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This review is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

SLIVERS OF GLASS Susan Amert, In A Shattered Mirror: the later poetry of Anna Akhmatova (Stanford University Press)

It scarcely seems possible that more than eighty years should have passed since Anna Akhmatova's first book of poems appeared, and nearly seventy since she was first translated into English. Yet even Akhmatova only became a legendary figure world-wide in her maturity and old age, a beneficiary - though she herself would properly have disavowed such a description - of the climate of 'cold war', dissidence and paranoia in the face of (and under the skin of) the Soviet Union. Of the four poets whom she took to be in some sense exemplary - Pasternak, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva and herself - she perhaps remains the least familiar in the West, for whilst myth-making surrounded her from the outset, the less visible contours of her life left her just beyond what the wider public seem to need before literary value can hope to emulate the charisma of personality. The currency of Akhmatova has also, surely, suffered - even though none of 'the four' are 'made for translation' - from the sheer difficulty of putting the poems into words other than her own. Until relatively recently, efforts to do so quite naturally tended to focus on the poems which first brought her fame, so that whilst Akhmatova the person loomed larger, Akhmatova the poet seemed to belong (as the state toadies said she did) to a bygone age. The post-war poems - many of them 'unpublishable' in the Soviet Union, and as a consequence requiring editorial intervention to establish and stabilize the ...


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