I had read the generous excerpt from Dooomed Bridegroom, the literary biography/memoir of Ukrainian dissident Vasyl Stus by Canadian/Ukrainian writer, MYRNA KOSTASH.
Kotash describes a heart-rending scene where Stus’s wife is asked to testify against her husband.
At his trial in Kyiv he tried to speak in his own defence, was expelled from the courtroom and sentenced as an “especially dangerous recidivist” to ten years’ forced labour and five years’ internal exile.
The trial took place at the end of September 1980, in the hall of the regional court packed with a specially verified and prepared public brought in to give the appearance of an open trial. No acquaintance, friend, or family member was admitted. But Mykhailyna had been summoned to testify.
Vasyl was very thin and pale and rose to greet her but, as this was not allowed, was made to sit down again. When it was her turn to testify, she stood at the dock, her back to Vasyl so that she kept trying to turn around to face him, for which she was reprimanded by the Court. Asked to “describe Vasyl’s personality,” she rose to the occasion, her first public statement about Vasyl, and went on to speak of him as she would years later, at memorial meetings.
I spoke of him as a person of elevated conscience, a person of honour and idea such as one meets very rarely in life. One should applaud such a person, not put him on trial! I thanked Fate for granting me the chance to know such a person; I said I tried to be like him. Protest against lies and injustice was the only means of existence for him.
As I left the courtroom, I glanced at Vasyl. He sat white-faced and strained, clenching his fists. I never saw him again.
Nowadays writers and artists complain about not having a market or having to endure the drudgery of a 9 to 5 job or having to “give away their content for free.” It’s easy to forget that for some these things were unbelievably luxuries. Unfortunately, when normal living becomes impossible, it’s hard for artists to avoid being political, almost fanatical. Stus was a translator of foreign poets, and if the repression weren’t so great, it’s doubtful that he would even had an interest in politics. While I don’t mean to discount the horrors of the political repression, a lone person crying a political slogan must look like psychotics to citizens in a repressive regime. It’s as though you would be walking on a city street, and a homeless person accosting you would go on about Abu Graib tortures or why America’s currency is bound to fall. The context in which these marginalized messages are being delivered is just so bizarre that people just tune it out.
Stus’s letters, essays and poems were frequently destroyed by guards and KGB agents. Yet Stus continued writing in the hopes that some of the communicades might make it. Indeed, some essays and poems were published samizdat, but that was probably no consolation for Stus. The writing process itself was his only consolation, his way of convincing himself that his individual thoughts had not faded away into oblivion, that his muse could not be stifled in any way. He wrote with the expectation that most of what he produced would be destroyed or at best ignored. Some may point to this as an example of writing to escape reality. Perhaps. But each poem for him was a kind of declaration of self, a mental exercise intended to prove to the world that everything upstairs was functioning fine. Instead of mourning the loss of many of his poems, we should admire Stus’s ability to produce without hope of being appreciated.
Here’s a poem (translated by Marco Carynnyk) :
Weep, sky, weep and weep! Wash the unabated sea
Of thin-voiced waters and dampen the heart.
It seems it was just now, just yesterday
That a deathly shiver buried you alive.
Weep, sky, weep and weep! The past cannot be returned.
Today has been reduced to naught, the future will not come.
Something weighs on the mind that can never
Be torn from the heart. This prison is a prison for prisons!
Weep, sky, weep and weep! Still over your horizons
And let the stars fall from darkened skies!
Is there in this world a trumpet that will sound
A final blast to keep me from my resurrection?
Flow, water, flaw and sweep me away from my weariness,
For eternities of bondage have crushed me.
High upland thunder, girdle the earth!
Pitch-winged cloud, bless me!
Lightning, send a message!
Hallowed be the world. The night is its companion.
So, water. Flow forth! And you, misfortune, rage