Why you need to be obsesses with Anna Akhmatova poetry

I know, I know. It’s a shitty time to talk about Russia. But let’s talk about a female political poet! (If you don’t read “female political poet” to the tune of “lions and tigers and bears” I’m just not sure what you’re doing with your life.)

I’m talking about Anna Akhmatova. Her collection of poems, Requiem, is about Russia under the Stalin regime. And y’all, it feels a little too fucking familiar.

We’re going to look at one particular poem from Requiem, and think about how scary it is to be an American right now.


Epilogue I:

I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognize
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.


Now, I want to make it clear

that I do not think living in America is like living in Stalinist Russia. Yet. BUT. Consider how we are being treated. Consider that Stephen Colbert is under investigation by the FCC for making JOKES. They’re taking our jokes. That’s a scary thing. This. Is. Not. Normal.

So back to Akhmatova

and her relevance to the current American political climate. Consider that this poem, “Epilogue 1,” is basically her documenting a loss of freedom. “I have learned how faces fall,/ How terror can escape from lowered eyes”. This is watching people adjust to a terrifying regime. She has watched her friends go grey. “The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh” is especially scary to me. Laughter is meant to convey happiness; it’s a pleasant sound. Yet in Akhmatova’s world, it covered fear.

Akhmatova’s first husband was killed by “secret police.”

Her son was later prosecuted for nothing other than who his parents were. Her poetry was banned in 1925, when the government determined that she cared only for trivial “female” matters and her work was not in line with the politics of the time. She had lost her husband, her son, and now her means to publish her work. And honestly y’all, this is just the beginning of this woman’s troubles.

She was harshly criticized for her writing

Why would she continue when she had suffered so thoroughly? She couldn’t publish and experienced hunger and poverty because of it. Her son remained wrongfully imprisoned. Her home was bugged and under constant surveillance. Why did she continue to write material like Requiem, putting herself in danger? Look at the last part again:

That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

Akhmatova said  “one hundred million voices shout” through her “tortured mouth”. She felt she had to speak. Not just for herself, but for her people.


I’d love to hear your thoughts!



A quote by Anna Akhmatova

2 thoughts on “Why You Need to be Obsessed with Anna Akhmatova

  1. This article is amazing, bringing attention to the “Voice of 100 million tortured voices”. But I find her work to be so much more than “women’s issues”. She speaks to the very soul of all who yearn to be free.

    1. Savanah says:

      Thank you so much, Christopher!

      I agree entirely, and think that’s why it’s such an important time for people to become more familiarized with her work!

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