Russians Reciting Poetry as Prayer

Countless former prisoners described how memorized verse consoled them. It preserved their past life and their continuity with it. And it was something the authorities could not take away.  Once stories about prisoners reciting poetry circulated, new prisoners understood that reciting verse linked them to earlier ones, and that this whole tradition of incarcerated poetry constituted a chapter in the history of Russian literature. Above all, poetry—like goodness or God—became an absolute value and reciting it a kind of prayer. It affirmed that the universe contained something besides the chain of material cause and effect dictated by natural laws.  It contained as well absolute values for which one might meaningfully live or die

—Gary Saul Morson, Wonder Confronts Certainty: Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter, pages 253-254

George Steiner on an Imprisoned  Russian Literary Scholar during the Brezhnev Years

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