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Anna of All the Russias

He loved three things alone:
White peacocks, evensong,
Old maps of America.

He hated children crying,
And raspberry jam with his tea,
And womanish hysteria.

... And he married me.

Born in 1889, died in 1966: poet Anna Akhmatova late in life "... was praised on every side. To the mass reader, her simplicity made her poems easy to understand and memorise. The liberals saw her as an opponent of Stalinism, religious people recognised her love of God, patriots saw she was deeply Russian. Even Communists observed that she had never been outspokenly anti-Soviet."

So reads biographer Elaine Feinstein's verdict near the end of Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova. Along the way, though, are decades of narcissistic genius, financial foolishness, heavy drinking, irrational haste, chronic health issues, and embarrassing long-term rivalries with the wives or husbands of many with whom she had passionate affairs. Akhmatova — a pen name chosen in youth — grew up beautiful and brilliant, lived a life of chaos, fought authority, and somehow survived thanks to the charity of friends and admirers and lovers.

Feinstein is meticulous, unblinking in detailing Akhmatova's history. Her personal translations of excerpts from Akhmatova's work are, however, brief and unmusical. Read the poems elsewhere! (The D M Thomas translation above is from Sevenling.)

^z - 2017-05-24