Leningrad Siege: When poetry helps survive

Berggolts lived in the city during the blockade and broadcast her poems to bolster the populace. Knowing that she was on the other end of a microphone, barricaded like them, gave Leningraders something resembling hope.
After all, amid shelling and starvation, she was still writing poems. And she would recite these poems, about the suffering, about the fear, about the horror of death, and the unbearable lives they were living.
 In a film called “Day Stars,” (Igor Talankin, 1968) Berggolts is depicted as reciting to soldiers: “Mother worries, grieves/ What should I write my distant mother?/ How to reassure her/to lie?”
By the end of the poem, however, she shows no fear, only resolve. Berggolts decides not to protect her mother. Rather, she decides to tell “the truth.”
The poet, a charismatic beauty in her early thirties, broadcast her poems over the only radio station operating during the Siege.
Her grave but mellifluous voice flowed straight into their homes during one of the worst wartime ordeals for citizens in history, yet it is almost impossible to find her poems today in English.
Berggolts was inspired and influenced by the already revered Anna Akhmatova, who also wrote poems from Leningrad and bore witness to the first artillery shelling of the city.
 “A rainbow of people running around/And suddenly everything changed completely,” Akhmatova wrote. (The full poem is included in Anna Akhmatova’s “Poems,” translated by Lyn Coffin with an introduction by Joseph Brodsky.)
Many less famous women also acted as scribes for the city, keeping diaries and journals and writing poems, partly to save themselves from insanity, and in part to make sense of the horror around them.  
Some of them are published in English, including, Vera Inber’s “Leningrad Diary.” Inber almost died of starvation, but still managed to describe her life.
More here.


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