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Nathan Altman. Portrait of Anna Akhmatova (1914). Oil on canvas. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Akhmatova’s third book The White Flock was published in 1917. She remained as far as possible neutral to the Bolshevik Revolution (November 1917). But her husband, from whom she had parted in 1918, was arrested and shot as a counter-revolutionary in 1921, which influenced immensely both her and her son’s life. After the publication of Anno Domini (1922), she was officially silenced until 1940. During this period she wrote critical essays and translations, worked on a long poem Requiem, devoted to the victims of Stalin’s repressions. In 1940, she was allowed to publish a collection of her previously published poems, but soon the book was withdrawn as her verse was ‘too remote from socialist reconstruction’. Her son, Lev, was arrested in 1949 and held in jail until 1956. To try to win his release, Akhmatova wrote poems in praise of Stalin and the government, but it was of no use. Later she requested that these poems not appear in her collected works.

She was ‘rehabilitated’ in the late 1950s, but her works were heavily censored. Akhmatova’s later works include Poem Without a Hero and the banned Requiem (Munich, 1963), which was published in Russia in full only in 1987, a moving cycle of poems on the Stalin purges; memoirs about the artist Amedeo Modigliani, poets Alexander Blok and Osip Mandelstam.

In 1964, Akhmatova was awarded the Etna-Taormina prize (Italy) and an honorary doctorate from Oxford University (UK) in 1965. Her journeys to Sicily, England and Paris were her first travels outside Russia since 1912.