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Akhmatova's Mirrors  (abstracts)

Akhmatova's Mirrors

<…>At the end of the 50s the Moscow University, where I was a student, witnessed typed pages that we used to pass around. It was Akhmatova's "Poem" (I still keep those filed faded pages in my ceiling cabinet). The poem was not complete. To be more exact, as I understand today, it missed the lines that Akhmatova added later.

The first version that was assumed as something whole, comprised as they say today 370 lines. Later with all the insertions, corrections, and amendments, the "Poem" gained another 370 lines, leave alone the ones that she did not include in the final version. Akhmatova would say: "The poem turned out to be more spacious than I initially assumed. Creepingly, it absorbed events and feelings from different time layers. During the 15 years the poem like a bolt from the blue, like attacks of some fatal disease, again and again ran down at me and I just couldn't get over it, I changed here and added there what obviously was, seemed to be a final product". The first version of the "Poem without a Hero" (1940-1942) had a lengthy title: "1913, or a Poem without a Hero and Tails".

Well, as I know now the first version of the "Poem" appeared in 1940 and was called a Leningrad one, than amendments built up a 1942 version (a Tashkent one), then came the 1946 version, and finally the 1962 final version. However, this version still was not the final one, there were copies of the 1964 version. The very last Akhmatova's revision mark is dated April 19, 1965.

According to Akhmatova, the poem tortured her the most in 1959. "It did not let me go: the new lines come after the new lines, urging correction <...>. I believe that there was some one that really dictated it to me, and saved the best lines for the end", she commented in her "Prose about the "Poem".

In the "Prose" Akhmatova describes the way the theme was born: "It is impossible to tell exactly when it started to sound inside of me. It might happened on Nevskiy where I happened to stand with my companion (after "Masquerade" dressed rehearsal on February 25, 1917) and cavalry avalanched by, or it might happened, without him, on the Liteyny Bridge when they, off-the-wall, undrew it in the middle of the day (there was no precedent for this) to let the destroyers to Smolny to support the Bolsheviks. Who knows?!"

This is a later Akhmatova's quote, it comes from after the "Poem" was finished, in the main. Did Akhmatova likely want to make her readers believe that the "Poem" outrode all outside impacts during this long period since the year of 1917? I can not tell. Maybe that year Akhmatova really started itching of writing a poem, for 1917 really was the year of the break of times. When everything old and routine was collapsing and the unknown surrounded (in fact, as well as in 1940, when she wrote her "Poem" first lines), but nevertheless, Akhmatova started her "Poem without a Hero" not until the year of 1940, after a chain of events which time will come yet. I will repeat that the Time is coded in the "Poem".   <...>

The Triptych

"The "Poem" comprises three parts.

Part I, "The Year of Nine Hundred Thirteen". A theatricalized plot: Pierrot - Harlequin - Columbine; tiding memories, through mirrors, candles. Petersburg, the Fountain House, asides to the reality and future, comments, painting, portraits of specific people, photos.

Part II, "Tails". Hodiernal discrete reality. Labor camp theme.

Part III, "Epilogue". Leningrad, war, bombed down city - all solid, black and white, and in ruins.

That is the way many years ago I attempted to summarize the plot of the "Poem". I offered it as a script to Semen Aronovich, the director that made wonderful actuality films. I used to voice his film about Gorky. And I wanted Semen to shoot a film about Leningrad, about Akhmatova, about 1913, and so on, with my voice reading the "Poem". Now I remember Semen listened to me burbling with laughter...

I felt aggrieved, but today I realize that my way to express myself was too far childish. Later, in 1989, Aronovich shoot "Personal File of Anna Akhmatova", though by that time he had long been engaged in feature films.

In March 1966, when Akhmatova was no more Semen Aronovich was shooting a regular movie about Gorky and had a crew of his own. This crew, or more exact Aronovich and his cameraman, they shot Akhmatova's panikhida and church burial. Later then, the KGB took away all the film in the cans, but in 1989, Aronovich managed to include Akhmatova's shooting material from different years into his film, and the funeral material, too.

Akhmatova herself believed that it was much easier to catch the spirit of some tricky scenes of her "Poem" by means of cinematography.

"The Triptych" sounds like three movie parts or like three acts and may be taken as a poetical play, as well. Rather as a tragedy. The tragedy is always officiated at the edge of the abyss, when and where there is no rescue remedy left, when one, as Akhmatova puts it, will need

                             …a lyre,
But of Sophocles, not of Shakespeare.
On the threshold stands - Fate.

In tragedy, Fate is always Destiny. Certainty. And the author can survive only if it finds the "word that causes death's defeat". This is what finally happens in the "Poem". <...>

Alla Demidova

Translated by Vyatcheslav Volkov
(Bureau of translations "LA VISTA", Moscow)

Alla Demidova. Presentation of the book "Akhmatova's Mirrors"

Alla Demidova.
Presentation of the book "Akhmatova's Mirrors". Moscow
Photo by Marina Livanova

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