On this day in 1918 the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born. Soon after the war he was arrested for disparaging remarks made about Stalin and sentenced to eight years in a prison camp. This was followed by lengthy exile in Kazakhstan, where he was diagnosed with cancer.
All this provided first hand material for his books, especially One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Cancer Ward. His writing is notable for its brutal realism and the underlying strength of the human spirit that it describes; the emotion in describing a prisoner’s joy at finding a piece of cabbage in his watery soup for example, is quite unique. Solzhenitsyn also wrote a long poem called Prussian Nights, about the Red Army’s treatment of the Germans after the Second World War; it is not for the faint-hearted.
Today’s poem was written by another man who spent time in jail – Oscar Wilde. Here are the last verses of The Ballad Of Reading Gaol:
In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In a burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.
And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.
And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
Today I ask that I may remain steadfast and strong in my journey along the road of life.