Poetic Art

Ruth Fainlight wrote:

It was the study of my guide’s parents,
two polite Petersburgians
who had survived the siege,
their daughter said, with bodies gaunt
and eyes enormous as Rublev saints
on icons at the Hermitage (‘That’s
how we all looked’), and now, proudly,
showed books, albums, pamphlets
guarded through terrible years.

I turned the pages of thick or flimsy paper,
thought of those writers and artists
gone to the gulags or Paris, and knew
that I was touching holy relics.

‘Here’s Mandelshtam’s first published verse,’
Galya translated. ‘These woodcuts are by Goncharova.
And look: Blok. Bely. Gumilev.’
‘The Acmeist who married Akhmatova?’
(I was such a show-off.) ‘Yes,’ they confirmed.
‘And this is the book with the cycle of poems
dedicated to her by Marina Tsvetaeva’
    – who titled them The Muse, and later said:
    ‘I read as if Akhmatova
    were the only person in the room.
    I read for the absent Akhmatova,’
    – who didn’t hear them, but carried the manuscript
    in her handbag for years, until
    it split at the folds and fell apart.

From ‘Sugar-Paper Blue‘, London Review of Books, Vol. 15 No. 24 · 16 December 1993.

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