Born Anna Andreevna Gorenko on June 23, 1889, Akhmatova grew up in Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1903 she met the young Russian poet Nikolay Gumilyov, whose desperate courtship of her served as the subject of many of the poems she began writing in 1905. In 1910 Gumilyov and Akhmatova were married near Kiev. After their honeymoon in Paris, they settled in Tsarskoye Selo, with Gumilyov returning to Abyssinia on a scientific expedition later that year. In 1911 Gumilyov returned, and the couple again traveled to Paris where Akhmatova met the artist Amedeo Modigliani. Upon their return to Russia they involved themselves in an active literary life, forming a Poets' Guild, whose members broke with the dominant Symbolism of the time. Six poets ─ Gumilyov, Akhmatova, Osip Mandelshtam, Sergey Gorodetsky, Vladimir Narbut and Mikhail Zenkevich ─ joined forces, calling themselves the Acmeists. Their poetry focused upon a vivid representation and direct statement of life. In 1912 Akhmatova's first book of poetry, Evening, was published, followed by Rosary (1914), both of which were immediately successful in pre-revolutionary Russia.
A son, Lev, was born to the Gumilyovs in 1912, but over the next few years Akhmatova would be able to spend little time with her husband. In the spring of 1913 he returned to Abyssinia as director of an expedition by the Academy of Sciences, and the following year he volunteered for the Russian front of World War I. 1915 began the long decline of health and well-being for Akhmatova. Her father died in Petersburg and, in the autumn, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In 1917, the year of the revolution, Akhmatova and Gumilyov separated and divorced the following year. That same year she published White Flock, dedicating the poems to her artist-friend Boris Anrep, who soon after left Russia, never to return. As Lenin and the Bolsehviks seized power, Akhmatova married Vladimir Shileiko, like Gumilyov an Assyriologist by profession. That winter was one of great privation and cold. The following year saw the instigation of the Red Terror against opponents of the new Soviet regime. Gumilyov was shot by a firing squad in 1921. In the same year, Akhmatova published her fourth collection, Plantain, and the following year she published Anno Domini MCMXXI, soon after which the futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky denounced her. The party determined not to arrest her as long as she did not publish further works.
Akhmatova continued writing, however, despite the authorities' harassment. Over the next few years she would experience chronic ill health and see her good friends the Mandelstams exiled to Cherdyn and, in 1934, her own son arrested. In 1937-1938, the years millions of Russians were imprisoned and sent to concentration camps, her son was again arrested and held for seventeen months in Leningrad; Mandelstam was arrested and died in a transit camp. In 1940 the ban on Akhmatova's works was briefly lifted, and From Six Books, a selection with new poems from her previous books, was published and then withdrawn from sale. Akhamatova suffered her first heart attack. Lev was arrested again in 1949, and would not be released until 1956, in part because of her 1945 meeting with Isaiah Berlin, First Secretary in the British Embassy in Moscow. Over the next two decades other books, Selected Poems, Poems 1909-1945, and Poems 1909-1960 appeared in censored editions. Not until 1963 did an uncensored collection, Requiem (published in Munich), appear. Akhamatova died in a Moscow convalescent home on March 5, 1966.
BOOKS OF POETRY:
Vecher (St. Petersburg: Guild of Poets, 1912); Chetki (St. Petersburg: Izdatelstvo Giperborey, 1914); Belaya staya (St. Petersburg: Izdatelstvo Giperborey, 1917); Skrizhal Sbornik (1918); U Samago Morya (St. Petersburg: Alkonost, 1921); Podorozhnik (St. Petersburg: Petropolis Printers, 1921); Anno Domini MCMXXI (St.Petersburg: Petropolis Printers, 1921); Stikhi (1940); Iz shesti knig [censored] (Moscow: Izdatelstvo Sovetskii Pisatel, 194O); Izbrannie Stikhi [censored] (Tashkent, 1943); Tashkentskie Stikhi [censored] (Tashkent, 1944); Izbrannie Stikhotvoreniya (New York: Chekova, 1952); Stikhotvoreniya 1909-1945 [censored; almost completely destroyed] Moscow: Izdatelstvo Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1958); Stikhotvoreniya (Poems) [censored] (Moscow, 1958); Stikhi, 1909-1960 (1961); Stikhotvoreniya 1909-1960 [censored] (Moscow, 1961); 50 Stikhotvorenii (Paris: YMCA Press, 1963); Reviem: Tsikl Stikhotvorenii (Frankfurt am Main: Possev-Verlag, 1964); Poeziya (Vilnyus Vaga, 1964); Beg vremeni [less censored] (Moscow: Izdatelstvo Sovetskii Pisatel, 1965); Stikhotvoreniya, 1909-1965 (Moscow, 1965); Sochineniya [2 volumes] (Washington, DC: Inter-Language Literary Associates, 1965, 1968); Tainy remesla (1986); Sochineniya v dvukh tomakh (Khud-ozhestvennaya Literatura, 1968).
ENGLISH LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS:
Forty-Seven Love Poems , translated by Natalie Doddington (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927); Selected Poems, translated by Richard McKane (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1969); reprinted (London: Bloodaxe, 1989); Poems of Akhmatova, translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward (New York: Little, Brown, 1973); A Poem Without a Hero, translated by Carl R. Proffer and Assya Humesky (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis Press, 1973); Moscow Trefoil (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1975); Requiem [and] Poems Without a Hero, trans. by D. M. Thomas (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976); Selected Poems, translated by Carl R. Proffer, Robin Kemball, and Walter Arndt (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis Press, 1976); The White Flock, translated by Geoffrey Thurley (Oasis Books, 1978); Way of All the Earth, translated by D. M. Thomas (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1979); Three Russian Women Poets, translated by Mary Maddock (Freedom, California: The Crossing Press, 1983); Poems, translated by Lyn Coffin (New York: Norton, 1983); You Will Hear Thunder, translated by D. M. Thomas (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985); Twenty Poems (Eighties Press/Ally Press, 1985); Northern Elegies (Firefly Press, 1985); Selected Poems, translated by D. M. Thomas (London and New York: Penguin, 1988); The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer (Boston: Zephyr Press and Edinburgh: Canongate Press, 1992).