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Poetry Spotlight: The Line by Bella Akhmadulina

This spotlight takes us to the cold lands of Russia, and while I was researching poems and poets across different time periods one caught my attention in particular. I typically try to pick poems that strike a chord with me when I choose them, and this one did exactly that. The Line by Bella Akhmadulina expresses her feelings in vibrant yet abstract imagery about her philosophies regarding the individual.

To give some background on the poet, Bella Akhmadulina was born in 1937, lived through World War II, and began her literary career in 1955. She is most well known for her poetry collections like The String, Fever, and Sad (Garden). Her work was critically acclaimed, earning her awards before and after the fall of the USSR like the USSR State Prize Laureate in 1989 and Pushkin Prize in 1994.

Akhmadulina’s poems changed over her lifetime, but one thing that did not change was her poems never straying anywhere close to political views. In her earlier poems she focuses mainly on imaginative yet mundane scenarios described with whimsical and vivid imagery. Later in her life her poems gained a more abstract feel to them, and they incorporated more philosophical and religious elements into them. The Line was made around when she began to transition towards those themes.

Here is a translation of the poem provided by Yevgeny Bonver:

The player’s disk – a silly wonder –

The simple player – trifles at all!

It’s heard as if were distant thunder

From the earth’s deeps, from ‘under-under’

Of roots, of sweat, of grass and fall

Where humus just begins to boil,

Raising to heaven a gray steaming,

No, deeper than the fathomed deeps,

From Hell where a born ruby sleeps,

And has our nature its beginning –

Got out, nearing … At last,

We’re reached by earth’s and waters’ bass

With which it was declared so slow

As if not knowing what to do,

So high-importantly and low:

“… The road, I’ll not say where to…”

We do not speak in these strange ways.

The mankind doesn’t have such ideas:

Neither in dreams nor by a guess,

One could name all that here appears,

That in our ignorance, so fine,

We call “the ever living line.”

This poem’s focus is not on any one thing, visualizing the land, the earth, the skies and the seas, culminating in her almost calling out to mankind to not just live on the “ever living line” and to take the road whose end or course is unknown. The interpretation I find for this poem is an interesting one, as it almost feels as though this poem disses humanity for not being able to have ideas or thoughts that go beyond what people perceive as a part of the world. The disk player at the beginning of the poem symbolizes not just the sounds of the world, but what can be seen of the world as well. The use of Hell in the poem also implies it being the birthplace of our nature, which I feel in this case refers to mankind.

The poem feels as though you are set upon a journey by Akhmadulina, going from highs to lows and everything in between, much like that same winding road that no one knows where it might lead. The message that can be taken from this poem is to think outside of what can be classified as set on “the ever living line” and to be more open-minded about what the world and space beyond can offer. Overall, this symbolic yet gripping poem had me reading it many times and I enjoyed finding out new meanings and interpretations towards different lines upon each reread.


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