From Evening (St Petersburg, 1912)
Akhmatova had married the poet Nikolai Gumilev in 1910. They lived at Tsarskoye Selo, the Tsar's village near St Petersburg, and most of Evening was written there. The marriage was strained from the first, and Gumilev left for a long visit to Africa. 'Since many of the poems in Evening date from the period of Gumilev's extended absence ... it is perhaps not surprising that the greater part of the volume is concerned with a woman who is either unloved or has lost her lover.' (Amanda Haight: Akhmatova, A Poetic Pilgrimage)
Critics have noted the influence of Art Nouveau in Akhmatova's early poetry, particularly in its mood of languorous refinement, and in the way that essential details are registered with a few subtle strokes. The former she purged from her style; the latter never left her.
Imitation of Amensky Innokenry Annensky was headmaster of the grammar school at Tsarskoye Selo attended by Gumilev. He published little and late in life, but his poetry was a major inspiration to Akhmatova.
From Rosary (St Petersburg, 1914)
Immensely popular, Rosary had gone into four impressions by 1916. 'Telling Rosary' became a fashionable gameone person starting a poem, another finishing it.
I have come to take your place, sister..." Akhmatova was fascinated by doubles. In this poem the two sisters seem to represent aspects of herself, one of which must die for the other to grow: a poet's shedding of skin. As in By the Sea Shore, there may be a recollection, also, of an event that cast a shadow over her childhood. When Akhmatova was five, her sister Rika, a year younger, died of T.B. Rika was away staying with an aunt at the time, and her death was kept secret from Akhmatova.
' We're all drunkards here . . .' The sense of shame and guilt points forward to the great poem of expiation, Poem without a Hero, of her late years. There is a sense of play-acting, in what was the calendar, but not yet the real, twentieth century.
The Voice of Memory Olga Glebova-Sudeikina, a famous St Petersburg actress and beauty, was involved in a tangled love-affair which resulted in the suicide of a young cadet officer and poet, Vsevolod Knyazev. Akhmatova, too, was closely involved. Poem without a Hero re-creates this pointless tragedy, which is seen as representative of its era, and seeks to expiate it.
'Blue heaven, but the high . . .' The subject of this poem is again, presumably, Knyazev.
I came to him as a guest . . .' Akhmatova's attitude to Blok, the great Symbolist poet, was ambivalent. She admired his genius, .but distrusted what she saw as a demonic quality in his nature.
By the Sea Shore was written in 1913 and published in the magazine Apollon in 1915.
Akhmatova was born on the Black Sea coast, and though her family soon moved to Tsarskoye Selo they returned to the sea each summer. The sea stayed in Akhmatova's blood. By the Sea Shore is her most ambitious early exploration of the theme of the twin or double. One twin is pagan, wild, witch-like, dreaming constantly of her ideal love, the prince or tsarevitch; the other is Christian, confined through illness, responsible, and sensitive to another's sorrow. Not only are the twins two sides of Akhmatova's character: the grey-eyed boy and the tsarevitch 'might also be taken as two sides of the character of the man who dominated Akhmatova's adolescence and finally married her: the tsarevitch who came from the seathe poet, and the grey-eyed boythe husband' (Amanda Haight). Childhood innocence, in the poem, passes into the knowledge of death.
From White Flock ( Petrograd, 1917)
Most of the poems of this collection were written at Slepnyovo, in the province of Tver, where Akhmatova's small son, Lev, was being looked after by Gumilev's mother. According to Amanda Haight, much of White Flock relates to Akhmatova's friendship with the artist, Boris Anrep.
'How can you look at the Neva . . .' In the St Petersburg winters, bonfires were lit in the streets to melt the snow.
From Plantain ( Petrograd, 1921)
'Now no-one will be listening to songs . . .' The last line reflects Akhmatova's determination to stay and bear witness, rather than go into exile as many of her friends were doing in the post-Revolutionary years.
