In a Shattered Mirror: The Later Poetry of Anna Akhmatova

In a Shattered Mirror: The Later Poetry of Anna Akhmatova

In a Shattered Mirror: The Later Poetry of Anna Akhmatova

In a Shattered Mirror: The Later Poetry of Anna Akhmatova


The Russian Revolution and its grim aftermath transformed the world into which Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) had been born, radically altering the poet's life and art. At the time of the Revolution, Akhmatova's exquisite love lyrics had made her one of Russia's leading poets, but the mass social forces unleashed by the Revolution were inimical to her lyric genius. In the 1920's her work was subjected to vicious ideological attacks in the press and was officially barred from.

publication. Akhmatova fell silent. When she began writing again in the late 1930s, her poetry was much changed- formally, thematically, and technically. In contrast to the relative simplicity of the early erotic miniatures, the later poetry speaks in riddles, flaunting its own opacity. The author places the later work in its socio-cultural context through close readings of the major texts. The dominant metapoetic themes of the later poetry are taken as a point of.

departure: they speak both to the poet's plight in society (repression, silencing) and to the array of means employed to transcend that plight (indirection, concealment, obfuscation). The theme of concealment highlights one of the most salient aspects of the later poetry- its saturation with allusions and quotations drawn from Russian and Western European literature. These allusions are interpreted through analyses of the complex relations between the source text and.

Akhmatova's poems. In contrast to the relatively unified image of the lyrical persona in the early verse, the poet's self-representation in the later poetry features a multiplicity of masks and guises. Throughout, the author traces the genesis and transfigurations of these images of self. Quoted texts are given in Russian and in English translation.


This book is devoted to the later, post-1935 poetry of Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), which has received, with the exception of Poem Without a Hero, surprisingly little critical attention. the later poetry differs radically from the sublimely transparent lyrical miniatures of the early period, most strikingly in its manifest difficulty and complexity, in its often self-conscious opacity. the main reason for the difficulty of the later poetry is its saturation with literary quotations and allusions, and a major focus of this study is the complex role played in Akhmatova's poetics by these references. in contrast to the relative lyrical homogeneity of the early period, the later poetry is very diverse, featuring lengthy elegies and playful odes, innovative narrative poems and poetic cycles, as well as an array of disparate dictions and tones--ranging from bitter invective to a coldly distanced irony to what could be called an otherworldly lyricism. At the same time, the relatively unified image of the lyrical persona in the early verse is fragmented in the later period into a multiplicity of masks and guises.

I am mainly interested in the poetics of the later work, which I approach through close readings of major texts, and everything that bears on the creation of a given text I consider relevant to its interpretation. the poetics of Akhmatova's later work was shaped by sociopolitical, moral-philosophical, and religious concerns, no less than by aesthetic ones, and one of my aims has been to illuminate the multifaceted relations of these poems to both the sociopolitical context and the literary tradition to which they belong. a respect for the integrity of both the texts and their author has in-

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