Book Review: Anna Akhmatova-Selected Poems

Written by Arts, Book Reviews, Poetry

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a poem online. It was titled The Last Toast by Anna Akhmatova, translated into English from Russian. In just two short stanzas, I was gripped by the melancholy and existential tone of the poem and could not get it out of my head.

This work remains my favourite poem by her, leading me to buy a full book of her work, ‘Anna Akhmatova- Selected Poems’. Akhmatova, now considered one of the best Russian poets of the twentieth century, wrote a range of poems from short lyrical verse to long intricate prose verse, covering themes of love, sadness and conflict. Her writing is honest and vulnerable, reflecting her personal experiences during her strenuous life living through the Stalinist regime.

A collection of poems is also always a good way to go. You can work your way through it at your own pace. This was great for me as I found myself dipping into it from time to time. I would say that for Akhmatova, this was a good thing. Her work is at times heavy and could be overpowering to read all at once.

her poetry is captivating and highlights a dreadful time in history

This collection includes her most famous works including Requiem alongside some less well known ones that are still as beautifully structured as the others. Requiem, an extended piece, highlights a time in which Akhmatova spent seventeen months in prison during the Yezhov Terror, a dangerous and repressive time in Russia. She maps out her time in prison through a series of poems. This stood out to me as her writing, reflective of where she was and the time period, becomes very dark and each detail hauntingly specific. It was a fascinating but quite sad read.

I have struggled to think of any poem of hers that I didn’t like in some way. Her work, spanning over many decades, covers so many themes and ideas that I did not get tired of reading it. Even the short poems were compelling. For example, Fragment, a deeply strange and even mysterious poem in only two short stanzas.

Additionally, this book begins with a foreword by Carol Ann Duffy and an introduction that gives an insight into Akhmatova’s life and some background to her poetry. This was helpful so I could engage with her writing on a more personal level.

Of course, her poetry is translated from Russian so it is perhaps difficult to understand them entirely, the way Akhmatova intended. The Russian language is challenging and very structured so some of her meanings may be lost in translation. But even in English, her poetry is captivating and highlights a dreadful time in history through an honest, hypnotic voice. I would recommend this collection to any poetry readers looking to explore something different, but be prepared for some painful and heart-breaking themes. Reading this collection of her work helped me rediscover my love for poetry and her praise is more than deserved.



Last modified: 21st March 2019

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