From Anno Domini ( Petersburg, 1921)
'They wiped your slate ...' Gumilev, from whom Akhmatova had been divorced in 1918, was executed three years later as an alleged counter-revolutionary. Akhmatova appended a false dating, 1914, to avoid an obvious reference to Gumilev.
Bezhetsk When she visited Slepnyovo in December 1921 to be with her son, the nearby ancient town of Bezhetsk brought back tormenting memories of former happy visits with Gumilev.
Lot's Wife The poet's attitude to the wife of Lot may confirm the expressed view of Mayakovsky, and others, that she was a 'pointless, pathetic and comic anachronism'. Or it may confirm her profound compassion and her fidelity to private emotion. Significantly and ironically, Mayakovsky was reading her poetry almost every day in private.
From Reed
Originally entitled Willow, Reed appeared as a section of From Six Books ( Leningrad, 1940). It contains a part of the fruit of sixteen years of almost total silence. Akhmatova had been one of the first to feel the State's displeasure. Not knowing quite what to do with her, they had given herin her mid-thirties an old-age pension: enough to keep her in cigarettes and matches.
The publication of From Six Books came as a surprise. A few months later it was declared to have been an error, and withdrawn.
The poems from the era of silence are few in number, compared with earlier years, but carry immense authority. They strengthen and define her position of independence: through identification with Dante and, less centrally, Shakespeare's Cleopatra; through tributes to contemporary writers of like integrity, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Bulgakov, and to the timeless Muse herself; by affirming her oneness with the earthly world (Willow) and the divine world (Way of all the Earth). Requiem, the tragic and beautiful sequence that arose from her son's arrest, imprisonment and exile, was written during the years 1935-1940. It was not written down, only remembered; it still does not appear in the most recent Soviet edition of her work.
Boris Pasternak 'Darya's gorge': the Daryal gorge runs through the Caucasus into Georgia, which Pasternak often visited in the 19303 to see his friends, the poets Paolo Yashvili and Titsian Tabidze. Both died in the purges, a year after this poem was written. A Georgian legend states that Queen Darya would lure travellers to her tower and hurl their bodies into the turbulent river Terek at the bottom of the gorge.
Voronezh Voronezh is a city about three hundred miles south of Moscow, on a tributary of the Don. Peter the Great built a flotilla there. The Field of Kulikovo, where the Tatars were defeated in 1380, is not far away. Mandelstam lived there in exile from 1934 to 1937. Akhmatova visited him in February 936.
Imitation from the Armenian Under the thin disguise of the title, the poem obviously refers to the arrest of Akhmatova's son.
In Memory of Mikhail Bulgakov Bulgakov, a close friend of the poet, was an outstanding novelist, satirist and playwright. His great novel, The Master and Margarita, was completed in the last year of his life, 1940, but not published in the Soviet Union till 1966.
Way of all the Earth 'Kitezh, according to legend, was a city saved by prayer from the advance of the Tatars. Some say it was lifted up to the heavens and its reflection seen on a lake into which the enemy rushed to their death, others that like other legendary cities it sunk deep into the lake where its towers can be seen on days when the water is specially clear. Akhmatova's "Kitezhanka", the woman of Kitezh, is seen hurrying home through the bullets, across the trenches, through the wars filling half the twentieth century . . . This poem is not, however, about escape from life, but one which expresses faith in the most profound sense of the word. Strength here stems from the recognition that the poet has come from God and will one day return to Him, and that she must make her way through time to the place where there will be none.' (Amanda Haight: Akhmatova, A Poetic Pilgrimage)
The Varyag and the Koreyetz. were Russian ships that perished heroically against the Japanese fleet in 1904. Fort Shabrol was the sarcastic name given to the house on Shabrol Street, Paris, where the anti-Dreyfus conspirators held out against arrest in 1899. These events, and the 'anti-imperial' Boer War, symbolize the dying age. The poem moves back through the beginnings of World War II (Part of the poem); World War IAkhmatova last visited the Crimea in 1916 (Part 2); the personal events of her 'crisis' year 1913 (3); Petersburg of the first decade (4); the century's turn (5); and the timeless city (6).
