Friday, April 19, 2013


As April is National Poetry Month, and the Vermont Humanities Council is launching it’s Vermont Reads 2013-Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, the Cavendish Historical Society is encouraging readers to explore the poetry of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who lived in Cavendish from 1976-1994. While this Russian dissident and Nobel Prize winner in literature is known for his books, such as Gulag Archipeligo, he also wrote a number of poems. Below is Freedom to Breathe from his 1973 book, Stories and Prose Poems.

A shower fell in the night and now dark clouds drift across the sky, occasionally sprinkling a fine film of rain.

I stand under an apple-tree in blossom and I breathe.  Not only the apple-tree but the grass round it glistens with moisture; words cannot describe the sweet fragrance that prevades the air. Inhaling as deeply as I can, the aroma invades my whole being; I breathe with my eyes open, I breathe with my eyes closed – I cannot say which gives me the greater pleasure.

This, I believe is the single most precious freedom that prison takes away from us: the freedom to breathe freely, as I now can.  No food on earth, no wine, not even a woman’s kiss is sweeter to me than this air steeped in the fragrance of flowers, of moisture and freshness.

No matter that this is only a tiny garden, hemmed in by five-storey houses like cages in a zoo. I cease to hear the motorcycles backfiring, the radios whining, the burble of loudspeakers. As long as there is fresh air to breathe under an apple-tree after a shower, we may survive a little longer.
(From: Solzhenitsyn: Stories and Prose Poems: Penguin 1973).

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