Sunday, November 4, 2007

04th November 2007

Anna Akhmatova was one of the great lyric poets of the twentieth century. Born in Russia, she lived through the tumultuous events of that country's history: the fall of the Tsarist government and the Russian Revolution, the internecine struggles of the reolutionary period, the establishment of the Soviet Union, the iron fist of Stalinism, World War II, the Cold War, and the slow thawing of despotic power. Originally a lyric poet of love and her homeland, she was at times brutalized into not writing because of her popularity -- a threat to the regime -- and her independence. During the Stalin years she composed what may be our century's greatest poem, a remarkable lyric sequence called "Requiem." In it, she witnesses to and commemorates the suffering of those who endured the awful terror of imprisonment in the vast prison camp system known as the Gulag: "I stand as witness to the common lot,/ survivor of that time, that place."

I learned how faces fall,
How terror darts from under eyelids,
How suffering traces lines
Of stiff cuneiform on cheeks,
How locks of ashen-blonde or black
Turn silver suddenly,
Smiles fade on submissive lips
And fear trembles in a dry laugh.
And I pray not for myself alone,
But for all those who stood there with me
In cruel cold, and in July’s heat,
At that blind, red wall.