Anna Andreyevna Akhmatova was born Anna Gorenko into an upper-class family in Odessa, the Ukraine, in 1889. Her interest in poetry began in her youth, but when her father found out about her aspirations, he told her not to shame the family name by becoming a “decadent poetess”. He forced her to take a pen name, and she chose the last name of her maternal great-grandmother. She attended law school in Kiev and married Nikolai Gumilev, a poet and critic, in 1910. Shortly after the marriage, he travelled to Abyssinia, leaving her behind. While Gumilev was away, Akhmatova wrote many of the poems that would be published in her popular first book, Evening. Her son Lev was also born in 1912.
Upon Evening’s publication in 1912, Akhmatova became a cult figure among the intelligentsia and part of the literary scene in St. Petersburg. Her second book, Rosary (1914), was critically acclaimed and established her reputation. With her husband, she became a leader of Acmeism, a movement which praised the virtues of lucid, carefully-crafted verse and reacted against the vagueness of the Symbolist style which dominated the Russian literary scene of the period. She and Gumilev divorced in 1918. Akhmatova married twice more, to Vladimir Shileiko in 1918, whom she divorced in 1928, and Nikolai Punin, who died in a Siberian labor camp in 1953. The writer Boris Pasternak, who was already married, had proposed to her numerous times.