Sunday, 31 August 2008

An Innocent Russia Writhed

St. Paul's Cathedral. Flinders Street.

One of the final events of this year's Melbourne Writer's Festival was a reading this afternoon of works by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.

Akhmatova lived through some of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century: the Russian revolution, two world wars, the rise of the communist state and the awful tyranny that accompanied it. These were the times that unalterably shaped the political landscape of Europe and the world.

Her poems were banned for many years by the Central Committee, and hearing their passion and power it's not surprising. They capture the feeling experienced by a people trapped by their history, and a people powerless to fight the forces arrayed against them.

But while her words reflect the despair for what has been lost, they also shine with the hope for what may be retrieved.

It's a celebration of the human spirit, best summed up in this beautiful piece read by Helen Garner.

Everything is plundered, betrayed, sold,
Death's great black wing scrapes the air,
Misery gnaws to the bone.
Why then do we not despair?

By day, from the surrounding woods,
cherries blow summer into town;
at night the deep transparent skies
glitter with new galaxies.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses --
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

Anna Akhmatova, 1921
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