The woman who had let me into the flat brought in a saucer on which lay a lonely boiled carrot, which had been peeled perfunctorily and had already dried up somewhat. Perhaps such was her diet, perhaps it was simply Akhmatova’s wish, or the result of disregard for housekeeping, but for me at that moment this carrot expressed her infinite indifference–to food and everyday routine, which was almost asceticism, especially viewed alongside her unkemptness and her poverty.
. . .
During her lifetime Akhmatova saw famine and wars and repression and resistance and revolution. There were trumped-up charges and secret surveillance and purges and imprisonments and executions. Millions of people died. There was literary censorship.
Her first husband was executed. Her second husband died from tuberculosis. Her third husband died in prison. Her son was imprisoned several times. Out of the four great poets of her time (including herself), Mandelstam died in a work camp, Tsvetaeva died by suicide, and Pasternak was forced to refuse the Nobel Prize. Akhmatova herself contracted typhus and tuberculosis. She lost touch with her family. She was labeled “half harlot, half nun,” probably with many connotations. The secret police kept her under constant surveillance.
. . .
Akhmatova could have fled the country. But she stayed to capture the stories. A small circle of longtime friends dared to risk continued association with her. They helped her survive in spite of her poverty. And because it was too dangerous to put pen to paper, they helped keep her words alive by memorizing them. It was years before they could be published.
. . .
I’m telling her story over at Tweetspeak Poetry. Join me there?