- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Nov-12-2002
In a preface written in 1957, the author recounts the origin of "Requiem." Akhmatova spent 17 months waiting in line outside a prison in Leningrad for news of her son. One day a woman shivering in the crowd identified Akhmatova and whispered, "Can you describe this?" The poet answered, "I can." This sequence of poems is the result.
In "Dedication" Akhmatova sets the scene: "We rose / and each day walked the wilderness, / trudging through silent streets and square, / to congregate, less live than dead." (p. 101) In this time "when only the dead / could smile . . . " she addresses her son, "At dawn they came and took you away. / You were my dead." (p. 103) For "seventeen months I have cried aloud," but there is no relief, and "nothing is left but dusty flowers, / the tinkling thurible, and tracks / that lead to nowhere." (p. 107)
She addresses death; she welcomes madness: "Already madness lifts its wing / to cover half my soul." (p. 111) In the end the poet's requiem is not only for those who died in Stalin's terror, but also for those who remained alive, for those who waited at the gates: "for all who stood outside the jail, / in bitter cold or summer's blaze, / with me under that blind red wall." (p. 115)
Kunitz, Stanley (with Max Hayward)