How Boris Pasternak defied Soviet tyranny with a Shakespeare sonnet.
“When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it. ” ~Pasternak
I love this! We have homeschooled our four children for 11 years and counting (the old school way, not online), and memorizing poetry and Shakespeare is a big part of our homeschool. I believe so strongly in committing beautiful, meaningful passages to our minds and hearts, to shore us up when we need them. And it’s such a sweet thing to hear these timeless words in your kids’ voices.
For other parents who are inspired by Mr. Murray’s new column, I highly recommend the book “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare,” by Ken Ludwig.
Let me play the curmudgeon for a minute. We don’t need more “macro,” but this time historical macro so it’s retro-cool macro. What we need more of, like lots and lots and lots more of is the micro. We need more humanity in the moment of humanity. We need to celebrate people who smile and wave at their neighbors. Who hold a door. Who catch a plastic bag blowing in the wind and throw it in the garbage. Who shovel a sidewalk just because it could use shoveling.
I ask my daughter at the end of every school day - who’d you help today and who helped you. These are the things we need to spend more time worrying about. Not what some congressman 12 states away said or what some historian quoted. Knowledge is great, don’t get me wrong, and it needs to be remember and cherished. But the things that need to be CELEBRATED are the simple things in the here and now that make tomorrow worth being here for.
Give me the heroes who are heroes because they do the little things that make their community a community. If we all spent a LOT more time living in that world and a lot less time doing exactly what I’m doing right now 🤦♂️ We’d all be a lot better off… enjoy the irony if nothing else
Wow! Douglas Murray. What a delightful surprise. Douglas is one of those towering intellectuals who I love reading and listening to even when I don't agree with, because they can make such an incredible argument. He was absolutely brilliant at the Munk Debate. I got my husband to watch it, and then he liked it so much he recommended it to his mother. But Douglas was the main reason why that debate was so incredible. Bari, you're wiping the floor mopping up all the great stuff liberal MSM refuses or are too coward to cover and present, and the conservative MSM is too busy stoking outrage to cover and present. Good for you. You may be a great journalist, but you're an outstanding businesswoman.
I love these stories about people that have the courage to voice how they really feel even when it meant that the Communist regime could “disappear” them. Authoritarians can try to suppress freedom of thought, but they can never take away the beauty of things like poetry.
Thank you for beginning this series. It's come at just the right time for me. I've listened to Murray several times just now, and the texture of a voice, in general, in addition to its particular sensibility, adds much. Not only has the content struck a chord in my 77-year-old heart, but Murray's words make me want to take down my old, slim book of Shakespeare's sonnets. Whether I can still memorize is an open question. I may have to practice every day for a week. But wouldn't it be as rewarding as the ceaseless working on my abs?
Our school district just removed the Honors Shakespeare class from the 2023-24 school year high school course catalog. The decision is so disappointing and ignorant. This piece provides an important example of why.
Oh how lovely this is, to have it come into my eyes, head and heart only a few minutes ago. I need more of this kind of beauty and reaffirmation of the good, the love of things past. Thank you, Douglas!
Many times I have been saved with poems of my youth.
I would listen to Douglas Murray recite Motley Crue lyrics. His words are a treasure every bit as much as Pasternak’s and I’m grateful he chooses to keep writing and speaking the truths that need to see the light.
Thank you. A dear friend of mine is in his final days, perhaps final hours. 30 was of great comfort today.
All Pasternak translation of Shakespeare are masterpieces of its own. All Soviet translations of the European and American literature were deeply culturally sensitive and were of exquisite quality. Since most Soviet writers could not freely express their own thoughts, they channeled their talents in translations. As a result several generations of Soviets came out extremely versed in world literature including underrepresented authors.
When I was in pre school in the early 1980s our little apartment was filled with the furious voice of a Soviet actor, reciting Hamlets monologue translated by Pasternak. My parents had it on a cassette.
The actor was mostly cancelled by the official Soviet media but he enjoyed an unanimous love by all the Soviets. People would borrow recordings from each other to make their own cassettes or seat quietly in front of the TV, recording his performance during his rare appearances. I remember my dad sitting on the floor quietly with the tape recorder in front of our black and white TV recording this Hamlet monologue. Here it is. With English subs of the original.
A lovely story that, as near as I can tell, never happened. No part of the story checks out. Pasternak never translated sonnet 30 - he only translated three sonnets (66,73,74). The best-known translations of sonnets in Russian were by S. Marschak (also a tragic figure). Pasternak never spoke during the congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in 1937, and if he did, he certainly would not be allowed to just recite a sonnet. The story makes it sound like members of the writer's union were opposed to Stalin and "big terror" and group recitation of the sonnet was a form of mass protest. The reality is much more tragic: most writers were fully supportive, were only too happy to write false reports to KGB about each other. A public gesture indicating any form of disagreement with the party line was unthinkable. A hint of disagreement was enough for an arrest. Pasternak himself was quite taken with Stalin, devoting several poems to him (whether this were his real feelings or a matter of expediency we will never know). This was in spite of the fact that many writers were arrested and killed (including Mandelshtam, who was Pasternak's friend). In fact, according to the story retold by Pasternak, Stalin once called him inquiring about Mandelshtam. However, Pasternak was so terrified by the phone call, that not only did he not ask for forgiveness for his friend, he pretended that he barely knew him. Stalin, apparently, accused him of being a coward. The moral is that being a great and well-recognized writer (and Pasternak was certainly that), being well schooled in the arts (check), and highly attuned to moral issues (check again) provides no immunity against the oppression of the state and grouptink. Sad but true.
And Douglas Murray too? My subscription money is well spent.
Thank you for that, Mr. Murray, for now we shall have a standing date each Sunday morn.
I hope J.K. Rowling gets a chance to read this.
Tears caused me to read this poem twice and then remember Portia’s mercy speech. It was above the entrance of the hospital where I began my nursing career. Once in the heart it stays even if its forgotten for a while. Cherish the memories.
I recently read Grit, since I am whatever is two grades past fashionably late, and in all honesty the best idea I got was from the UNC Women's Soccer Coach Anson Dorrance. He has an ASTONISHING record of 21 National Championships in 31 seasons. I thought Geno Auriema was impressive at UConn, and my hero John Wooden only won ten (although he retired long before he needed to, because national championships were getting blase for him).
Anyway, he has his girls memorize three motivational quotes each season, 12 in total in four years. I really like that idea, and I decided to memorize 3 each season of the year (why not?), and I reckon them from solstice (the sun stands still) to equinox (equal night) and back again.
First, I stole his, which was from George Bernard Shaw: "The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune, and not a feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy." That was from memory. I got two words wrong, that I just corrected.
If any of you know what the other quotes are, that would make me very happy knowing them.
The other two I chose for myself were: "we cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once." Calvin Coolidge
And "The decision making process is a method of increasing self respect, whereas vacillation, indecision, fear of responsibilty and inertia have the opposite effect." by Garth Wood, whose "Myth of Neurosis" remains in my view relevant, although the term neurosis has largely disappeared. His prescriptions remain sound.
But I like this idea of memorizing sonnets. I tried to memorize the Tao Te Ching some years ago, but only got about 15 stanzas in. I may try again.