Saturday, October 22, 2011

Anna Akhmatova and how art can outlive dictatorship




All our images from that time are gray and industrial - of seven year plans and cold intrigue in the Politburo; of weapons of war being paraded past a faceless leader in Red Square.
It's strange and unreal now to think of Russia in the 20th Century, of those totalitarian days when art, literature and religion were trampled under the jackboots of the paranoid Georgian.


But the land of Tolstoy and Chekhov wasn't going to give in easily to the plunder of its ideas and free expression, to the reduction of all that art and color onto one flat easel that bore the brutish features of Comrade Stalin. Even as the trains bore the dissidents north to the labor camps and salt mines of Siberia, as Collectivisation led to mass slaughter of the peasants and famine, so writers continued to write in the most uncompromising of places.

The life of Anna Akhmatova illustrates how art can triumph over oppression. The poet's first husband was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1921; her son and second husband were deported to the camps. And yet her popularity with the Russian people meant even the all powerful Russian leader did not risk imprisoning her.

In the days since Stalin's death there have been seen many imitators. The Romanian leader Nikolai Chauchesku in 1989, although it appears he can still be friended on Facebook; Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006 and it appears the mob didn't wait for a formal execution in the case of Muammar Gaddafi.

So is this the end of the line for the dictators who paraded in dark glasses and outlandish uniforms while their people suffered. Probably not but it gives hope that art and freedom of expression will overcome in the darkest of places.

Everything is Plundered by Anna Akhmatova

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death's great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses --
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

1921

13 comments:

  1. I love the jewel tones in that painting, and the poem is wonderful. The second stanza is my favorite. I guess even if all man-made art is stolen from you, the glorious art of nature remains.

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  2. The painting is very pretty and I really enjoyed that poem.

    Fabulous post, D-Mac.

    I hope you have a stress-free weekend!

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  3. I agree Daisy - love the art deco look. Thanx Jennifer - have a great weekend too.

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  4. Art is a wonderful medium for making a powerful point, but artists in China (and no doubt other countries) still don't have freedom of expression. The powerful there are no doubt watching world events with bated breath - and tanks.

    The poem is wonderful. Is that her at the top? Very poised. Sue

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  5. Art, in whatever medium, MUST survive the "darkest of places," else there is no hope for the rest of us. It's the only thing that can make the tragedy of life bearable--- and to some degree--- make the tragedy of life understood by those who didn't endure it....

    At least, that's how I feel, anyway....

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  6. Gorgeous painting and poem. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. I know Sue - that's strange about China - how it can make such great strides economically but not culturally. well I hope so e.a.s - interesting comment. Thanks for stopping by Ash

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  8. Oops, lol... the wording on that comment was a little off, wasn't it?? --- I'm going to blame the beers I had before I wrote it. I meant that art can help people understand the hardships in life that they were fortunate enough not to experience, from the point of view of those that did... >_<

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  9. Love Akhmatova's poem. Passion, art cannot be contained. Our hearts yearn for its expression and it is that passion and art that gives us great hope. The Russian writers and artists make that point so clearly. Thanks for reminding us of that here. We need that sort of hope now. ;)

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  10. Hiya, a quick question about translation (mostly because I've always wondered). Did she write in Russian?

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  11. no twas fine e.a.s - we are big fans of Russian writers to be sure Jayne. Um...I think so Anna

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  12. Hmm, so does it still rhyme in the original Russian? and they just translate it oddly to make it sort-of rhyme in English? Or is it that well written that the translation rhymes too?

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  13. err .... um. Yes I hadn't thought of that. Good question.

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