BELLA AKHMADULINA, RIP.

I was shocked to learn from the NY Times obituary (by William Grimes) that Bella Akhmadulina died yesterday at what now seems to me (as I approach 60) the absurdly early age of 73. You can read translations of some of her poems en face with the originals here; when I have more leisure I’d like to translate one or two myself. When I was a college student just beginning to splash around in Russian, I neglected Akhmadulina, who seemed timid and staid to me next to my favorite Voznesensky; many years later I realized she was the better poet, her use of traditional forms no more indicating timidity than Brodsky’s. (Incidentally, I was quite taken aback by the quote from Sonia I. Ketchian in the obit: “She was one of the great poets of the 20th century. There’s Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam and Pasternak — and she’s the fifth.” I’m not sure which is the more charitable assumption, that she doesn’t think Brodsky is Russian because he left the country or whether she simply forgot his name for the moment.) For a wonderful examination of one of her poems, I refer you to this article by Alexander Anichkin, known to LH readers as Sashura.
Update. Mikhail Kaluzhsky writes about Akhmadulina’s death, followed by a discussion by commenters. (In Russian.)

Comments

  1. And a handsome and elegant fellow he is, too.

  2. Indeed!

  3. (a young) Akhmadulina reads her poetry
    and (an old) Akhmatova reads hers the footage is from roughly the same age – early 1960s.
    Thanks for the mention, but what a terrible loss for Russian culture and poetry, I can never think of her as a granny, or a mother, but more like a friend – where you could alway pop in for a cup of tea and endlessly chat about the innermost, girlfriends, Degas, ballet and the A.uthority

  4. Heh, I was just talking to Sonia about that quote a few hours ago. She’s a sweet old lady who wouldn’t say anything mean about anyone, and I think omitting Brodsky was simply a mistake. (That said, I think Akhmadulina is a little bit more her style, so it may well have been deeply felt–these canons aren’t etched in stone.)

  5. For that matter, many people (not me) would say Blok belongs on that list, or Mayakovsky, or Esenin. De gustibus non est &c.

  6. What makes Akhmadulina stand out, I think, is that nobody like her has managed to capture the fluidity of emotion and the twists and turns of passion. Everything flows and turns from one thing into another, and back to what it was at the beginning, and then again you doubt if it was that.
    In principle, I am against ranking good poets – this one is greater than that one, number one, number six, top five, top ten etc. Much of it is personal taste and knowledge, and of course the personality of a poet is a big factor.
    Dimitri Obolenski, who proclaimed Akhmatova the greatest living poet (it was in the 60s), also wrote that Nikolai Zabolotsky, dead by the time of writing, was ‘undoubtedly the most gifted of the poets who emerged in the Soviet period’. Innokenty Annensky, though largely belonging to 19th Century, created much of what Blok, Akhmatova, Mayakovsky and others developed into a phenomenal flourishing of Russian poetry in the 1900-1930 period.
    I’d rate highly Konstantin Simonov and Ilya Ehrenburg, if not for form, but for lyrical power.

  7. I like David Samoilov a lot, but he never seems to get any love from aesthetes.

  8. For that matter, many people (not me) would say Blok belongs on that list, or Mayakovsky, or Esenin. De gustibus non est &c.
    Oh, absolutely, and of course Sashura is right about ranking good poets. I can imagine all sorts of lists of “great twentieth-century poets” that would lead me to think “Huh, this person seems to prefer X over Y” but not to object vocally. But that particular formulation was like making a list of the five best U.S. presidents and omitting Lincoln: it’s not a quirk of taste, it’s a gauntlet thrown. Unless, as apparently is the case here, it’s simply a mental slip.

  9. It puzzled me for a long time that Nabokov called Khodasevich “the greatest Russian poet of our time” until I learned that they were close friends, and the quote comes from N’s memorial tribute. One should allow for a little rhetorical excess on such occasions.
    Incidentally, it was K’s death that led N. to trap their mutual enemy Adamovich (a critic who failed to appreciate either of them to their satisfaction) by publishing a poem called “Поэты” (The poets) under the pseudonym Vasily Shishkov. Adamovich fell for it hook, line, and sinker, writing “Who is Vasily Shishkov? Every line, every word is talented.” Nabokov took great pleasure in then revealing that he had written the poem.

  10. Thanks, Sashura, for your comments on Akhmadulina, both here and on your site. Like LH, I’ve neglected her, and unlike him haven’t yet made up for it.
    I was also pleased to see you mention Innokenty Annensky, long a favorite of mine.

  11. One should allow for a little rhetorical excess on such occasions.
    But I think Nabokov may have meant it about Khodasevich. He was rather dismissive of both Akhmatova and Mandelshtam, as far as I recall.

  12. aqilluqqaaq says:

    For what it’s worth, I share Nabokov’s admiration (‘the limits of poetic skill’) for Hodasevič’s Баллада.
    Я сам над собой вырастаю,
    Над мертвым встаю бытием,
    Стопами в подземное пламя,
    В текучие звезды челом.

  13. Oh, Khodasevich was a wonderful poet, no question. The greatest Russian poet of the time? No way.

  14. David Samoilov … but he never seems to get any love from aesthetes
    Aesthetes’ praise and popular appeal do not always overlap. Samoilov has a serious following. For readers of this blog, his comment on the nature of poetic creativity might be interesting. Asked about the balance of instinct (subconscious) and technique (conscious formal effort) in writing poetry, Samoilov said: Don’t think poets are like birds, sitting on a branch and twittering away. (Что вы думаете, поэты как птички – сидят себе на ветке и чирикают.)
    Nabokov was also unfairly scornful of women poets.

  15. dameragnel says:

    But I think Nabokov may have meant it about Khodasevich. He was rather dismissive of both Akhmatova and Mandelshtam, as far as I recall.
    He also admitted he “didn’t get” T.S. Eliot

  16. I add what was formerly evident but is now obscured by the Update, namely that it is Sashura whose appearance (in the photograph) I was praising.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    That’s the way I understood it. I agree with your evaluation.

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