A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

No, I'm Not Afraid

Reading Seamus Heaney's last words, Noli timere, reminded me of the Russian poet Irina Ratushinskaya's book of poems, No, I'm Not Afraid. I've just pulled it down from the shelf. 

In March 1983 Ratushinskaya was sentenced to seven years' hard labour and five years' internal exile for writing and disseminating her own poetry. She joined other Russian prisoners of conscience in suffering almost unbearable degradation. She managed to survive this unjust ordeal, but had to endure beatings, force-feeding, solitary confinement and many more humiliations. Both the writers' organisation, International PEN, and Amnesty International publicised her plight and chivvied for her release, which eventually came after three and a half years, on the eve of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev's 1986 Icelandic summit.

Tell me the truth

'Tell me the truth, gypsy woman,
Why have I dreamt of the wind?'
'Falsehood. He loves you.
But to dream of the wind means a journey.'

'Tell me, gypsy woman, the truth —
Is our fate to be found in my palm?'
'Give me your hand. He loves you.
But this means a long journey.'

'Gypsy woman, tell me, why
Has our candle burnt down?
'That means a parting soon
And the very longest journey.'

'Gypsy woman, tell me that this
Isn't true! Tell me, gypsy woman,
That it isn't that journey!'
'Don't be afraid. He loves you.'


Translated by DAVID MCDUFF


am said...

Thank you for introducing me to the writing of Irina Ratushinskaya. I have just discovered that her memoir is available at our public library.

Ruth said...

This is unbearably sad. I think it would take the rest of one's life to get through it.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Beautiful poem. I thought it was wonderful that Seamus Heaney sent that message to his wife too.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Robert, have you any advice to give us at our writers group as we are thinking of putting our book we brought to to sell for the air ambulance on Amazon. One member, who is very computer literate, has looked into it and it seems fairly striaght forward she says. Would you agree.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think you would enjoy her poetry, Am. I haven't read her memoir.

Ruth, yes, almost unbearable — but she survived. An incredible story how she stood up for her rights and the rights of others in the labour camp, at great personal pain and discomfort.

Pat: my own book was published with CreateSpace, which is part of Amazon, so inclusion on Amazon was automatic. Re. your own writers' group book, I have no idea how easy it is to be listed on Amazon, but after a quick search on Google it does seem to be possible without too much stress.

jan said...

Thank you for bringin Irina to our attention. The poem is so beautiful and I am very interested now in reading more of her work and finding out more about her life. Thanks also for reminding me about supporting Amnesty. Lately I have been so busy I have not been keeping an eye on their work and supporting where I can. It is time to get back to it. xx

The Solitary Walker said...

I'm glad this has led you further, Jan.

ds said...

I read her memoir a while ago. Harrowing. I don't know how she endured such treatment. But I've never read any of her poems till now. Thank you for sharing this one; I will have to find more.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for visiting, Ds. I think her survival was due in no small part to doing what she could, from such a confined space, to actively resist, rather than passively accept.