Anna Akhmatova: ‘Big gray eyes. Sort of like snow leopards…’

Anna’s protégé was Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky, who was drawn to her circle in 1961, a few years before she died. He spoke about Anna this way:

“She’s the kind of poet whose lines you unwittingly mumble to yourself, especially when you’re in trouble. I remember several times, when I would be sick in hospital, surgery, this and that, et cetera et cetera. I would find myself mumbling, completely unrelated to the situation, a few of her lines. Well, they are very memorable.”

“She was simply, physically, visibly, beautiful. Big gray eyes. Sort of like snow leopards – you know those eyes, ya? Tremendous nose. She was one of the most beautiful women of the century, I think. Tremendous head. Just … absolutely majestic.”

Joseph was the favored protégé of the Great lady of Petersburg, as Anna was known. To hear him read her poems in Russian was an experience to make one’s hair stand on end even if one did not understand the Russian language (wrote Librarian of Congress Dr James Billington). Joseph Brodsky was the embodiment of the hopes not only of Anna, the last of the great Petersburg poets from the beginning of the century, but also Nadezhda Mandelstam, widow of another great martyred poet Osip Mandelstam. Both of them saw Joseph as part of the guiding light that might some day lead Russia back to her own deep roots.

Joseph Brodsky 1940 St Petersburg – 1996 New York City

In 1963, Joseph’s poetry was denounced by a Leningrad newspaper as “pornographic and anti-Soviet. His papers were confiscated, he was interrogated, twice put in a mental institution and then arrested. He was charged with social parasitism by the Soviet authorities in a trial in 1964, finding that his series of odd jobs and role as a poet were not a sufficient contribution to society. He left Russia in 1972. In 1991, Brodsky became the Poet Laureate of the USA.

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