‘Courage’ was originally written in Russian. The translated version below was completed by Yevgeny Bonver. It was penned in 1942 in the middle of what is known in Russia (then the Soviet Union). The pen promotes the poet’s belief in Russia’s strength while using the collective pronoun “we” to speak about the Russian people’s perspective.
‘Courage’ by Anna Akhmatova conveys the Russian people’s strength in the face of war with Nazi Germany during WWII.
In the first part of ‘Courage,’ the poet notes that now is a very important time in Russian history. It’s time for the Russian people to prepare all the courage they need in the face of an important conflict. They’re in the middle of World War II and are being invaded by Nazi Germany on the eastern side of the country. There, they have to show unmatched courage that will prevent anything from happening to the country or its culture.
You can read the full English translation here.
Structure and Form
‘Courage’ by Anna Akhmatova is an eleven-line poem that is written in block form. This means that all the lines are contained in one stanza. The poem was originally written in Russian, meaning that in this English version, much of the original rhyme and rhythm is lost. Here are the first four lines in Russian:
Мы знаем, что́ ныне лежит на весах
И что́ совершается ныне.
Час мужества про́бил на наших часах,
И мужество нас не покинет.
In this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. It should be noted that the literary devices that appear in this English translation may not have existed in exactly the same form in the Russian version. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: seen through the repetition of “None” at the beginning of lines five and six.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “bend” and “brow” in line four and “slavery save” in line ten.
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, “courage will not bend its brow.”
- Apostrophe: an address to something or someone that cannot hear and/or reply. For instance, the poet (speaking for the Russian people) says that “we will preserve you, O great Russian speech.”
We know what is now on History’s scales,
What is, in the world, going now.
None fears to die under the bullet’s siege,
None bitters to lose one’s home here, —
In the first lines of ‘Courage’ by Anna Akhmatova, the speaker begins by using the word “We.” Here, she’s speaking for the Russian people. Anytime the word “we” appears, she’s gathering together the country’s opinions and feelings and expressing them as one train of thought.
She speaks for the Russian people, saying that “we” know what’s going on in the world. History is at a tipping point, and great things (that require a lot of courage) are going to need to be accomplished. If nothing else remains, they’ll still be courageous.
Courage and strength are both required to get through the hard times the Russian people are currently experiencing. This is a reference to the Great Patriotic War, a period of history in which the Soviet Union was fighting Nazi Germany along the Eastern Front during World War II. The term is not used outside of Russia (instead, “Eastern Front of World War II” is more commonly used).
The speaker knows that no one in Russia would fear dying under the “bullet’s siege” or in a battle. No one will worry if their homes are destroyed as long as they can preserve Russia as a whole. The use of repetition in these lines helps convey the speaker’s passion and determination.
And we will preserve you, O great Russian speech,
In the next few lines of the poem, the poet (while speaking for the Russian people) says that they will do everything they can to “preserve… [the] great Russian speech.” They’ll maintain the Russian language (as the Germans invade and seek to destroy Russian culture). This is repeated in a slightly different form in the eighth line with “O Russian great word, we all bear.”
It’s clear the speaker feels the need to protect not only Russian land but also the cultural elements that are the most important, including the language.
They say that the Russian people will carry the Russian language and culture through and out of the conflict in order to keep the country free and save the people from “slavery.” The word “forever” ends the poem, making it very clear that this is a passion and determination that the speaker knows the Russian people will maintain not just through this singular conflict but through all of history.
The purpose is to uplight the Russian people during World War II and share the strength of the country with others who might be doubting it.
The main theme of this poem is courage in the face of conflict. Specifically, the poet is considering the courage Russians have during World War II and how they’re going to fight to preserve their culture.
The poet wrote this piece in order to celebrate Russian courage and determination during World War II. The poet wanted to convey how strong she sees the Russian people being in the face of invasion from Nazi Germany.
The meaning is that the Russian people have indomitable courage that not even the fiercest army or most determined country and undo. They’ll maintain it in the face of every possible conflict.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Anna Akhmatova poems. For example:
- ‘He loved three things, alive:’ – a short poem in which a speaker describes her husband’s likes and dislikes.
- ‘I Taught Myself to Live Simply’ – a poem about the beauty of nature and the importance of living a simple life.
- ‘You should appear less often in my dreams’ – describes the differences between an ideal relationship and a real one.