I Taught Myself to Live Simply, by Anna Akhmatova - Audio

Player is below
Click on the play button below to listen.

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) remains one of Russia's most-loved poets of the 20th century.  Writing before the Bolshevik Revolution - which occurred in 1917 - she was already famous before government repression, and censorship, prevented her from publishing new poems.

One of Akhmatova's problems, with the government, was her reference to religion in some of her poetry.  Religion - under a Communist government - was not allowed, leading to massive censorship throughout the Soviet Union.

Akhmatova had another, even-more-serious problem.  Although she was divorced from her first husband - Nikolai Gumilev - in the eyes of government officials, she was still associated with him.  After he was executed by the Bolsheviks, in 1921, Akhmatova had trouble getting her work published.  Her poetry was unofficially banned for decades.

Living through a time when a knock on the door could easily mean that someone was going to prison ... or worse ... Akhmatova had firsthand experience with Stalin's terror.  Not only did she lose many of her friends - including fellow writers - her son was arrested in 1949 and remained in prison until 1956.

By 1958 - five years after Stalin's death, when his "cult of personality" was officially disfavored by the government - Akhmatova was writing and publishing her own style of poetry again.  Her work, however, was still heavily censored.  As noted in the article about Akhmatova, at Poets.org (published by the Academy of American Poets):

Though Akhmatova was frequently confronted with official goverment opposition to her work during her lifetime, she was deeply loved and lauded by the Russian people, in part because she did not abandon her country during difficult political times.  Her most accomplished works, Requiem (which was not published in its entirety in Russia until 1987) and Poem Without a Hero, are reactions to the horror of the Stalinist Terror, during which time she endured artistic repression as well as tremendous personal loss.

One of her best-loved poems is "I Taught Myself to Live Simply."  Given all that she went through - before she died, aged 79, in 1966 - one can only imagine why Akhmatova would have chosen to extole a more simple life. 

The English-language translation of her poem is read, in this audio clip, by Carole Bos (creator of Awesome Stories).  As you listen to the words, think about these topics.


ISSUES AND QUESTIONS TO PONDER:    Why would the poet value wandering as a way for her to settle her mind and clear it of "superfluous worries?"  Might she have gained a different perspective on life, as she walked around and viewed the beauty of nature, instead of staying inside the house where worry likely preoccupied her mind?  

When worry troubles you, do you have a way to deal with it, such as taking a walk or listening to music?  Do those activities help to calm you, even if for just a short time?  Why do you think that happens? 

Akhmatova tells us that she writes happy verses, even when those verses deal with decay.  How would you transform "decay" into "happy?" 

Akhmatova ends her poem with a "knock on my door" - a symbol of worry for all individuals who had lived through Stalin's Terror.  Do you think its reference here has anything to do with terror-filled knocking - or - do you think the poet is so preoccupied with the peacefulness of the moment that nothing much could disrupt her serenity (including a knocking visitor)?


I Taught Myself to Live Simply
By Anna Akhmatova

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life's decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.

If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.


For Classics at Awesome Stories

Media Credits

"I Taught Myself to Live Simply," by Anna Akhmatova.  Read by Carole Bos (creator of Awesome Stories).


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"I Taught Myself to Live Simply, by Anna Akhmatova - Audio" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jul 19, 2019.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips