From her appearance in a small magazine in 1906 to her death in 1965, Anna Akhmatova was a dominant presence in Russian literary life. But this friend of Pasternak and Mandelstam was a poet in a country where poetry was literally a matter of life and death, as she found when Mandelstam and her own husband, Gumilyev, were executed, and her son imprisoned for many years in the Gulag.
Akhmatova’s first collection, Evening, appeared in 1912. Rosary (1914) made her a household name. After the Revolution she went in and out of favour with the authorities, who sometimes allowed her to publish, sometimes banned her work. She is now most celebrated in the West for Poem Without A Hero and Requiem, a sequencemourning the victims of Stalin’s Terror which was only published (and then outside Russia) in 1963.