rev. of The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova ed. by Roberta Reeder

Issue #53
Winter 1990-91

This two-volume, bilingual set is the first complete edition of Anna Akhmatova's poems to appear in either Russian or English, and its publication is an event comparable to Thomas Johnson's definitive version of Emily Dickinson. Akhmatova has been numbered with Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, and Mandelstam as one of Russia's four great modern poets. Yet the bulk of her work 700 lyrics, in addition to the long poems "Requiem" and "Poem Without a Hero" have been unavailable in English, censored or suppressed by Soviet government hostility until the 1960s. Her first books, published between 1912 and 1917 and immediately popular, were condemned by critics as hopelessly old-fashioned for their subject matter love, homeland, and the soul's passion. Yet Akhmatova's psychological acuity and radical use of imagery places her firmly within the program of her contemporary Imagist revolutionaries, Eliot and Pound.

Judith Hemschemeyer's translations succeed in presenting Akhmatova's images and her straightforward, not-quite-colloquial diction. Roberta Reeder's 164-page introduction qualifies as a book in itself, with its detailed biography and rare photographs. Kudos to Zephyr Press, a small, local publishing house, for a major international achievement.