Anna Akhmatova (1889 -1966)

The photograph dates from 1965 and was taken in Oxford, UK, where Akhmatova had travelled to receive an honororary doctoral degree from the university. She died the following year.

Akhmatova entered into a love affair with the artist Amadeo Modigliani during a visit to Paris in 1911. Several drawings of his are known to be portraits of her and his Kneeling Blue Caryatid  (left) is thought to have been inspired by a visit the couple made to the Louvre's Egyptian gallery, as well as being a representation of Akhmatova herself, who was exceptionally tall and elegant.

Her cycle of lyrical poems Requiem  dates from 1931 onwards and documents the Stalinist Terror of the time. The introduction is famous.

From Requiem  (Introduction)

"Могу - mogu* - I can"

*For an unstressed o, as here, the pronunciation is closer to magu

During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone picked me out. On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me, her lips blue with cold, who of course had never in her life heard my name. She said into my ear (because everyone whispered there);

"Could one ever describe this?"

And I answered:

"I can."

It was then that something like a smile slid across what had previously been just a face.

1 April 1957, Leningrad

0:21 - 1:08

Akhmatova reading
0:30 - 1:22