But icons are difficult to write about critically. How good a poet was she really? To me as a non-Russian, her contemporary Marina Tsvetaeva seems as a writer to be richer and more astonishing. I know Russians who now dismiss Akhamatova as ‘a minor poet’.
Perhaps Ascherson would have made a better literary critic than an “expert on Eastern Europe” and Uganda. Akhmatova is not an equal of Tsvetaeva or Mandelstam or Pasternak or Zabolotsky or Khlebnikov or Khodasevich. […] It’s not that she is diminished in translation; there’s nothing to translate, nothing behind the surface. She’s an icon to some educated Russians, but even more, to those Slavists whose ability to understand poetry in any language is dubious. She’s important as a keeper of tradition, a Kulturtraeger.
But how do you separate the passionate response to her verse, a response which has itself become part of Russian history, from the quality of that poetry?
What response? It must have been limited to a close circle of her acquaintances.