Another long-banned work of literature is about to appear in Moscow. ``Requiem,'' a cycle of poems by the poet Anna Akhmatova that deals with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's purges, will reportedly be published soon in the journal Ogonyok.
Written in the late 1930s and early '40s, the cycle was published abroad in 1963, but has never appeared in full here.
The cycle is widely regarded as one of the most powerful denunciations of Stalin's terror in contemporary literature. Some of its images - particularly those of women waiting outside prisons for word of their sons, brothers, or husbands - echo scenes in the deeply anti-Stalinist film ``Repentance,'' which is in general release here.
The religious language of the poem, which culminates in the crucifixion, may also provoke debate at a time when several major literary works have recently taken a guardedly sympathetic approach to religion.
``Requiem'' is largely autobiographical. Akhmatova's son was arrested several times during the purges, spent over 10 years in labor camp or exile, and was finally released in 1956. The poem takes the reader through the torment of the women who waited for news of relatives arrested during the terror.
In an introduction to the poems, Akhmatova described how she came to write the cycle. As she waited in a line outside a Leningrad prison one day for word of her son, the woman behind her asked if she could put their experiences into words. ``And I said, `I can,''' Akhmatova wrote.
Because of the risk, she did not keep a manuscript of the poem. She read it to friends who memorized it, and then burned the original.
Akhmatova and her contemporary Boris Pasternak are usually considered among the finest Russian poets of the century. Her life here was closely linked to the events of the times. Her first husband, the poet Nikolai Gumilyov, was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1921 for alleged anti-Soviet activities. He has been rehabilitated in the last few months. A close friend and another outstanding poet, Osip Mandelshtam, was arrested in 1934, and died in the camps in 1938. Akhmatova's longtime lover was also arrested and died during the Stalinist purges. Though never arrested herself, she was unable to publish her verses for many years, and was one of two writers singled out for violent attack in 1946 by Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's literary watchdog, and was expelled from the Writers' Union.
Before her death in 1966, Akhmatova was gradually accepted back into favor and finally recognized as one of the century's outstanding poets.
The rehabilitation was, however, somewhat hesitant. This can be perhaps explained by her attitude to the Stalinist years expressed in the last part of ``Requiem.'' If her country ever decided to raise a monument to her, she said, she would agree. But only on condition that it were built outside the prison where she stood waiting vainly for news.