John Bayley

Calm Endurance

Anna of all the Russias: The Life of Anna Akhmatova

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 322pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Her friend and fellow poet Marina Tsvetaeva coined the phrase for Anna Akhmatova with which Elaine Feinstein titles this admirable and often moving biography. There is a faint touch of malice in the resounding phrase, and perhaps just a hint of comradely cattiness, and yet it fits its subject with a more than imperial respect.

As Elaine Feinstein says, Anna invented herself. A rather homelier parallel from English poetry would be W B Yeats, with his insistence on referring to the ‘great houses’ that he visited and the ‘half-legendary men’ of his ancestry. But Yeats,

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