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This review is taken from PN Review 2, Volume 4 Number 2, January - March 1978.

INDIFFERENT TO FAILURE Anna Akhmatova, Requiem and Poem without a Hero, translated by D. M. Thomas, Paul Elek, £3.95.

Reading the poetry of Soviet Russia in the west is still beset by severe inhibitions. We are quite properly stupefied by the sufferings of Mandelstam, Akhmatova and others, although this stupefaction has too often become frozen into self-satisfaction at our own cultural situation. Too much criticism of Soviet literature has been inevitably and crudely ideological, concluding complacently that these writers' fate demonstrates the natural and unalterable antipathy between socialism and artistic sensibility. But such polarities, if typical of the English consensus, are none the less simple-minded. We are perhaps fortunate that our society's 'pressures' upon writers have not been so intense in this century, but ungrateful in that we have rarely taken advantage of this leisure to examine the role of the artist in our society much more deeply than to identify his antagonism to vaguely conceived entities such as 'materialism' or 'industrialism'. This is particularly inadequate since we partake of a society whose very real pressures have been and are still felt by the mass of people in our own country and throughout the world. It is not then enough merely to take comfort from the existence of Akhmatova's book as proving, as she says herself, that 'poetry endures'. We must try to gain help from her situation and her work to learn what this endurance means and costs, and what tasks challenge the poet.

Poem without a Hero, the major work here, appears for the first time in complete English verse translation. The poem is ...


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