3.05.2010

Russian plumbline


Speaking of Acmeists, & conjunctions of opposites... on this date in 1966, Anna Akhmatova died. On the same day, in 1953, Stalin died. One lived by the word, the other by the sword. & the survivor outlived her mortal foe - leader of those who executed her husband Nikolai Gumilev, & sent her only child to the gulag. Gives another sense to those famous lines of hers:

Gold rusts, steel decays, marble
crumbles. Everything readies for death.
The firmest thing on Earth is sorrow,
and most lasting is the regal word.


In some of the early posts to the Plumbline, there was discussion of the "theatrical" dimension of human life and history, & how poetry is bound up inextricably with the dramatic fate of cultures & nations. You can see that clearly coming to the fore in the struggle between poetry & dictatorship in Russia : where Mandelstam's early affinity with Ovid played out in a foreshortened imitation (his poem about Stalin sent him to exile & death, as Ovid's poetry had gotten him shipped off to the Black Sea).

There's a thematic aspect to this particular confrontation, since the Acmeists (Gumilev, Akhmatova, Mandelstam et al.) had a conception of the project, the vocation, of the poetic Word, as a matter of humanizing, civilizing, and domesticating life on earth. They suffered and died for this vocation, in very dramatic (even iconic) fashion, in a battle with forces of violence and dehumanization : those ideological projects of the 20th century which were engaged in humiliating and defacing the human image.

Akhmatova at least outlasted her opponent. Stalin ["steel"] decays... & "most durable is the regal word."

2 comments:

poemshape said...

Why didn't I know about this blog sooner?

Good reading.

And Akhmatova's lines can't help but remind one of Shelley's Ozymandias.

~ Patrick

Henry Gould said...

Thank you, Patrick. Good point on Ozzy-Stalin, too.