|Lydia Chukovskaya [Wikipedia]|
from Lydia Chukovskaya's The Akhmatova Journals Volume I 1938-1941, tr. Milena Michalski & Sylva Rubashova:
The torture chamber, which had swallowed up, physically, whole quarters of the city, and spiritually all our conscious and unconscious thoughts, the torture chamber, crying out its own clumsily crafted lies from every newspaper column, from every radio set, at the same time demanded of us that we should not take its name in vain, even within four walls, tête-à-tête. We were disobedient, we mentioned it continually, vaguely suspecting while doing so that, even when we were alone, we were not alone, that someone never took his eyes off us, or rather his ears. Surrounded by muteness, the torture chamber wished to remain at once all-powerful and nonexistent; it would not let anyone's word call it out of its almighty nonexistence; it was next door, a stone's throw away, and at the same time it was as if it wasn't there; women stood in the queues in silence, or whispering, used only indefinite forms of speech: "they came", "they took"; Anna Andreevna [Akhmatova], when visiting me, recited parts of "Requiem" also in a whisper, but at home in Fontanny House did not even dare to whisper it; suddenly, in mid-conversation, she would fall silent and, signaling to me with her eyes at the ceiling and walls, she would get a scrap of paper and a pencil; then she would loudly say something very mundane: "Would you like some tea?" or "You're very tanned", then she would cover the scrap in hurried handwriting and pass it to me. I would read the poems and, having memorized them, would hand them back to her in silence. "How early autumn came this year", Anna Andreevna would say loudly and, striking a match, would burn the paper over an ashtray.
It was a ritual: hands, match, ashtray — a beautiful and mournful ritual.
Day by day, month by month, my fragmentary notes became less and less a re-creation of my own life, turning into episodes in the life of Anna Akhmatova. In the ghostly, fantastical, troubled world that surrounded me, she alone appeared not as a dream, but as a reality, even though she was writing about ghosts at the time. She was a fact, a certainty amidst all those wavering uncertainties. In the mental state in which I existed all those years — stunned, deadened — I seemed to myself less and less truly alive, and my non-life unworthy of description. ("It's a good thing that it's over".) By 1940 I had virtually ceased making notes about myself, whereas I wrote about Anna Andreevna more and more often. I was drawn to writing about her because she herself, her words, her deeds, her head, shoulders and the movements of her hands were possessed of such perfection, which, in this world, usually belongs only to great works of art. Before my very eyes, Akhmatova's fate — something greater even than her own person — was chiseling out of this famous and neglected, strong and helpless woman, a statue of grief, loneliness, pride, courage. I had known Akhmatova's earlier poems by heart since childhood, and the new ones, together with the movement of hands burning paper over an ashtray, and the aquiling profile, sharply defined as a blue shadow on the white wall of the transit prison, were now entering my life with the same inescapable naturalness as the bridges, St Isaac's, the Summer Garden or the embankment had already entered it long ago.
|Anna Akhmatova [steppe]|