Saturday, January 11, 2014

Growing Old by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I’m working on a children’s biography of the author, Nobel Prize winner and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. While many know him for “The Gulag Archipelago,” he was a prolific writer whose “miniatures” or prose poems have much to say and aren’t that well known in the West. In fact, these are among my favorite writings of Solzhenitsyn.

Instead of my usual post, I selected one his miniatures because it addresses the universal fear of aging and dying, a situation many with chronic conditions think about.  It should be noted that Solzhenitsyn had considerable experience with serious disease as he developed cancer first at 34, while he was a prisoner in the gulag, and again several years later when he was living in forced exile

If you are not familiar with Solzhenitsyn, following the prose poem, I’ve included a variety of resources.

The following miniature, Growing Old,  was written when Solzhenitsyn was in his late 70’s.

For all that has been written about death’s horrors, what an organic link death is in the chain of life, when it comes without violence!

I remember a Greek poet I knew in the labor camps. He was still in his thirties but not long for this world. Yet his gentle, wistful smile betrayed no fear of death. This amazed me. Be, he told me, “Before the onset of death we go through an inner process of preparations, we grow and mature to meet it-and then it no longer holds any terror for us.”

Barely a year was to pass before-at thirty-four years of age-I experienced the same thing at first hand. Month by month, week by week, as I drew ever nearer to death and adopted to it-my readiness and resignation outstripped that of my own body.

How much easier it is, then, how much more receptive we are to death, when advancing years guide us softly to our end. Aging thus is in no sense a punishment from on high, but brings its own blessings and a warmth of colors all its own.

There is warmth in watching little children at play, seeing them gain in strength and character. There is even warmth to be drawn from the waning of your own strength compared with the past-just to think how sturdy I once used to be! You can no longer get through a whole day’s work at a stretch but how good it is to slip in the brief oblivion of sleep, and what a gift to wake once more to the clarity of your second or third morning of the day. And your spirit can find delight in limiting your intake of food, in abandoning the pursuit of novel flavors. You are still of this life, yet you are rising above the material plane. The shrill cry of the tomtits in a snow-clad wood in early spring holds twice the charm, for soon you will hear it no more-so listen to your heart’s content! And what an inalienable treasure your memories prove! This is something the young are denied, but you carry them all with you, unfailingly and a living portion of them calls upon you each day-during the infinitely slow transition from night to day, and again from day to night.

Growing old serenely is not a downhill path, but an ascent.
But, Lord spare us from an old age racked by poverty and cold.
The fate to which we have consigned so very, very many....

Writing Available On-line
Prose Poetry


About Solzhenitsyn

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