Tuesday, September 23, 2014

LOVE is the word

At one of our watercolor painting sessions, my granddaughter went into another room 
and came back with glue and glitter and ramped the whole event up a notch.

I've been reading a Nureyev biography on my Kindle. At one point a mention was made of Eugenia Semyonova Ginzburg's book Journey into the Whirlwind, with which I was not familiar. It was available on Kindle, pronto! The author was swept up in 1937 in the early days of Stalin's purges, and spent the next 18 years, first in prison, then in penal servitude camps in the far north. The level of scarcity of resources, cruel rules and barbaric treatment of all kinds as both the warders and the prisoners struggle for the barest survival is terrifying. This is an amazing book and a testimony to the human spirit! The author knew a goodly amount of Russia's great poetry by heart and called upon its resources to lift her spirits and the spirits of many of her fellow prisoners during her long ordeal. Here is one passage about poetry that moved me.

     I was consumed by the desire to survive the tragedy which had befallen our Party. More than ever I felt sure that they could not destroy it completely, that there were people in it who would stop them. Keep alive  . . . Keep alive . . . Grit your teeth . . . Grit your teeth.
     As I repeated these words to myself, I was reminded of Pasternak's lines in his poem "Lieutenant Schmidt";

     The indictment stretched, mile on mile,
     Pit-shafts marked our weary way.
     We greet our sentence with a smile--
     It's penal servitude! What bliss!

     Suddenly these words thrilled me with their aptness. It is only at such times that one realizes the true value of poetry, and ones heart fills with tender gratitude toward the writer. How could Pasternak have known so exactly what one felt, living in his "melancholy Moscow home?" I remembered other lines: "The rest were drunk with space, and spring, and penal servitude . . ."
     If only he could know how much his poem helped me to endure, and to make sense of prison, of my sentence, of the murderers with frozen codfish eyes.
     It was getting dark. Here, too, the window was covered with a wooden screen as well as bars. For some reason, they were late switching on the light. I could not wait to be back in Butyrki, away from this place where death stared at you from every corner. I rested my head on the table and mentally recited "Lieutenant Schmidt" from beginning to end. I was terribly moved by the lines:
     The wind, warm and selfless,
     caressed the stars
     With something of its own, eternal and creative . . .

     I was awakened by the ritual command: "Take your things!"   

Eugenia Semyonova Ginzburg, Journey into the Whirlwind, translation by Paul Stevenson and Max Hayward, Harcourt, 1967, pages 175-176.

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