Sitting here at my desk in North America, surrounded by meaningless words flung about in luxury and distracting waste, it is hard to imagine that the act of creating words could bring an endangerment to your life. How could words be lethal to your children, your spouse, to anyone that helped you, even when these words speak for the welfare of others? When words crafted as acts of love fall upon deaf and murderous ears.
I won’t bore you with the details of the current news story of a blind dissident in China, Chen Guangcheng, who made an improbable escape over the walls into the US Embassy in Beijing, amid Sec. Of State Clinton’s precarious diplomatic visit — you probably know more than I of it. But I read that in the last few hours, only after threats against his wife and family and the imprisonment of a man who helped him, did he acquiesce to the idea of leaving China. Until then, he refused to become any one of the numerous political dissidents who are harbored in friendly, yet stranger, countries.
I thought instantly to Anna Akhmatova, who suffered immeasurably during the Russian Revolution for her poetry. Her literary friends and colleagues were systematically killed, starved, exiled. Several took their own lives. Her husband was executed by firing squad. Her son spent years emaciating in prison camps. For words. Even when in poetry, words reveal themselves to be words.
Yet, while others moved to Western Europe and beyond, she remained a steadfast resident of her homeland, despite censorship and slander (the grammars of war), dedicating herself to promote a golden age of Russian poetry.
To The Many
I — am your voice, the warmth of your breath,
I — am the reflection of your face,
The futile trembling of futile wings,
I am with you to the end, in any case.
That’s why you so fervently love
Me in my weakness and in my sin;
That’s why you impulsively gave
Me the best of your sons;
That’s why you never even asked
Me for any word of him
And blackened my forever-deserted home
With fumes of praise.
And they’d say — it’s impossible to fuse more closely,
Impossible to love more abandonedly…
As the shadow from my body wants to part,
As the flesh from the soul wants to separate,
So I want now — to be forgotten.
Anna Akhmatova (1922)