Family Album THE STACKS

Heart’s Memory

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some Russian tea cake
for a banned poet.
** Linger to ponder
how family memories are made.
** Savor a last ½ cup considering
how artists can both oppose & admire each other.
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First Sip:

I stand as witness to the common lot,
survivor of that time, that place.

– Anna Akhmatova
1961, translated from Russian
Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward


Slice of Cake:

Here are some of the ways that other people
described the poet Anna Akhmatova:

Lithe, tall, svelte…dark hair with short bangs
…dark, stern eyes.
It was impossible not to notice her….
The young people went crazy when
Akhmatova appeared on stage at literary readings….
She possessed the
regal self-assurance of
an artist who knew her worth.

– writer Ariadna Tyrkova-Vil’iams,
seeing Akhmatova at a Petersburg salon in the 1910s


She holds herself like
a queen in exile at some bourgeois spa…
Akhmatova clearly has taken on the responsibility for an era,
for the memory of those who have died
and for the reputations of the living.

– literary critic Lidia Ginzburg, 1927

My first impression was different.
She smiled, laughed, was merry, slyly whispering to her neighbor.
But then they asked her to read something,
and she suddenly changed…
She seemed to
ennoble and exalt everything around her.
…But only for a moment.

– poet Georgy Adamovich

Here’s how Anna Akhmatova described herself as a young woman:

Mocker, delight of your friends,
hearts’ thief,
naughtiest girl of Pushkin’s town.

– Anna Akhmatova
from her poem Requiem,
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward

And here is how she described herself in her 50s:

Half-crazed I,
I, sick with grief for the buried past,
I, smoldering on a slow fire,
having lost everything and forgotten all.

– Anna Akhmatova
1940, from her poem In Memory of M.B. **
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward

Anna Akhmatova grew up in the same small town where
the poet Pushkin went to school.
(The town then was called Tsarskoye Selo, meaning“Tsar’s Village.”
In 1937, the town was renamed Pushkin.)

Living in Pushkin’s town made a big impact on Anna as a school girl.
Hers was not a literary family, and their home had few books;
yet, from an early age her mother read Russian poetry to her.

By the time she was 11, she was writing poetry of her own. ++

Akhmatova’s father was not a fan of her poetry.
He worried that it would sully the family’s reputation. ++
In retaliation, young Anna Gorenko gave herself
a pen name from her mother’s side of the family,
the Tatar name of her maternal great-grandmother: Akhmatova.

A side note:
As different as her life and mine are

(and honestly, I was pretty hesitant in choosing Akhmatova as a topic this week,
because she had so much tragedy in her life
and I really don’t know that much about Russian history and culture)
yet it was nice to find these small things that she and I share in common:
– We’re both a middle child from a large family,
– Both wrote poetry as young girls,
– Both had parents who divorced when we were 16,
– And both our names are from a maternal great-grandmother.
(Mine’s name was Mary Kelly.)

Akhmatova’s first husband—a poet himself—wasn’t a fan of her poetry, either.
He suggested she try the ballet: “You have just the right figure for it, he told her. +++
Then he left for Addis Ababa.

“Gumilyov returned…
In the course of our first conversation
he asked me, in passing, “Did you write any poetry?”
Secretly rejoicing, I answered, ‘Yes.’”

– Anna Akhmatova
quoted from her ‘prose fragments’ by Ronald Meyer ++

What her husband didn’t know was that, while he was away, Anna read a book that changed her life.
It was a volume of poetry (The Cypress Box by Innokenti Annenski).
It was so ‘down to earth’ and so very different from any poetry she had ever seen.
Her own style of poetry changed immediately—and so did her life.
She began to read her new poems in public, she became a part of the local artistic society, and she secured her first publication. ++

“Gumilyov asked me to read some, listened to several poems,
and said,
‘You are a poet—
you need to put a book together.’”

– Anna Akhmatova

By 1922, she had published her fifth book of poetry and she was very popular.
Too popular for the Soviet party.
In 1925, she was banned from publishing poetry by a Party Resolution.
So she turned to prose.
She began to study Pushkin and wrote extensively about his work.

In the room of the banished poet
Fear and the Muse stand watch by turn,
and the night is coming on,
which has no hope of dawn.

