One night in Leningrad, 1945, Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova find themselves alone in conversation. Though at first Akhmatova remained hesitant and restrained, and they obligingly engage in the mundane conversations on university and scholarship. Eventually, they come to discuss literature and poetry and the foundations of the poem Requiem. Requiem is one of Akhmatova’s most celebrated poems, yet it was a poem which was not written, but committed to memory. Akhmatova’s work is significant for she lost much to the Russian regime. Her first husband, the poet Gumilev was executed on what she believed to be false charges. And later, in 1938, her son was taken to the prison camps for 17 months, his only discernable crime – for bearing the name of his father. The opening of Requiem begins when stood outside the gates of the prison camp, awaiting in vain for the news of her son.
Instead of an Introduction:
In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad. Once, someone recognized me. A woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who had never heard me whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):
"Can you describe this?"
And I answered: "Yes, I can."
Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.
- Requiem, Akhmatova
Yet what is striking about Akhmatova’s oeuvre, is though she was deeply denounced and from the political scene of the country, she remained committed to her home and…