TWO POETS MEET IN THE SUMMER OF ‘62: MY TRAVELLING AND POETIZING HAD JUST BEGUN
Great Russian poets are, in some ways, like martyrs of the church in that vast land. They have thrived on persecution, on attacks, on being silenced. Such treatment has given a type of holy status to their work. Anna Akhmatova(1889-1966), certainly one of the most famous of 20th century Russian poets, was very conscious of this status. In 1962, four years before she died at the age of 76, Robert Frost, the American national poet, visited the Soviet Union and paid a call on her at the dacha, or country house, lent to her for the occasion at the writers' colony near Leningrad. The two distinguished old poets sat side by side in wicker chairs and talked quietly. For more on Frost’s trip to Russia go to this link:
I knew nothing of these poets and little of Russia at the time back in 1962. I was immersed in my small town life in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe at the age of 18: finishing my high school studies, working out the relationship to my libido and girls as well as to the new religion I had joined three years before, a religion which had been in Canada for some 60 years;1 finishing my short and adolescent baseball and hockey careers, having fun in various forms: swimming in the lakes, eating sundaes and milk-shakes with my friends at the local Dairy-Queen, going to the movies at the Roxy theatre in that small town of 5000, playing touch-football in a local park; attending to my part-time jobs and ensconced in a small nuclear-family of three where I have been raised for 18 years between the banks of Lake Ontario and the Niagara escarpment. Famous poets were in another universe to mine.
''And I kept thinking,'' Akhmatova wrote after her meeting with Robert Frost, ''here are you, my dear, a national poet. Every year your books are published. They praise you in all the newspapers and journals; they teach you in the schools; even the President receives you as an honoured guest. All they've done here is slander me! I've had everything: poverty, prison lines, fear, poems remembered only by heart, and burnt poems. And humiliation and grief. You don't know anything about this and you wouldn't be able to understand it if I told you. But now let's sit together, two old people, in wicker chairs. A single end awaits us. And perhaps the real difference is not actually so great?''2-Ron Price’s references include: 1the Baha’i Faith had been in Canada for 64 years in 1962; and 2John Bailey,” The Sheer Necessity for Poetry,”in The New York Times on the Web, 13 May 1990.3
3John Bayley was in 1990 the Thomas Warton Professor of English at the University of Oxford. His books include ''Tolstoy and the Novel.'' The piece I have quoted is from his review of THE COMPLETE POEMS OF ANNA AKHMATOVA, Vols 1 and 2, Zephyr Press, Somerville, Mass., 1990, edited by Roberta Reeder and translated by Judith Hemschemeyer.
We were all from different universes: me, Frost and Akhmatova back then. But, perhaps as Anna, said, “the real differences were actually not great!!”
I wrote my first poem back then and it was somewhere out on the edge & periphery of my life—while society lived on the edge of extinction that October as the Cuban missile crisis nearly engulfed us all so silently…. as I watched TV in the smalltown smugness of childhood surrounded by salvation’s complacent trinity of Catholic, Protestant and Jew, while Akhmatova had been engulfed most of her life. Her grave is at a Cemetery near St. Petersburg if you are ever in Russia as a tourist for a holiday-visit.
Ron Price 14 January 2012
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
What's your opinion on Anna Akhmatova: Her Life and Poetry?