Anna Akhmatova never left Russia, although she had a difficult life here–persecuted, unpublished, her family and friends always at risk. Here’s an Akhmatova poem that seems to me to speak to her choice to stay. We saw this painting of her today, by Isaac Levitan, at the Russian Museum.
And God’s luminous messenger, larger than life,
led the one righteous man along the black mountain.
But regret cried out to his wife:
“It’s not too late, you can still catch a glimpse
of Sodom, the red rooftops of home,
the square where you sang, the yard where you spun,
the tall house, its windows abandoned—
the house where your sons and daughters were born.”
She looked back—a sudden arc of pain
stripped her eyes of sight,
fused her feet to the ground—
her flesh became transparent salt.
Who will mourn this nameless woman?
She seems the least of all we lack.
Yet I, for one, can never forget
how she gave her life for one look back.
Anna Akhmatova, 1924