Akhmatova regarded this as the most avant-garde work she had written. Its energy, compression, symbolism, mixture of the narrative and the lyrical, its gathering-together of past suffering, as well as certain images'-Hoffman, mirrors, Tsushima (where the Russian fleet was destroyed in 1905)all are reminiscent of Poem without a Hero, the work which she began in this year, 1940, and which was to continue to possess her almost till the end of her life. For the poet, aged fifty, this year was a climacteric. Her health, never good, was failing badly, she was extremely poor, and had been living mostly on black bread and sugarless tea; her son had been sentenced to death, reprieved, and sent into exile; the war in Europe seemed to be destroying the culture of which she felt herself a part; official oppression had eased slightly only to clamp down again, thus further endangering her son; she was terrified that she was going mad. Yet Requiem was being completed, and other majestic poems were being written and conceived. As a poet, she was at the height of her powers.
From The Seventh Book
Like Reed, this was never published as a separate volume.
In 1940 Akhmatova's personal suffering did not stop her feeling grief for the fate of Paris and London. This leads to a memory of one of her friends of 1913 (the year celebrated and condemned in Poem without a Hero], Salome Andronnikova, who was living in London. Mandelstam, in a famous poem about her, had punned on her name with a reference to drinking through a straw, (in Russian, solominka means 'little straw'). The epigraph to Shade is taken from a poem by Mandelstam that addresses another emigre, Olga Vaksel, who had committed suicide in Norway.
'That's how I am . . .' Flown out of Leningrad under siege, by a strange whim of the authorities, Akhmatova spent the next three years in Tashkent. She regarded this fresh experience with a mixture of joy, deliriumshe became seriously ill with typhus and recognition (see 'It is your lynx eyes, Asia ...'). Akhmatova draws a parallel between her own condition and the fate of Marina Tsvetaeva. Tsvetaeva, an emigre since 1922, returned to Russia in 1939, to find that her husband, who had preceded her, had been shot, and her daughter arrested. She hanged herself in 1941, an event which greatly affected Akhmatova.
'The souls of those I love . . . Though Akhmatova dated this poem, and the next, in the early forties, it is likely that they were written in 1921, the year of Gunilev's death.
Northern Elegies: Akhmatova conceived seven elegies, but some are fragmentary, and the seventh, evidently particularly important to her, appears to be lost altogether. I follow Haight's numbering, which differs from that in the American edition and the most recent Soviet edition, ( Leningrad 1976).
(Fifth) Anna Gorenko adopted the name Akhmatova when she was seventeen, from a real or imagined Tatar great-grandmother. She grew to resent not having a 'real' name; Akhmatova, she said, was 'Tatar, backwoods, coming from nowhere, cleaving to every disaster, itself a disaster'. Another allusion in the poem is to her always-muddled marital status as a married/single/homeless/widow woman.
Two years after this poem was written, the age grew harsher. During the war, her poems had been appearing in magazines, and a Selected Poems was published in Tashkent. In 1945, to her surprise and joy, her son returned from the fronthe had been released from exile to fight in the war. A selection of her work was printed in Moscow in 1946; but it was never published. Stalin, having dealt with the enemy outside, turned again to destroy the 'enemy within', and Akhmatova bore the first virulence of the attack on 'ideologically harmful and apolitical works'. She was expelled from the Writers' Union, shadowed wherever she went, and, worst of all, her son was re-arrested. He was to spend seven more years in a prison camp. Following Stalin's death, Akhmatova's situation improved, and in the last ten years of her life she was able to live more freely, even visiting the West, and her poetry, though still subject to censorship, was published.
Death of a Poet Boris Pasternak.
