A Poet for the People

 

Akhmatova was inspired to write Requiem by the imprisonment of her son and as a statement against the Stalinist movement. Requiem is a lyrical cycle (i.e. a series of poems written on a common theme) but it is also a short epic narrative. Requiem is at once a public and a private poem, a picture of individual grief but one that is simultaneously linked to a national disaster.

 

Living at the time that she did, Akhmatova grew up in pre-revolutionary Russia, lived through the Bolshevik Revolution and witnessed the horrors that came after it. She was able to foresee and then fully experience the imponderable, inescapable, mad experiment with history, life and culture that the Communists carried out when they came to power. Her poetry is often a response to this "mad experiment," and her role as witness to the horrors of the twentieth century is a major theme in her verse, which she wrote in a ground-breaking, concise modern style.

 

Akhmatova wrote many of her later poems, especially the poem Requiem, to inspire her people with feelings of courage and emotional strength. By the mid 1930s the honeymoon period following the Russian Revolution was over and many Russians were beginning to lose faith that Communism would be able to deliver a better life for all as it became clear that many people were still suffering and that all over the country people were going hungry and cold during the harsh Russian winter. In addition, Stalinís dictatorship was becoming increasingly brutal and even the slightest suggestion of disagreement could lead to people being declared enemies of Communism and either executed or exiled to Siberia.

 

Admist all of this suffering, Akhmatova wanted to inspire a will to live among her fellow countrymen and to give a voice to their pain. Akhmatova used poetry to echo the struggles and deepest yearnings of the Russian people, for whom she remains the greatest of literary heroines.