Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
Shakespeare: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Odnoy nadezhdoy men’she stalo,
Odnoyu pesney bol’she budet.
One less hope becomes
One more song.4
Anna Akhmatova: White Flock
In the year that Akhmatova was born, Anton Chekhov published a story he called Pripadok (Paroxism) which, in an autobiographical sense, recreated in the central character Vasil’ev, Chekhov’s own agonized sense of the pain of human existence.
Akhmatova’s poetic work with its affinity for human pain connects her to Chekhov’s writing. Perhaps this is not surprising if one remembers that her close friend Osip Mandelshtam - and with him the critic Viktor Zhirmunsky - believed her poetic work in its complexity and depth to be closer to the psychological sensibility of such nineteenth-century writers as Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy. In fact, Mandelshtam believed that Akhmatova owed her very creative existence to these writers rather than to any other poetic forerunners: “‘The genesis of Akhmatova lies in Russian prose, not poetry.’”5 One might agree with this evaluation of Akhmatova’s poetic sensibility, if it did not exclude the poet Alexander Pushkin.
4 The translation is by Judith Hemschemeyer.
5 Quoted in V. M. Zhirmunsky, Tvorchestvo Anny Akhmatovoy (Leningrad, 1973), p. 45.