Letter From Albionnby Andrei NavrozovnPrison Pencil, SupermarketnCrayonn”Poets in our civilization,” a famousnpoet wrote in his most famous essay,n”must be difficult.” He went on tonexplain his thought, and his Englishspeakingnaudience understood him.nWhen the thought was translated, itnwent on living in other languages. Butnwould an English-speaking audiencenunderstand his famous lines:nPlease come with menWhen nightnLike a man undergoingnsurgery . . .?nOr, for that matter, would any audiencenunderstand these lines and appreciatenthem as poetry? Yet, quite possibly, thisnis just what the opening of “Prufrock”nsounds like in another language.nLet us go then, you and I,nWhen the evening is spread outnagainst the skynLike a patient etherised uponna table . . .nBut why translate back into English thenwords of a hypothetical translation of annEnglish poem into another language? Inhave just finished translating “Prufrock”nfor the winter number of Kontinent,nthe Russian-language emigre quarterly,nand this is how it begins:nLet us go for a walk, us two.nWhen the volume of autumnntwilightnIs expanded as throughntears . . .nWhat gibberish, you may say. Well, Inhave worked on my translation for manynmonths, and I hope my Russian readersnthink otherwise. The point is that, unfortunately,nof the three quotationsnabove only the, middle one can benunderstood and appreciated as poetry innEnglish.nAll this is by way of introducing mynreactions to a book of poetry recentlynpublished in England. Let us open it atnrandom:nWe have learned, indeed,nto throw time into tinsn40/CHRONICLESnAnd have stirred in thencondensed night at all times.nThis century grows ever darker,nand the next will notncome soon.nTo wipe clean the namesnoif yesterday’s prison wall.nThus begins a translation of a poem bynIrina Ratushinskaya in her collectionnPencil Letter, published simultaneouslynwith her memoir Grey Is the Color ofnHope. It is astonishing how much thisnEnglish “equivalent” of the poemnsounds like our hypothetical “Pleasencome with me/When night/Like anman undergoing surgery . . .” Andnyet, there it is.n’5^^3nWhy on earth would this poet—nany poet—want to “throw time intontins”? If she tried to preserve time byncanning, or tinning, it, that would benunderstandable — that would be a metaphor.nBut to “throw” it? Throw itnaway — perhaps. Throw it at something—npossibly. But certainly notninto, especially not “into tins.” Still, letnus imagine that she has something innmind. Surely throwing a thing into antin is an easy operation; surely throwingnit into a tin cannot require a greatndeal of learning. Then why “We havenlearned”? After all, that is how thenpoem begins; there must be some newsnin the line, some fact deserving of ournattention. And, to top it all, that preposterousn”indeed”!nIf you are so smart, someone said,nwhy don’t you just translate it yourself,ninstead of carrying on like a maniac? Inhave. But I do not wish to soundnnndidactic. It’s just that I cannot understandnhow anybody can be so tonedeafnIn offering my own version of thenpoem to the reader of Chronicles Inmerely want him to agree that—unlikenthe version just quoted — it couldnhave been written by a poet. Honestly,nthat’s all I want. For the answer to thenquestion, “Is poetry simply a set ofnarbitrary words describing meaninglessnactions?” has to be, in the mind of anChronicles reader, an unequivocal No.nOtherwise I’m out of a job.nAs I said, all of this is by way ofnintroducing my impressions of Ratushinskaya,nfor it is poetry, no more andnno less, that she writes in Russian, andnit was for the writing of poetry, nonmore and no less, that she was imprisonednin Russia. The poems she wrotenduring her ordeal in isolation cells andnprison camps are more than a testamentnto her suffering: they are a new,niridescent incrustation upon the surfacenof Russian culture. This is why it isnso painful to see her work, which yearsnof physical and spiritual torture hadnfailed to emasculate^ trivialized andnprofaned by civilized and carefree mennand women who transmute these crystalsnof anguish into lumpy vers litres,noften with a “feminist” message.nGrey Is the Color of Hope is anfactual record of those years. “Nevernbelieve them, never fear them, nevernask them for anything!” was the keynlesson of the poet’s schooling, whichnbegan with her arrest in 1982 on ancharge of “anti-Soviet agitation.” Judgingnby Ratushinskaya’s public utterances,nit seems she is not about tonunlearn that lesson now — as the wishful,never-wishful West reads a desperatenfaith into her former captors’ everynpose, including the pose of clemencynthat they struck announcing her releasenin October 1986. That parhcularnpose, she understands, was timed toncoincide with the Reykjavik summit.n”It’s nonsense to talk about limitednhuman rights,” Ratushinskaya recentlyntold an interviewer, “it’s like limitednbreath.” Indeed, is it not nonsense tontalk about human rights at all — as ifnthese were a natural phenomenon,nmore or less limited under differentnregional conditions? Would it not benmore accurate to say that human rightsnhave never been limited in SovietnRussia — for the simple reason thatnthey have never existed in Soviet Rus-n