– Anna Akhmatova
1936, from her poem Voronezh,
(which is a city south of Moscow)
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward

In 1937, her son Lev was arrested for the first time.
In all, he would be arrested three times, and then exiled.
(Her husband had been killed in 1921 after being arrested.)

Akhmatova spent years waiting for her son’s release,
and writing a 10-poem cycle called Requiem.

Because she was banned from publishing,
and because she believed this poem was too dangerous even to keep a written copy,
she asked several of her most trusted friends to
memorize the poem, then burn their copy—

this way maybe the poems would survive, even if she didn’t. ++

Here is a passage from Requiem where she describes herself,
as she waits in the long line outside the prison, hoping to learn something about her son and, if possible, get a package to him.

Under the glowering wall you stand,
shabby, three-hundredth in line,
clutching a parcel in your hand,
and the New Year’s ice scorched by your tears.

– Anna Akhmatova
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward

Requiem was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988.

I am not one of those who left the land
to the mercy of its enemies.
… And I pity the exile’s lot…
We, the survivors, do not flinch
from anything, not from a single blow…
We are the people without tears,
straighter than you…more proud.

– Anna Akhmatova
1922, from her poem
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward

Happy 130th Birthday
Anna Akhmatova

– born June 23, 1889
in Odessa, Russia


Linger Awhile:

This week marks year 21. Or so. *

I’ve been thinking this week about where memories come from.

When I lived in Michigan, I met people who got together every summer at their families’ lake houses. When I lived in New Zealand, I knew families who spent every January at their baches on the coast. But we are Californians, and so we feel lucky (very lucky) to get to spend a week, each June, together at the beach.

Every June, from the time my children were in pre-school—and up until two years ago—my father-in-law Tom celebrated his birthday by gathering his kids and grandkids together for a week at the beach. His ongoing gift to us is that our memories of summer will always include each other.

Two years ago, Tom died.

Last June, the family decided we would again gather at the beach.
And here we are, again, this year.

during our 18th year at the beach house *
(photo by Nicole*)

* 100% Accurate.
Until someone corrects me.


“Half Cup More”

2 Dissimilar Poets = 2 Mutual Fans

Akhmatova represented a new, radical, and grittier form of poetry (called Acmeism)
which up-ended and replaced an older, more abstract style of poetry (called Symbolism).
The two camps had little respect for each other.

Side note:
This is all you want to know
Acmeism and Symbolism. Believe me.
Even the recaps of this subject go on for pages!

An exception in all the animosity was Akhmatova and Alexander Blok.

Akhmatova singled out Blok as the one true poet of the old school—and he made her
an exception from his critiques of the new school.

Alexander Blok wrote a poem about her. She wrote a poem about him.

I came to the house of the poet.
Sunday. Precisely at noon….
The gaze of my watchful host
silently envelops me.
…But the talk is what I remember
from that smoky Sunday noon,
in the poet’s high gray house
by the sea-gates of the Neva.

– Akhmatova
from her poem “To Alexander Blok”
Jan 1914
translated by S.Kunitz with M.Hayward

‘Beauty is frightening,’
they will tell you…
‘Beauty is simple’

…Sadly lost in thought
You will say about yourself:
‘I am neither frightening nor simple;
I am not so frightening, that I would simply
Kill; I am not so simple
That I do not know how frightening life is.’

– Alexander Blok
from his poem “To Anna Akhmatova”
Dec 1913
translated by Barbara Heldt


Take-Away Box

Heart’s memory of the sun
grows fainter,
sallow is the grass;
a few flakes toss in the wind…
This very night unfolds
the winter.

– Anna Akhmatova
translated by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…

I used the following books for reference.

++ My Half Century by Anna Akmatova,
edited by Ronald Meyer (1992)

+++ Poems of Akhmatova by Anna Akmatova,
translated by Stanley Kuntz with Max Hayward (1967)

** Akhmatova dedicted this poem to Mikhail Bulgakov (‘M.B.’),
physician, novelist, satirist.

photo credits:
The cousins photo is (probably) by Nicole E.
All other photos by Prof B.
Thank you both!


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© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

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