Of fame and disgrace

on December 12, 2010 with 0 comments » | ,

Found this great quote by Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet, which I thought was worth sharing: 
"I experienced great fame, I experienced great disgrace and I have come to the conclusion that, in essentials, it is all the same" - Anna Akhmatova, enduring the scathing attack by Stalin and his flunkies.

After reading some of her poems, I got intrigued to read more about her life and picked up "Anna of All the Russias", a biography of Anna Akhmatova, at the library yesterday. Here is a brief gist of the background to the above quote (In the paragraphs below I often quote entire lines from the book, Chapter 13; all copyrights remain with the author, Elaine Feinstein and the publishers of the book): 

The 1920s and 1930s were years of much torment and anguish for Anna Akhmatova and you can read a brief summary of those "accursed years" here
However, things seemed to be looking better by 1940 when Stalin approved the publication of her bookof poems 'From Six Books' and Mikhail Lozinsky, the foremost translator of Shakespeareinto Russian, praised Anna Akhmatova saying her poems "would last as long as the Russian language exists, and every last grain of them will be garnered like lines of Catullus". However, by later that year she was being hounded by the Soviet authorities again, with production of her books halted by August when they caught the attention of theNKVD (pre-cursor of the KGB). By October 29th, the few copies of 'From Six Books' that had been printed were taken from the shops and her book banned. The despair of war and Hitler's attacks on Paris and London and the seige of Leningrad followed...
 
After the war, as the Cold War gripped the world, her meetings with the British diplomat Isaiah Berlin brought further attention from the Soviet powers-that-be. In August 1946, the executive committee of the Writers' Union launched a scathing attack on Akhmatova, with Andrey Zhdanov, Stalin's cultural commissar saying:
"Anna Akhmatova is one of the representatives of a reactionary literarary quagmire devoid of ideas... one of the standard bearers of a hollow, empty, aristocratic salon poetry which is absolutely foreign to Soviet Literature....  Anna Akhmatova's subject-matter is thoroughly individualistic. The range of her poetry is pitifully limited -- this is the poetry of a feral lady from the salons, moving between the boudoir and the prayer-stool. It is based on erotic motifs linked with motifs of mourning, melancholy, death, mysticism, and isolation. … She is half-nun, half whore, or rather both whore and nun, with her petty, narrow private life, her trivial experiences, and her religious-mystical eroticism. Akhmatova's poetry is totally foreign to the people."
It is in this context that Akhmatova has been said to have said:
"I experienced great fame, I experienced great disgrace and I have come to the conclusion that, in essentials, it is all the same"
Ironic how some people endure so much pain and anguish during their lives.... but continue to "live" eternally in the memories of people through their work and the stories of their lives. 120+ years since her birth and 40+ years since her death, here I am spending a weekend reading her poems and about her life! But what does such fame mean to someone long dead and who suffered a lot in her life at the hands of totalitarian regimes? Something to ponder over...especially given all the recent attention and celebration of another such hero suffering at the hands of a totalitarian regime: Liu Xiaobo.

I'll leave you with these words from Anna Akhmatova's famous poem, Requiem:
I have learned how faces fall to bone,
how under the eyelids terror lurks,
how suffering inscribes on cheeks
the hard lines of its cuneiform texts,
how glossy black or ash-fair locks
turn overnight to tarnished silver,
how smiles fade on submissive lips,
and fear quavers in a dry titter.
And I pray not for myself alone...
for all who stood outside the jail,
in bitter cold or summer's blaze,
with me under that blind red wall.

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