There are Four of Us The three poets referred to, besides Akhmatova, are Pasternak, Mandelstam, and Tsvetaeva. The title is that used in the first publication of the poem, which was in an American-Russian language publication, Paths of Air. In later Soviet editions of her work, the poem is entitled Komarovo Sketches. Akhmatova spent much time in her last years at Komarovo, fifty miles from Leningrad on the Karelian isthmus, and she is buried there. The epigraph, '0 Muse of Weeping', is the first line of a poem to Akhmatova written in 1916.
Last Rose Morozova was a seventeenth-century dissenter who resisted the reformed ritual of the Orthodox Church and was forcibly removed to Siberia. Akhmatova recited this poem to
Robert Frost when the American poet visited the Soviet Union in 1962.
In Memory of V.C. Sreauvskaya Valeriya Sreznevskaya was one of the poet's oldest and closest friends. They had played together as children at Tsarskoye Selo.


It was common practice with Akhmatova to subscribe, after a poem, the date, and sometimes place, of its composition. This information is provided below.
Quatrain. 1961.
Foreword. 'The Yezhov terror', or yezhovshchina, is the name Russians give to the worst period of the purges (1937-38), when Nikolai Yezhov was the official whom Stalin entrusted with the operation.
Dedication. March 1950.
1.1935. In her memoir of Mandelstam, Akhmatova mentions that this poem refers to the arrest of her friend, Nikolai Punin, in 1935. He was released before the Yezhov terror began, and was notrearrested.
2. 'Husband clay' refers to Nikolai Gumilev, shot in 1921. In the original Russian, the last two lines have a peasant-like alliterative ferocity and simplicity that has, I think, eluded all translators.
3. This was published in a Moscow literary journal in 1966.
4. The original text mentions the name of the prisonKresty (Crosses), perhaps with an allusion to its literal meaning.
5. 939.
6. 939.
7. 1939. Summer. This was printed, without title, as long ago as 1940, in the Leningrad literary journal Zvezda.
8. 19 August 1939, the House on the Fontanka. 'Police cap': the original has the 'blue cap' of the NKVD uniform. The Yenisei is a river in Siberia.
9. 4 May 1940, the House on the Fontanka. . 1940-43.
Epilogue. March 1940. 'Motionless bronze eyelids'like the famous bronze equestrian statue of Peter the Great.

Poem without a Hero


The epigraph is from the last stanza of Eugene Onegin. Pushkin takes farewell of his poem, and notes that many of his first readers are no longer aroundincluding those hanged and exiled for their part in the Decembrist uprising. The aptness of the allusion needs no underlining.
'Certain absurd interpretations': many of Akhmatova's contemporaries criticised her for attacking the dead or people so far away they could not answer back.
Dedicatory poems
(1) Vs.K.Vsevolod Knyazev. But the world of masks and doubles may already have started, for certain features of the poem strongly suggested to Nadezhda Mandelstam that the poem was really dedicated to her husband, who died in a Siberian transit-camp in 1938. 'After hearing Akhmatova recite her Poem for the first time in Tashkent, I asked to whom the "First Dedication" was addressed. "Whose first draft do you think I can write on?" she replied with some irritation. ... I have two copies of the Poem. In one of them Knyazev's initials stand just above the "First Dedication", but have been crossed out by Akhmatovashe did this in my presence, saying it was a typing error. The other copy does not have his initials at all.' (Nadezhda Mandelstam: Hope Abandoned). If, as seems certain from other evidence too, Mandelstam and Knyazev are blurred together in the poem, they would appear to be mirror-reflections rather than doubles: the novice-poet who withdrew from life before the turmoil began, and the major poet who endured it all, to the anonymous mass-grave.
1. 8, 'Antinous': the allusion is probably to a favourite of the Emperor Hadrian, a youth of extraordinary beauty who drowned himself in the Nile in AD 130. Carl Proffer says it refers to the Homeric Antinous, braggart suitor to Penelope; but this seems less likely.
