Friday, September 7, 2018


In his essay on the Russian poet, Irina Ratushinskya, (“Never Afraid,” TLS7/15/18) David Astor quotes the following two lines from her poem, “No, I’m Not Afraid” (which was translated by David McDuff): “It isn’t true, I am afraid, my darling!/ But make it look as though you haven’t noticed.” Astor recounts the travails of a poet who lived in the age of Samizdat, and eventually became an international cause celebre, who emigrated for a time to England, through the intervention of Susan Sontag, Francois Mitterand and Mikhail Gorbachev. The lines Astor quotes are classic in their use of ambiguity. Despite the title of Ratushinskaya's poem, one can imagine that fear must have dogged the poet her whole adult life, as she’d had to face the repercussions of running afoul of the Soviet system. How perfectly the lines encapulate a sensibility fearful yet counterphobic enough to go against her own instincts for survival! The lines are like an Ars Poetica for expression amidst tyranny and repression. But they should be hung in the study of every poet and writer who seeks that elusive beauty that Keats defined as “truth.” You don’t need a censor or the threat of imprisonment to clamp down on unpopular voices and the lynch mob can end up on the side of so-called right.

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