May 01, 2004

Akhmatova: The Poet Who Buried Stalin

In 1913, Petersburg was like a horseman perched on a cliff, like a Roman on the last day of Pompeii. Troikas galloped to the spit of Yelagin Island during White Nights; the Duma raged; at the Mariinsky Theater, Tamara Karsavina danced. But the Great Imperial Era, which began when Peter the Great moved the capital from Moscow to Petersburg, was coming to an end. It was the time of Rasputin, and only a blind person could not see where things were headed …

Culture is always nostalgic – for childhood, for the past, for love, for the Golden Age. In Petersburg at the beginning of the 20th century, a group of poets began to eulogize the city and its imperial past. They sang praises to a city that was, not long ago, during the days of Dostoyevsky, just an ugly assemblage of barracks and rented apartments, in which the residents were anti-nationalistic and cosmopolitan. The poets called themselves Acmeists. Their manifesto called for a poetry of clarity, precision and restraint (in contrast to the abstract decadence of the Symbolists). Their mentor was a translator of Euripides, a poet and former director of the Tsarskoye Selo gymnasium, Innokenty Annensky.

The poets lionized the city just as it was on the verge of collapsing as the center of Peter the Great’s State. The Acmeist cult anticipated the end of Pushkin’s Russia, expressing a nostalgia for life and art during the era of Empire and duels.

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