(2) O.A.G-S: Olga Glebova-Sudeikina. 1. 17, 'blundering Psyche': literally Confusion-Psyche, one of her roles, in a play of the same name by Yury Belayev.
(3) A shadowy figure, presumably the 'guest from the future' (see 1. 148, and note).
Part One,
I. 67, a quotation from Akhmatova's poem 'A New Year's Ballad', published in her collection Anno Domini (1921).
II. 86-93. The masked guests who stream in are playing roles which were well known in the theatrical and literary life of Petersburg in those years. Don Juan recalls Mozart, Byron, Pushkin (The Stone Guest}, Blok (The Steps of the Commendatore), but more immediately refers to Moliere's version of the story, which was staged in 1910 by Vsevolod Meyerhold. 'Dapertutto' was Meyerhold's commedia dell'arte pen name. John the Baptistfrom Richard Strauss's opera, based on Wilde's Salome, and also a ballet by Fokine. Glahn is a character in Knut Hansun's Pan. The 'goatlegged nymph' is Sudeikina: late in 1912 she danced a ballet called The Fauns. A contemporary photograph shows her in the costume of a faun, with goat's horns.
1. 94, 'the walls have widened': symbolically, to all Russia.
1. 112, 'The Prince of Darkness': Mikhail Kuzmin.
I. 132, 'the valley of God's anger': the Day of Judgment.
II. 142-49. This passage was inspired by an actual visitor from the West, Isaiah Berlin, who came to see Akhmatova not long after the war. Under the conditions that prevailed, she regarded the visit as providential, almost literally 'from the future'. In reality, the Soviet authorities used it as one of their excuses for the renewed imprisonment of her son and persecution of herself. Max Hayward points out her extreme precision of detail: to reach her apartment in a wing of the old Sheremetyev Palace, it would have been necessary to turn left from a bridge over the Fontanka canal.
II. 163-64, 'You come in the motley stripes/Of a milepost': this passage is about Blok. The striped milepost is a feature of the Russian landscape. Blok stands, a tragi-farcical figure, on the border of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, between Tsarism and Communism.
1. 165, 'old as the Mamre/Oak': see Genesis xiv, 13, 24.
1. 182, 'Poets are blind to sin': Nadezhda Mandelstam has stressed that what fundamentally distinguished the Acmeists from the Symbolists was moral concern. 'The Acmeists renounced the cult of the poet and the principle that "all is permitted" to the man who "dares".' (Hope Abandoned]
I. 216, 'I am ready for death': words spoken by Mandelstam to Akhmatova three months before his first arrest, for writing an anti-Stalinist poem, in 1934. The identities of Knyazev and Mandelstam are again blurred.
II. 224-26. These lines, as B. A. Fillipov points out, are clearly inspired by the description of Kirillov in Dostoyevsky's Possessed, after he had hanged himself: 'In the corner formed by the wall and the cupboard, Kirillov was standingand standing in a terribly strange manner.'
Across the Landing
Like Hedda Gabler's, Knyazev's suicide is an astonishing and irritating intrusion upon the busy scene, which is dominated by Sudeikina in her wild dance.
11. 238-40, 'Isaac's': St Isaac's Square; 'the Dog': the Stray Dog.
1. 257, 'the head of Madame de Lamballe': the title of a famous poem by M. Voloshin, written in 1906, about a victim of the French Revolution.
1. 264, 'oceanic dance': the Russian adjective is 'okayanniy' (cursed); the pull of the English word, oceanic, which echoes the sound so closely, proved too much for this translator to swim against.
1. 271, 'Ivanushka of the fable' is a familiar character in Russian folklore. Usually, while his two bright brothers get married and get on, he sits on the stove and catches flies.
