a deep and detailed analysis of her epoch and her approach to it, including her important encounter with Isaiah Berlin (1909–97) in 1945. Her talent in composition and translation is evidenced in her fine translations of the works of poets writing in French, English, Italian, Armenian, and Korean.
1964 Etna-Taormina prize
1965 honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1965.
Selected poetry collections
Published by Akhmatova
1912 Vecher/Вечер (Evening) .[Notes 2]
1914 Chetki (Rosary or literally Beads)[Notes 3]
1917 Belaya Staya (White flock)[Notes 10]
1921 Podorozhnik (Wayside grass / Plantain). 60 pages, 1000 copies published. [Notes 11]
1921 Anno Domini MCMXXI[Notes 7]
Reed – 2 Volume Selected Poems (1924–1926) was compiled but never published.
Uneven – compiled but never published.
1940 From Six Books (Publication suspended shortly after release, copies pulped).[Notes 12]
1943 Izbrannoe Stikhi (Selections of poetry) Tashkent, government edited.[Notes 13]
Iva not separately published[Notes 14]
Sed’maya kniga (Seventh book) – not separately published;[Notes 14]
1958 Stikhotvoreniya (Poems) (25,000 copies)
1961 Stikhotvoreniya 1909–1960 (Poems: 1909–1960)
1965 Beg vremeni (The flight of time Collected works 1909–1965)[Notes 14]
1967 Poems of Akhmatova. Ed. and Trans. Stanley Kunitz, Boston
1976 Anna Akhmatova Selected Poems. D.M. Thomas Penguin Books
1985 Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova – Trans. Jane Kenyon; Eighties Press and Ally Press ISBN 0-915408-30-9
1988 Selected Poems Trans. Richard McKane; Bloodaxe Books Ltd; ISBN 1-85224-063-6
2000 The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova Trans. Judith Hemschemeyer .Ed. Roberta Reeder; Zephyr Press; ISBN 0-939010-27-5
2004 The Word That Causes Death's Defeat: Poems of Memory (Annals of Communism). Trans. Nancy Anderson. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10377-8
2006 Selected Poems Trans D. M. Thomas; Penguin Classics; ISBN 0-14-042464-4
2009 Selected Poems Trans. Walter Arndt; Overlook TP; ISBN 0-88233-180-9
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