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Remembering atrocity : the poetry of Anna Axmatova and Nelly Sachs / by Jennifer Jean Ryan.

Publication | Library Call Number: PG3476.A324 Z7 1999

My study is an investigation of memory in the poetry of Anna Axmatova (1889–1966) and Nelly Sachs (1891–1970). Although these two poets never met and never read each other's work, their experiences and creative biographies demonstrate many parallels. living and writing in the Soviet Union, Axmatova witnessed the arrest and imprisonment of friends, fellow poets, and her son, but was spared direct experience of the Stalinist gulag. Sachs, a German Jew, fled from Berlin to Sweden in 1940. For both poets, the imperative to bear witness to the atrocities they survived is stronger than any ethic that would posit silence as the only appropriate response. Therefore, their poetry written during and following the Stalinist Terror and the Holocaust reflects their desire to represent and mediate the events of those atrocities. Although I draw on many poems of the 1930s and 1940s, my study concentrates on four poetic cycles: Axmatova's “Fragments” and Requiem and Sachs's “Choirs After Midnight” and “Prayers for a Dead Bridegroom.” In Chapter One, I examine how the poets use the literary word to oppose the banal language of totalitarianism. Chapter Two examines how the poets' representations of public and private spheres challenge the traditional image of the home as sanctuary. Although the poets use their works to contribute to the construction of a collective memory, they must also be true to themselves as lyric poets, and so in Chapter Three I discuss how they balance those opposing responsibilities. The production of memory, however, does not end with the completion of the text, but is carried out in its dissemination, reception, and preservation, and so in Chapter Four, I address issues of audience and reception central to Axmatova's Requiem and Sachs's “Choirs After Midnight.” I conclude that, despite the significant differences in their poetic personae, both Axmatova and Sachs present the same message to their implied audience: the readers of this poetry have the responsibility to continue the process of commemoration.

Ryan, Jennifer J.
Record last modified: 2018-05-22 11:47:00
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