Part One, 2
Besides the goatlegged nymph, all the other roles mentioned in the introductory passage were associated with Sudeikina. Her husband painted her portrait in the role of the blunderer (Confusion-Psyche) .
1. 283, 'Meyerhold's blackamoors': Meyerhold's production of Moliere's Don Juan opened with a swarm of slave boys running on stage, lighting candles, ringing bells, etc.
I. 286, 'flayed the hide of the nation': Peter the Great built Petersburg on a swamp, at enormous cost in human lives.
II. 291-304. The glory of Petersburg's musical and theatrical life is evoked, through the reference to Anna Pavlova dancing the Swan (Saint-Saens-Fokine) at the famous Mariinsky Theatre; and to Chaliapin.
1. 306, 'the twelve colleges' corridor': the corridor of Leningrad University is noted for its exceptional length ( 1,500 feet). Originally the building, begun by Peter the Great, housed twelve ministries ('colleges'). The poet, writing with her 'invisible ink', is doubtless alluding to the Soviet brand of education and culture monolithic, 'straight'.
11. 310-17. Akhmatova visited Paris in the spring of 1911, when Stravinsky's Petrushka was performed by the Ballets Russes and created a sensation. The ballet was performed in Petersburg in 1913. The 'yellow-black flag' is the imperial standard. The Summer Garden is the city's central park, beside the Neva. Tsushima is an island off Japan, where the Russian fleet was annihilated in 1905.
11. 320-41. The shadows fly and Blok ('Mephistophilis or Gabriel') holds the stage alone. 'Demon with the smile of Tamara' refers to Lermontov's romantic poem, Demon; Tamara, a Gretchen figure, is destroyed by the Demon's kiss, but her soul is taken to heaven by an angel. Blok himself relates his gift of a black rose in his short poem, In the Restaurant; and reality and art are again confused in the reference to his Don Juan poem, The Steps of the Commendatore, which is a close parallel to the reality of Knyazev's entrance into the heroine's house before his suicide.
1- 355, 'O my blond-haired wonder'. Nadezhda Mandelstam's impression of her, ten years later: 'A nice, light-headed, flighty creature who had suffered much from hunger and other ordeals during the terrible years of Revolution.' (Hope Abandoned)
1. 365, the 'protected cedar' was at Komarovo, near Leningrad, a place much loved by Akhmatova. It is there that she is buried.
I. 370, the 'Maltese chapel' is in the former palace of the Vorontsovs in Leningrad.
Part One, 3
The poem's historical dimension is powerfully visualised in this section: the ominous approach of 'the existing/Twentieth Century' (i.e. from 1914).
II. 440-53. The Cameron Gallery is a building at Tsarskoye Selo. 'All nine' refers to the nine muses. This tender reminiscence is addressed (according to Carl Proffer) to the critic N. V. Nedob-rovo, Akhmatova's first love. It could equally be addressed to Gumilev.
Part One, 4
Mars Field is a large open area by the Neva, used for military parades. The house built by the brothers Adamini was one that Akhmatova lived in for some years in the 19205. The Church of the Saviour on the Blood was built in the late nineteenth century on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated. The church became a centre for anti-totalitarian thought in the period after the Revolution.
1. 471, 'On the road back from Damascus': Sudeikina was involved in a performance of a play called 'The Road from Damascus' at the Stray Dog. She is returning home from the cabaret with Blok. This is an excellent example of the fusion of literal precision and parable in the poem: for it is also a return into sin, as if St Paul changed back into Saul.
Part Two
Epigraph: 'My future is in my past'. Akhmatova's notebook refers to T. S. Eliot as the source. Shortly before her death she is said to have learnt that it was the motto of Mary Queen of Scots. It is intriguing that Akhmatova must have known Eliot's Four Quartets, in view of the similarities between the works: the musical form, the concern with time and history and the timeless soul; much of both works was written in cities under siege. That Akhmatova felt deeply for London's plight is attested by her poem To the Londoners: 'Time is now writing with impassive hand/ Shakespeare's black play, his twenty-fourth/ . . . Only not this one, not this one, not this one/ This one we do not have the strength to read.' Eliot's poem is Akhmatova's English 'double'.
