He loved three things, alive: by Anna Akhmatova

‘He loved three things, alive:’ by Anna Akhmatova is characteristic of Akhmatova’s poetry. It’s to the point, clear, and filled with interesting and easy to imagine images that give the poem life. Her words in these lines are clear enough to where readers will come to a conclusion about the relationship she describes but not too obvious to where all those conclusions will be the same.

He loved three things, alive: by Anna Akhmatova


Summary of He loved three things, alive:

‘He loved three things, alive:’ by Anna Akhmatova is a short poem in which the speaker describes her husband’s likes and dislikes.

In the concise lines of this piece, the poet’s speaker takes the reader through three likes her husband “had” and three dislikes he “had.” The use of the past tense throughout the poem suggests that he may no longer feel this way, or perhaps he’s passed away. He liked unusual things like antique maps and white peacocks and disliked normal everyday things like children crying, jam, and his marriage. 


Themes in He loved three things, alive:

In this piece, the poet explores themes of relationships and marriages as well as loves and hates. The speaker describes her husband’s likes and dislikes very clearly in the lines of ‘He loved three things, alive.’ These things, unfortunately for her, do not include her. She knows he likes white peacocks and old maps of foreign countries and hates crying children and raspberry jam with tea. Depending on how one reads the lines, readers might see the speaker’s husband as simply dissatisfied with normal life or, in more dramatic circumstances, a terrible husband who wants out of his marriage. 


Structure and Form of He loved three things, alive:

‘He loved three things, alive:’ by Anna Akhmatova is a seven-line poem that’s contained within one short stanza of text. The lines were originally written in Russian, meaning that any rhyme scheme or intended metrical pattern is mostly lost through the translation into English. But, knowing her work, which was part of a movement known as Acmeism, it is likely that the sustained clarity of the lines is reminiscent of her style. Readers will also note the similar lengths of the lines, suggesting that Akhmatova wanted the poems to feel fairly consistent in the meter. Through translation, perhaps maintaining the original rhyme or not, the English version of the poem does rhyme ABCABCB. 


Literary Devices in He loved three things, alive:

Despite the fact that the poem was translated from Russian, readers should still be on the lookout for some literary devices. These include but are not limited to imagery and caesura. The latter is one of the most important devices a poet can use in their work. Without it, readers will likely walk away uninterested and unmoved in what has been described. It’s quite obvious from the second line of the poem as the poet lists out some of the disparate things that “he,” the speaker’s husband, loved. 

Caesurae occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, lines one and two. The second reads: “White peacocks, songs at eve.” These pauses are sometimes used to separate out two parts of the same line or encourage the reader to stop for a moment and consider what they’ve read before moving on. 


Analysis of He loved three things, alive:

Lines 1-3

He loved three things, alive:


And antique maps of America.

In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by describing what her husband loves. There are only three things she says, and they are surprising and disparate, presenting the reader with interesting images. They’re also all sentimental and aesthetically pleasing, a beautiful, unusual bird, a song, and antique maps of a foreign country. They might also suggest to him something different, out of the ordinary, and that’s why he’s attracted to them. These things he loves are contrasted against the things that he hated. 


Lines 4-7

Hated when children cried,


…And he had married me.

In the next lines, the speaker describes what her husband “hated.” It is interesting to consider, before going further into the poem, that the poem is all in the past tense. This suggests that the speaker’s husband is no longer alive. He doesn’t “hate” something. He “hated” it. The things she lists are mundane, quite different from the good things she mentioned before. The raspberry jam with tea is suggestive of a normal everyday household and occurrence, just as are the children crying. 

In the second to last line, the speaker adds that her husband hated “feminine hysteria,” a common 19th and 20th century way of categorizing and reducing women’s emotions to nothing more than female insanity that women were at the mercy of. In the final line, the speaker starts with an ellipse leading up to the statement that “he had married me.” This final line adds the feeling that the speaker’s husband is not happy in their relationship. Perhaps, just as he dislikes other mundane things, he dislikes his marriage for the same reason. Despite this, he had married her and was presumably stuck with the speaker. 


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘He loved three things, alive:’ should also consider reading some of Akhmatova’s other poems. For example,

  • ‘I Taught Myself to Life Simply’ – This is a simple and beautiful poem in which the poet promotes living a similar life. She speaks on the value of nature and how fulfilling it is to live “Far from the madding crowd.”
  • ‘Lot’s Wife’ – This poem tells the traditional Bible story of Lot from his wife’s perspective. One is left with the wife’s insights as she’s transformed into a pillar of salt. 
  • ‘The Ache of Marriage’ by Denise Levertov – This poem examines the speaker’s joyless and painful marriage and how this relationship is super to suffer through rather than enjoy. 
  • The Difficulty that is Marriage’ by Paul Durcan – This poem explores themes of relationships and marriage while taking a more lighthearted approach to the subject. 

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