Stalin, Prokofiev, Akhmatova

by Andrew Stuttaford

Michael, on Prokofiev, I quite agree. It is often said (I don’t know how accurately) that there were no flowers available for his funeral, as they had all been taken for Moscow’s frenzied commemorations of the dead Stalin.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty marks the anniversaries of the deaths of these two very different men here and here.

Neruda,  of course, was not alone in his threnody for the dead Stalin.  Take a look, for example,  at the front page of Les Lettres Françaises from March 1953. Its lead headline translates as “What We Owe to Stalin”, its front page is decorated by a portrait of the Soviet dictator by—Picasso. That doesn’t make Picasso less of an artist, but as a man…

For something altogether finer, follow the advice of Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves and read Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem, the greatest poem of the Stalin years.  

Akhmatova introduces it thus:

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. Jolted out of the torpor characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear (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.

And, yes, she could.  How she could.





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