The reference, in the introduction, to Requiem first appears in one of the author's last revisions, near the end of her life.
1. 525, 'There were three': Blok, Kuzmin, Knyazev. Carl Proffer suggests Sudeikina, Blok, Knyazev, surely a misreading since clearly the first two must be celebrated poets.
1. 541, 'soft embalmer': this phrase, from Keats' sonnet To Sleep, is quoted in English in the Russian text.
1. 549. The Satanic figure is, again, Kuzmin (cf. 11. 109-19). Three poems by Kuzmin may provide a clue to his role in Knyazev's suicide. They are homosexual love poems to a young man, and two of them are dedicated to 'V.K.'. Both of these poems were written in 1912. The third poem, 'In sad and pale make-up', is addressed to a 'blond Pierrot' (cf. 1. 393), whom the poet wishes to kiss endlessly. It is dated 1912-13. Beside any part he may have played in Knyazev's suicide, Akhmatova evidently finds his attitude towards it intolerable.
I. 561. Akhmatova's seventh book of poetry went with her in her evacuation from Leningrad during the siege. It never appeared in print. In the same plane was Shostakovich, with the score of his seventh symphony, 'the Leningrad'. B. A. Fillipov comments that the allusion may also encompass Beethoven's Seventh, which Akhmatova deeply loved. Once again, the deliberate blurring and mirror-effect is evident.
II. 567-69, 579- 84. In a note, Akhmatova writesperhaps ironicallythat the omitted stanzas are in imitation of Pushkin: who did indeed suppress stanzas for political reasons. The truth may be, I suggest, that originally the Soviet censors demanded cuts here before they would allow publication. We know that cuts were demandednot surprisinglyin Parts Two and Three; she refused to publish these parts under such conditions. Perhaps later she saw how artistically effective these hiatuses could be. In them, 'silence itself speaks'.
11. 595-96: Luga is a town near Leningrad; 'the land of the satin half mask' is Venice.
I. 601. White Flock and Plantain are early books by Akhmatova.
II. 627-56. The author is for a moment afraid that her poem, which so obsesses her, is only another creation of the Romantic muse, that 'century-old enchantress'. But the muse protests that she has no ancestors. Despite the abundance of literary and artistic allusions, Poem without a Hero is, as Max Hayward has said, 'a conscious attempt to go beyond the Romantic poem. . . . Her main purpose is to recall an era in which there were no more heroes, only pseudo-Romantic masqueraders; the hero-individualist of the nineteenth century has come to the end of the road and his epigones (unless, like Knyazev, they died young) would be offered up wholesale to the Moloch of war and revolution.' Similarly the poem is not, as has been suggested, a regression to Symbolism: Symbolism 'was rooted, at the best, only in the imagination of its representatives. Akhmatova, on the other hand, was speaking not from imagination only, but from the depth of unimaginable experience.'
Part Three
11. 687-700. Akhmatova's last double in the poem is mysterious. It is everyone who has perished in the labour-camps. But it is also her son, almost certainly: she does not know in what year he will suffer the most normal fate in those circumstances, death. She may also have in mind, again, her great friend and peer, Mandelstam. Exactly when Mandelstam perished is uncertain to this day, though his widow believes it to be 27 December 1938. And Akhmatova's closeness and loyalty to him was remarkable; his death could not weaken the bond. 'We shouldn't be viewed as twins,' she used to say, 'but neither can we be separated: we go together.' For eighteen years, she and Nadezhda Mandelstam alone kept his poetry alive.
1. 693, 'the Noseless Slut': an obscure reference, perhaps death in the Stalinist era, faceless and indiscriminate.
1. 708, 'Hermitage halls': the Hermitage Museum of Art.

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