Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a poet as one (as a creative artist) of great imaginative and expressive capabilities and a special sensitivity to the medium. Many writers of poetry are able to illicit emotional responses from readers, but few convey emotions, memories, and experiences with the fluidity and precision of Anna Akhmatova. In this book, D.M.Thomas’ translations of Akhmatova’s poetry are collected and presented in chronological order by the dates they were written. Since the translations have been organized in a format which traces the history of the author’s life and observations, a reader is able to watch her life unfold before them on the page. Many of the topics and themes the poetess discusses are universal. Others represent her unique experiences living in Russia in the early 20th Century: a connection to nature surrounding her in the country, living in the imperial village of Tsarkoye Selo, struggling to survive during the Siege of Leningrad, and the loss of loved ones to war and Gulags under Stalin’s regime are traced between the years of 1910 to 1963 as she adds to her collection. Regardless of theme, any person can sense the power, frailty, and ingenuity she communicates through her ideas.
There are several themes, symbols and key words repeated in the poems that fill the pages of You Will Hear Thunder. Memories and reflections on love, loneliness, and regret are expressed in combination with the use of color and nature in order to expertly convey the moment and circumstance under which each poem is devised. For Akhmatova, scenes in nature, seasons changing, and light versus dark imagery bring to mind her constant thoughts about death, pain, spirituality, and fate. Early on in her writing, in a poem written in 1911, Song of the Last Meeting, the poetess shows feelings, imagery, and surroundings that persist in her poetry from later years:
My breast grew cold and numb,
But my feet were light.
On to my right hand I fumbled
The glove to my left hand.
It seemed that there were many steps
-I knew there were only three.
An autumn whisper between the maples
Kept urging: ‘Die with me.’
Change has made me weary.
Fate has cheated me of everything.
I answered, ‘My dear, my dear!’
I’ll die with you. I too, am suffering.
It was a song of the last meeting.
Only bedroom candles burnt
When I looked into the dark house,
And they were yellow and indifferent (Thomas 16).
To read this poem and all the others in the collection is to understand settings and feel her emptiness. An unexplainable beauty connects the words and notions. For those who have also felt a connection to nature-the gloom of autumn, for example- the poem becomes personal.
Part of what makes the best writer’s so wonderful and their work so compelling to read is that while all people have memories and experiences of deep personal value and meaning, most are unable to communicate them. A poet like Akhmatova tells not only her own story, but those of others as well. There are instances while reading this collection when a reader may come across a piece that seems to perfectly explain their most intimate thoughts.
The constant reminders of winter, snow, overcast skies, and cold take me back in time to my childhood and youth. Akhmatova’s devastation from the loss of love, her loneliness, and fear in the night make the poems with their unique environs and contexts, make her life seem like another version of my own. Every word and image brings with it a different reaction from me as a reader, because I am personally invested.
I can’t guarantee others will have the satisfaction I do from reading her work. Still, I know all people are sometimes isolated and filled with regret about the past. We are all part of nature, and in this way, tend to view events in our own lives as part of a more important whole. Akhmatova uses imagination and instinct to describe these shared human experiences with perfection.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
For more information:
Visit Anna Akhmatova’s biography on Poets.org
Read about life in Russia during her lifetime in books written by her contemporaries and friends: