Anna Akhmatova Requiem Poem Analysis

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Liberation After Death:
Akhmatova’s Shifting Tone in “Requiem”

Written between 1935 and 1940, Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem” follows a grieving mother as she endures the Great Purge. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, unabatedly pursued eliminating dissenters and, consequently, accused or killed hundreds of thousands who allegedly perpetrated political transgressions (“Repression and Terror: Kirov Murder and Purges”). Despite the fifteen-year censorship, Akhmatova avoided physical persecution, though she saw her son jailed for seventeen months (Bailey 324). The first-person speaker in “Requiem,” assumed to be Akhmatova due to the speaker’s identical experience of crying aloud “for seventeen months” (Section 5, Line 1), changes her sentiments towards deaths as reflected in the poem’s tone shifts. Akhmatova’s melancholic diction initially reveals her sorrow, but the tone transitions to serious and introspective when she uses allusions to religious martyrdom and imagery of fixed objects. These contemplations are later resolved when she integrates imagery of liberation to portray an ultimately triumphant and optimistic outlook towards the future. Within the first sections, Akhmatova employs melancholic diction to convey her grief. In “Prologue,” she writes “that [Stalin’s Great Purge] was a time when only the dead could smile” (Prologue, Line 1), which suggests it was preferable to die than to live and emphasizes her despondency. Death became a means of

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