Acmeism was a transient school of writers who were guided by Nikolay Gumilev and Sergei Gorodetsky. The movement was focused on clarity and brevity. The poems were compact and direct and were written as a reaction to symbolism, the movement that was previously dominant in the country. The symbolist movement was characterized by a certain vagueness that meant readers were often left in the dark. Instead, as the below quote by Mikhail Kuzmin notes, logic and structure are important and “precision and authenticity.”
Definition of Acmeism
Acmeism was a literary movement centered in St. Petersburg, Russia. The founders were interested in clarity and precision as well as depicting the world as it is. Poets like Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelshtam were two of the most important of the movement. Acmeism was named after the Greek word meaning “the best age of man.”
The following quote is often associated with the Acmeism movement. It was delivered by Mikhail Kuzmin and, as noted by Poets, often considered to be the manifesto for Acmeism:
I beg you be logical in the design and structure of your work, in syntax . . . be a skillful builder, both in small things and in the whole . . . love words, as Flaubert did, exercise economy in your means, thrift in the use of words, precision and authenticity—then you will discover the secret of a wonderful thing: beauty clarity.
Here Kuzmin suggests that writers should use language thoughtfully and not spend too much time on flowery, extra language. Words like “economy” and “thrift” are parts of this quote and are essential to the tenants of Acmeism. He also adds that it’s important to investigate the “secret of a wonderful thing: beauty clarity.”
Unfortunately, many poets associated with the movement were poorly regarded by the Soviet regime.
Poets of the Acmeism Movement
The most important poets of this movement were:
- Anna Akhmatova: is regarded as one of Russia’s most important poets. She was a central figure of the Acmeism movement. She wrote poetry as well as memoirs. Furthermore, she’s well-regarded for the research she did on writers like Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin. In addition to her personal literary accomplishments, she worked as a translator. She translated poems in Armenian, Korean, French, and more. She was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in 1965 and was nominated three times for the award in 1966. Akhmatova’s poems include: ‘You should appear less often in my dreams,’ ‘I Taught Myself to Live Simply,’ ‘Snow,’ ‘The Death of Sophocles,’ and ‘He loved three things, alive:.’
- Osip Mandelstam: was one of the most important to the Acmeist school. At the beginning of the career, he focused on poetry and later moved to essays and memoirs. Some of his works include Noise of Time and The Egyptian Stamp. At the end of his career, he was arrested by Joseph Stalin’s government and sent into exile along with his wife. He was later sentenced to five years in a corrective labour camp. He died soon after.
- Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov: was the leader of the Acmeist movement. His teacher, Innokenty Annensky, influenced him, and his first collections were published in 1905 and 1908. They were The Path of the Conquistadors and Romantic Flowers, respectively. He was briefly married to Anna Akhmatova. His collection Foreign Sky solidified his reputation as one of the most important Russian poets. He spent time working as a creative writing instructor before he was arrested and shot for counter-revolutionary actives. Throughout his career, he expressed disdain for the Bolshevik government, leading to his death.
Examples of Acmeist Poems
You should appear less often in my dream by Anna Akhmatova
This piece contains short lines of longing for a relationship that doesn’t exist in the real world. The poem describes the difference between a dream relationship and reality. Akhmatova’s characteristic clear and thoughtful style comes through in these lines, providing a reader an insight into the Acmeist style of writing that she’s known for. Throughout the poem, readers can find examples of enjambment, imagery, and more. Here are the first four lines of the poem:
You should appear less often in my dreams,
Since we meet so frequently;
Yet only in night’s sanctuary
Are you sad, troubled, and tender.
These beautiful opening lines set up a contrast between what’s real and what’s a dream. She’s longing for something that she feels she knows well but doesn’t have any real access to.
He loved three things, alive: by Anna Akhmatova
This poem 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.
Hated when children cried,
And raspberry jam with tea,
And feminine hysteria.
…And he had married me.
Here, the poet discusses the nature of her speaker’s relationship with her husband. These are the last four lines and bring together some seemingly separate images.
Read more Anna Akhmatova poems.
Why is Acmeism Important?
It is an important literary movement that signaled an important shift in Russian literature. The writers associated with the movement are often considered to be some of the greatest in the history of Russian poetry. They rejected vagueness, something that allowed their poetry to find an audience among a wide variety of readers. Plus, when written, the poetry did not conform to the standards that the Soviet regime expected and approved of. Unfortunately, this meant that several of the major poets lost their lives in pursuit of their work.
Acmeism is a Russian literary movement that began in the early 1910s.
It is pronounced ack-me-iz-um.
Clear language and form, rejection of vagueness, embracing reality, nature, and beauty.
Three of the most important acmeist writers were Anna Akhmatova, Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov, and Osip Mandelstam.
Anna Akhmatova was a Russian poet who is now considered to be one of the most important in Russian literary history.
Related Literary Terms
- Georgian Poetry: was a poetic movement in England that lasted from 1910 to 1936 during the reign of George V.
- Imagism: a literary movement of the early 20th century. The proponents were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language.
- Neoclassicism: was a movement interested in reviving Greco-Roman literature, art, architecture, philosophy, and theater in the 18th century.
- New Woman Movement and Writing: a feminist ideal that was profoundly influential on 19th and 20th-century literature, as well as broader feminist beliefs.
- Realism: a literary movement that portrays everyday life exactly how it is.
- Romanticism: a movement that originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century and emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination.
- Read: He loved three things, alive: by Anna Akhmatova
- Listen: What is Acmeist Poetry?
- Watch: Anna Akhmatova – Queen of the Silver Age