- Prussian Nights
Prussian Nights ( _de. Ostpreussische Nächte) is a long poem by
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a captainin the Soviet Red Armyduring the Second World War. Prussian Nights describes the Red Army's march across East Prussia, and focuses on the traumatic acts of rape and murder that Solzhenitsyn witnessed as a participant in that march.
Originally it was Chapter 8 of his huge autobiographic poem "Dorozhen'ka" (The Road) that he wrote in 1947 as a "
sharashka" (scientific research camp) inmate. The original poem did not survive, but in 1950–1951, working in a hard labour camp near Ekibastuz, Solzhenitsyn restored Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 ("The Feast of the victors") as separate poems. [http://nivat.free.fr/livres/solj/03.htm Milestones] by Georges Nivatru icon ] The poem is in trochaic tetrameter, "in imitation of, and argument with the most famous Russian war poem, Aleksandr Tvardovsky's " Vasili Tyorkin"."Carl R. Proffer, [http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/01/home/solz-prussian.html Russia in Prussia] , "The New York Times", August 7, 1977]
The poem is based on Solzhenitsyn's own experiences — he was a captain of an artillery battery which formed a part of the
Second Belorussian Front, which invaded East Prussia from south-east in January 1945. The Soviet offensive followed the path of the disastrous offensive by the Russian Second Armyunder Alexander Samsonovduring World War I; the comparison with the Soviet victorious offensive is one of the underlying themes of the poem.
Solzhenitsyn was arrested soon afterwards, in early February, three weeks after the offensive had started. His arrest was partly due to his critique of the treatment of civilians.Prussian Nights: A Poem. Alexander Solzhenitsyn; Robert Conquest. Review of by Alfred M. de Zayas, The Review of Politics, Vol. 40, No. 1. (Jan., 1978), pp. 154-156. [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0034-6705%28197801%2940%3A1%3C154%3APN%3E2.0.CO%3B2-H JSTOR] ] In the poem he recalls the pillages, rapes and murders committed by the Soviet troops taking their revenge on the German populace, the events which later resulted in the first part of the German exodus from Eastern Europe, e.g.::The little daughter’s on the mattress,:Dead. How many have been on it:A platoon, a company perhaps?:A girl’s been turned into a woman,:A woman turned into a corpse.:It's all come down to simple phrases::Do not forget! Do not forgive!:Blood for blood! A tooth for a tooth!That is not to say that the poem is in any way or form white or black; Solzhenitsyn was a patriot—he rejoiced in the victory and noted that the Soviet troops were taking what they saw as a revenge for equivalent German crimes committed in the Soviet Union.
Solzhenitsyn composed the poem—about twelve thousand lines and over fifty pages long—while he was serving a sentence of hard labor in
Gulagcamps.Robert Conquest, "Preface to English Edition", in Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "Prussian Nights: A Narrative Poem", Collins and Harvill Press, 1977, ISBN 0002626489, p.6-7] PATRICIA BLAKE, [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,919126-1,00.html A Flight into Poetry] , TIME, Monday, Jul. 25, 1977] He is rumored to have written a few lines of the poem each day on a bar of soap and memorized them while using it. [Mark Nepo, "Facing the Lion, Being the Lion: Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives', Conari, 2007, ISBN 1573243159 [http://books.google.com/books?id=db-pjPuo6GoC&pg=PA109&dq=%22Prussian+Nights%22&lr=&as_brr=3&ei=ocrYR9faDIeQjgGE7dTSAQ&sig=GLHufGgI5T_eJI2XNBtg6mdS-hk Google Print, p.109] ] He also wrote about how composing this poem helped him to survive his imprisonment: "I needed a clear head, because for two years I had been writing a poem—a most rewarding poem that helped me not to notice what was being done to my body. Sometimes, while standing in a column of dejected prisoners, amidst the shouts of guards with machine guns, I felt such a rush of rhymes and images that I seemed to be wafted overhead . . . At such moments I was both free and happy . . . Some prisoners tried to escape by smashing a car through the barbed wire. For me there was no barbed wire. The head count of prisoners remained unchanged, but I was actually away on a distant flight."
He wrote down the poem between the 1950s and 1970s. He made a recording of it in 1969; it was not published in Russian until 1974 when it was published in Paris, France. A German translation was done by
Nikolaus Ehlertin 1976, and it was officially first translated into English by Robert Conquestin 1977.
New York Times" reviewed it thus: "a clumsy and disjointed 1400 line narrative which can be called poetry only because it is written in meter and rhyme. Sent to any publishing house of émigré Russian journal bearing any name but Solzhenitsyn's, it would be rejected unhesitatingly."
Evacuation of East Prussia
*Carl R. Proffer, [http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/01/home/solz-prussian.html Russia in Prussia] , "The New York Times", August 7, 1977
*Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I(sayevich) 1918–: Critical Essay by William J. Parente from Literature Criticism Series
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