Anna Akhmatova

Born: 1889

Lived: St Petersburg (also called Petrograd and Leningrad), Russia

Died: 1966


Key Biographical Details:

·         Her father abandoned her and her family when she was 16;

·         Her first book of poems, ‘Evening’, was published in 1912;

·         Married the poet Nikolai Gumilev in 1910 with whom she had a son, Lev, but it was an unhappy marriage and in 1911 / 1912 he travelled to Africa, leaving her behind. Both were unfaithful to one another until their divorce in 1918;

·         She quickly married again, this time to Vladimir Shileiko, but they separated only 2 years later in 1920;

·         She lived during the Russian Revolution (1917), and in particular the ‘Red Terror’ (1918 – 1922) where Lenin’s Communist government were trying to wipe out all traces of the old Russian culture, including literature;

·         She also lived during Stalin’s dictatorship (1924 – 1953) at a time when police repression, forced industrialisation and new economic policies were creating mass hunger, poverty and suffering throughout Russia;

·         When her first husband, Gumilev, was executed in 1921 for being a traitor, she was labelled anti-Communist and was unofficially banned from publication. As a result she and her family were persecuted periodically for the next 30 years: her son, Lev, was imprisoned twice (in the 1930’s and again from 1949 to 1956) and her third husband, Nikolai Punin, was taken to a Siberian labour camp where he died in 1953;

·         However, after Stalin’s death she gradually became reaccepted into the Russian literary scene.



Major Themes:

·         Love, although mainly frustrated and tragic love and her early poems usually picture a man and a woman involved in the most poignant or ambiguous moments of their relationship;

·         Her poetry is also a reaction against the horror of the Stalinist regime and she is viewed by many as a witness to the suffering and persecution of life in the Soviet Union, she herself seems to have viewed her work as a literary monument to the victims of Stalin’s Terror;

·         As a result of her own experience of persecution her poems reveal a sense of connectedness with the suffering of her country, which perhaps explains why she did not abandon it and emigrate like so many of her contemporaries did;




·         Her poems are concise, taut, emotionally constrained;

·         She writes in a lucid, honest, candid style and avoids vague symbols (a kind of writing known as Acmeism) that makes her work beautifully clear and suggests a kind of quiet strength;

·         Akhmatova employs a conversational style filled with simple language and every day speech that makes her poetry seem personal or confessional and enabled her to appeal to that wide cross-section of Russian people who had experienced the same horrific conditions as she under Communism.




Akhmatova’s life spanned the time between the pre-Revolutionary and post-Stalin eras of Russian history. Despite terrible persecution and censorship by the State, her poetry gave voice to the Russian people during times of great upheaval in Russian society. She did so with verse that is original and strikingly modern. Akhmatova outlived her persecutors, and her life has become a symbol of truth and integrity.


When the American national poet Robert Frost visited her in 1962, Akhmatova said: "I've had everything – poverty, prison lines, fear, poems remembered only by heart, and burnt poems. And humiliation and grief. And you don't know anything about this and wouldn't be able to understand it if I told you..." but her poetry is able to give us at least a glimpse of the momentous and horrifying times that she lived through.