Some nice descriptions of Akhmatova quoted in the introduction to My Half Century that I’d like to remember:
The first quoted from Ненаписанная книга. Листки из дневника А. А. Ахматовой, L. A. Mandrykina (translated for the introduction by Ronald Meyer) –
Among the poetesses who read their poetry at the Tower, Anna Akhmatova stands out most vividly in my memory. She was captivating both as a woman and as a poet.
Lithe, tall, svelte, her head wrapped in a floral shawl. The aquiline nose, her dark hair with the short bangs in front and held in place in back with a large Spanish comb. The small, slender mouth that seldom laughed. Dark, stern eyes. It was impossible not to notice her. You couldn’t walk past her without admiring her. The young people went crazy when Akhmatova appeared on stage at literary readings. She was a good and skillful reader, who was fully aware of her feminine charm, and she possessed the regal self-assurance of an artist who knew her worth.
And two from Lidia Ginzburg, this quoted in Nadezdha Mandelstam’s Hope Abandoned:
[Akhmatova] is gifted with an absolutely natural and to a large extent convincing majesty. She holds herself like a queen in exile at some bourgeois spa.
and this from 1927 (quoted from Lidia Chukovskaya, Записки об Анне Ахматовой, trans. Ronald Meyer):
Akhmatova clearly has taken on the responsibility for an era, for the memory of those who have died and for the reputations of the living. Those who are not inclined will naturally find this irritating – it’s a matter of historical taste. Akhmatova sits very quietly and looks at us with a puzzled haze. This is not because she doesn’t understand out culture, but rather because she doesn’t need it. It’s not even worth discussing whether our culture needs her, since she’s a part of it.
How I wish I could have met her! – but I wouldn’t be worthy. Some people from the past feel ‘closer’ to us today than others – that they lived or wrote more recently, touch upon things that are still relevant to us now, have well-documented lives or were known by people still living. To me she is one of those; especially since I’ve been reading this, as I’ve got to know her ‘own’ voice (as opposed to her poetic voice), which is so strong and distinct I could have heard it on the radio or read it in an article this morning. It’s difficult to think that she has been gone fifty years.