This comprehensive edition of Russia's greatest modern poet, Anna Akhmatova (1899-1966), includes the complete texts of her major works Requiem, commemorating all of Stalin's victims, and Poem Without a Hero. Akhmatova was Russia’s greatest modern poet. She published her first book of poems in 1912, and in the same year founded the Acmeist movement with her husband, the poet Gumilev. Her intense, highly personal love lyrics were later attacked as anti-revolutionary, and in 1925 her poetry was banned.
Gumilev was shot in 1921 for alleged involvement in an anti-Bolshevik plot, and in the years of terror which followed under Stalin, Akhmatova was persecuted for her work along with fellow poets Mandelstam, who died in a camp, and Tsvetaeva, who committed suicide. She was able to publish some work during the war, but in 1946 she again came under attack, this time from Zhdanov, who denounced her with Pasternak and others for trying to ‘poison the minds’ of Soviet youth.
These were attacks on her published work. What she was writing – but could not publish – was far more dangerous. For she had entered her years of silence. As she fought for her son’s release from prison, she was writing her greatest poetry: the cycle Requiem, which commemorated all of Stalin’s victims, and Poem without a hero, which she began in 1940 and worked on for over 20 years.
All she wrote she committed to memory. Several trusted friends also memorised her poems, among them Mandelstam’s widow Nadezhda. She wrote nothing down, and so survived, the people’s conscience, the one who kept 'the great Russian word' alive.
'McKane's Akhmatova versions are unparalleled, and a great advance on his admittedly brilliant early work on that wonderful poet. They have a restrained brilliance and an extraordinary personal power' - Peter Levi
'Akhmatova, along with Pasternak, Mandelstam and Tsvetaveva, is one of the absolutely indispensable poets of the century. We should be grateful to Richard McKane that such a generous, committed and well-presented selection of her work is now available in English'- Duncan Tweedale, The Green Book
'Richard McKane's long and arduous labour of love means that now these extraordinary poems are passed on to us in an English fresh and modern enough to make them sound as though written yesterday . . . This is indispensable reading' - Michèle Roberts, City Limits
'This book is outstanding value for money. Apart from 264 pages of poems, there are notes by both writer and translator, an informative introduction and lengthy excerpts from Akhmatova's autobiographical writings. And of course the stamp of greatness is all over it; nobody could mistake the sound of someone creating on a different level. Reading these poems is like being higher up a mountain than people are meant to go; you can only take it for so long' - Sheenagh Pugh, Poetry Review
'Whether epic or epigrammatic (and this new Selected Poems confirms how powerful she can be in either mood), she often expresses her sense of history by personifying it in one of the more statuesque and archetypal female modes of being: mourning, enduring, witnessing. In order to bear witness, she had to stay put, honing her gift to a tensile strength equal to any horror that war, famine or Stalin could devise . . . With so many of the later poems now in this one collection it is possible to trace the sweep of her development, and feel how the lovely early lyrics are balanced by the more tough and declarative pieces she wrote in her early seventies' – Carol Rumens, Sunday Times
'I read this book with increasing admiration… Last year was the centenary of Akhmatova's birth and this translation by Richard McKane, which is something more than a translation, is worthy of the event' - Sir John Lawrence, The Tablet
'This taut, magnificent collection of her poems' - Edna O'Brien, The Observer (Books of the Year)