Nothing But Poetry

Sentenced to ten years solitary confinement in Stalin’s purges Evgenia S. Ginzburg’s book Into The Whirlwind is about the survival of the human spirit. She makes many references to how poetry affected the lives of those imprisoned.

According to the rules displayed on the wall, books were allowed at the rate of two every ten days. But throughout the first month the library remained closed for stock-taking, so I had sixteen hours a day to fill in as I saw fit. I tried to establish some sort of routine to stop myself from going mad. The important thing was not to forget how to talk. The warders were trained to silence and spoke only about half a dozen words a day – reveille, washroom, hot water, exercise, bread…
I tried to do gymnastics before breakfast. The flap-window clicked open:
“That’s forbidden!”
I tried laying down after dinner. Another click:
“That’s forbidden except from lights-out to reveille.”
So what remained? Nothing but poetry – my own and other people’s. And so I paced my five steps up and five steps down, composing:

Between these walls of stone
All roads are just as short:
By any count this cell
Is never more than three by five.

No good without a pencil! Clearly, I wasn’t a born poet.
After dinner was my time for Pushkin. I gave myself a lecture about him, then repeated all I could remember oof his poems. My memory, cut off from all impressions from outside, unfolded like a chrysalis transformed into a butterfly. Wonderful!

S

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