The Word That Causes Death's Defeat

Poems of Memory

Anna Akhmatova; Translated, with an introductory biography, critical essays, and commentary, by Nancy K. Anderson

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Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966), one of twentieth-century Russia’s greatest poets, was viewed as a dangerous element by post-Revolution authorities. One of the few unrepentant poets to survive the Bolshevik revolution and subsequent Stalinist purges, she set for herself the artistic task of preserving the memory of pre-Revolutionary cultural heritage and of those who had been silenced. This book presents Nancy K. Anderson’s superb translations of three of Akhmatova’s most important poems: Requiem, a commemoration of the victims of Stalin’s Terror; The Way of All the Earth, a work to which the poet returned repeatedly over the last quarter-century of her life and which combines Old Russian motifs with the modernist search for a lost past; and Poem Without a Hero, widely admired as the poet’s magnum opus.
Each poem is accompanied by extensive commentary. The complex and allusive Poem Without a Hero is also provided with an extensive critical commentary that draws on the poet’s manuscripts and private notebooks. Anderson offers relevant facts about the poet’s life and an overview of the political and cultural forces that shaped her work. The resulting volume enables English-language readers to gain a deeper level of understanding of Akhmatova’s poems and how and why they were created.

Nancy K. Anderson is an independent scholar. She is a highly regarded translator of Russian poetry, including Yale University Press’s translation of Alexander Pushkin’s Little Tragedies, and has taught courses in Russian, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky at Yale University.

“The importance of Akhmatova’s works in the Russian poetic tradition can scarcely be exaggerated. These works also hold a place of honor in the history of artistic engagement of moral responsibility.”—Olga P. Hasty, Princeton University

“Akhmatova is fortunate indeed to have won the attention of such a gifted translator and scholar. Anderson has succeeded in producing quite literally the best English-language translations of Akhmatova’s long poems.”—Susan Amert, University of Delaware

"Nancy Anderson’s new book earns pride of place on the short shelf of valuable books about Akhmatova. . . . Much can be said against today's ideologically perverted pseudo-scholarship. But then comes along a book, such as Anderson's, that embodies old imperatives of academic work, and the heart is gladdened. Good critics still exist, and their solitary days and years have not been passed in vain."—Edward E. Ericson, Jr., American Spectator

“[The] concise, pointed, and colorful narrative, placing Akhmatova’s life firmly in its cultural and political milieu, makes for absorbing reading. . . . The compelling story of Akhmatova’s life—and of her astonishing modernist poems, still so little known in the West—makes this a curiously appealing book: a collage testament, so to speak, to the workings of poetic power.”—Marjorie Perloff, Bookforum

“Akhmatova should be known at least biographically and thematically to everyone interested in literature, and here scholar Nancy K. Anderson has done a superb job. Akhmatova . . . is one of the great lyric poets of the 20th century, and in the company of Yeats, Eliot, and Borges.”—Jeffrey Hart, National Review

"A sensitive translation. . . . Combining meticulous scholarship and a rare empathy with her subject, Anderson’s study of the poems is preceded by a substantial historical and biographical introduction, especially valuable to readers unacquainted with the culture that shaped Akhmatova’s understanding of her role as a writer."—Aileen Kelly, New York Review of Books

“A sensitive and illuminating book. . . . To make the poems more accessible, Anderson built around them. She opens with a succinct history of Akhmatova’s life and time. . . . Then, following her translations of the poems, Anderson added critical essays, commentary and appendices. . . . Anderson’s verse translation of 'Poem' doesn’t precisely re-create its form but strives, by keeping the rhyme pattern and a ‘compatible’ meter, to resurrect its music. (Most English translations have been in free verse).”—Sheila Farr, Seattle Times

"The critical essays are excellent. . . . This imprint will long serve as an important teaching and learning resource for students, teachers, and researchers alike."—Sonia I. Ketchian, Slavic Review

“[Nancy K. Anderson] offers handsome, faithful translations of the three works, illuminating commentaries and a critical biography. . . . For those of us who are not Russian specialists, The Word That Causes Death’s Defeat is an indispensable guide to Akhmatova’s central achievement.”—Stephen Sandy, The New Leader

"It provides the best possible introduction to Akhamatova's life and work, offering a concise and compelling biography, elegant and accessible translations of her three most significant long poems, and a highly informative commentary."---Times Literary Supplement

"This is a path-breaking book in what seemed to be a well traveled forest. Anderson begins with a biography, which includes a sensitive and judicious account of Akhmatova's daily struggles, writing, and political behavior during the regimes of Stalin and Khrushchev. Then, in her translations, she convincingly interprets the 'music' of the Russian poems, an important achievement in that Akhmatova contended that a true poet possessed a unique 'song.'"—John Taylor, The Antioch Review
ISBN: 9780300191370
Publication Date: September 27, 2004
352 pages, 6 x 9