Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

“Lilacs”

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In 1912 my father, Jack (Jacob) Schwartzman, was born in Vinnytsia, a town then under Russian control in the part of eastern Europe that is now Ukraine. In the 1920s his family escaped from the tyranny of the Soviet Union and came to America to be free. Upon his arrival here he spoke Russian but not a word of English. He learned quickly and soon became a craftsman of his new language.

The tyranny now engulfing Ukraine makes this a right moment for a poetic essay that my father published in the spring of 1966, when we weren’t even half-way through the original Cold War. Now that we’ve entered a second one, the essay is as timely as it was 56 years ago. Feel free to repost this in a spirit of solidarity.

 

 Solomon and Anna Schwartzman in eastern Europe in 1923
with their younger son Isidore and older son Jack (Jacob).

 

“Lilacs”
Originally published in 1966 by Jack Schwartzman (1912–2001).

We were fleeing the land of my birth, and my spirits sank low as I saw for the last time the old familiar sights. The stars were shining brightly that night; the fragrant aroma of Spring caused my youthful heart to beat fast; and I desperately longed to stay there forever.

Everywhere, the smell of lilacs was in the air. Everywhere, there were lilacs, lilacs, lilacs. It seemed as if the entire town was permeated with the scent of lilacs.

To this day, I cannot think of Russia without smelling lilacs; to this day, I cannot catch a whiff of lilacs without thinking of my native land.

My parents, my younger brother, and I were hurrying to the “contraband” carriage. We entered in silence, and huddled in the darkness. The driver whipped the air above the horses, and suddenly, we were off . . . off to a land uncertain . . . off to a destiny unknown. Our hearts were melancholy; our thoughts were bitter.

And everywhere, the smell of lilacs reached us, and the fragrance was intoxicating.

On flew the horses, on, on, onwards through the night. Backwards slid the houses, the trees, the river; backwards rushed the dreams, the memories, the hopes, the yearnings of youth. On sped the future; backwards fled the past.

How I longed to seize the escaping vistas; how I desired to hold on to the vanishing views of my childhood! The stars were resplendently bright and glimmering; the chirping noises of the night were symphonic and melodious. I have never before — nor ever since — felt such a deep “belonging,” such a feeling of being part of God’s universe, such a “responding to” the music of the night. As we drove on, I saw grandeur disappearing before my eyes. I felt sadness rushing in to fill the vacuum of my heart.

And everywhere, the everlasting scent of lilacs greeted us, and the aroma was overwhelming.

And I thought to myself: How is it possible, in Russia, a land celebrated for its dreamers of liberty — Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy — that such a terrible enslavement should exist? How is it possible that in the birthplace of Moussorgsky and Tchaikovsky, where once strummed the plaintive balalaika, now whined unceasingly the shrill bullets; where once gaily tiptoed the lovely ballerina, now grimly trod the heavy boot of the Red conqueror?

And I thought to myself: Every nation on earth has produced its poets and dreamers and musicians; every nation on earth has spat forth its demagogues and debauchers and destroyers. On the same spot, the sun may shine brightly; on the same spot, the skies may pour forth a deluge of hail and devastation.

And I thought to myself: Whether under the tyranny of the Tsar or the dictatorship of the Commissar, the voice of liberty will, nevertheless, always be heard. In camps, in prisons, in hovels, in trenches, in palaces, in hospitals, in offices, in mansions, in fields, in towns, in “contraband” carriages, and in all the Siberias of the world — the song of freedom can never be silenced; the spark of hope can never be extinguished.

And I thought to myself: Men are men the world over, be they black or white or yellow or brown or red; be they Christians or Jews or Moslems or Hindus or Confucianists; be they royalists or anarchists or revolutionists or humanists or Communists; be they Frenchmen or Americans or Indians or Tartars or Russians; be they poets or soldiers or prisoners or musicians or politicians.

And I thought to myself: How wonderful it would be if the world of men were to accept diversity, and to welcome it! The earth is ablaze with the colors of flowers and fruits and foods and customs and languages and men. All things are different; therefore, all things are alike in their various magnificence.

And I thought to myself: The salvation of man lies in his ability to harness his dreams; in his capacity to capture the stars; in his endeavor to hear the eternal music of the spheres.

And I thought to myself: Someday, the land of Russia will be free: free, not because of the hocus-pocus of some political manifestation or some economic transmutation or some ritualistic-religious hodge-podge — but free because of the innermost ability of man to see the visage of God, and to understand the reason for man’s own existence on earth. When the land of Russia — and the entire earth for that matter — shall be genuinely free, it shall be free because man is able to understand that his destiny lies in himself.

And I leaned out of the carriage, and took a deep breath. The breeze that greeted me was full of the promise of Spring; the stars shone brightly — more brightly than I had ever seen them shine before; the sound of horses’ hoofs was rhythmic and lulling; the night was cloaked with the sparkling splendor of God.

And as the horses, the carriage, and the people in it drove on to their destiny, I stole a glance at my mother. Sitting next to me, she too was staring into the night. Even in the darkness, I could see her face — and I saw that her eyes were bright with tears.

On flew the carriage, on, on, onwards through the night. The scent of lilacs was intoxicating.

 

  Jack Schwartzman in New York City in 2001.

 

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 27, 2022 at 9:17 AM

Posted in freedom

146 Responses

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  1. I’ve kept this in my files since I first found it online, and I read it from time to time. I’m glad you’ve shared it, and I’m glad that you added the photos.

    shoreacres

    February 27, 2022 at 9:25 AM

    • They essay is so pertinent that I couldn’t not reprint it. Adding photographs to personalize it seemed the right thing to do.

      Had you told me about finding the essay online? I’m aware of another website that also has it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 9:29 AM

      • We must have talked about your father at some point. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about the Henry George School, or Fragments. You’ve surely read this. Obviously, you share many of his qualities.

        shoreacres

        February 27, 2022 at 9:43 AM

        • My father was a great advocate of freedom and individualism. I did inherit that orientation, no question.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 27, 2022 at 10:04 AM

          • Beautifully written and the sentiments are universal.
            Leslie

            swo8

            March 14, 2022 at 12:20 PM

            • Thanks. I was about to agree that the sentiments are universal, but the people acting unjustly don’t agree.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 14, 2022 at 12:46 PM

              • It’s usually the biggest bully in power. They need to be reminded that we put them there and we can take them out next election.
                Leslie

                swo8

                March 14, 2022 at 12:49 PM

    • I know approximately when I first found it, since it gave rise to this. Now, eight years later, our exchange in the comments is even more relevant. At the time, of course, the Euromaidan protests still were reverberating.

      shoreacres

      February 27, 2022 at 9:31 AM

      • I assume I followed your link in 2014, though I don’t remember, and I see I didn’t post a follow-up comment in that thread.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 27, 2022 at 9:37 AM

    • Thank you for the link, Linda.

      Lavinia Ross

      February 27, 2022 at 10:04 AM

  2. Your father wrote, “Every nation on earth has produced its poets and dreamers and musicians; every nation on earth has spat forth its demagogues and debauchers and destroyers.” What a truth bomb in prose that reads and feels more like poetry.! Thank you for giving voice to the sorrow by sharing your father’s essay.

  3. How lucky you are to have had a father so eloquent and wise. We stand with Ukraine.

    oneowner

    February 27, 2022 at 10:01 AM

  4. This was very moving Steve. How sad that freedom is still unattainable for so many today, but it is so true that our destiny lies within ourselves. Thank you for sharing this.

    Cathy

    February 27, 2022 at 10:02 AM

    • You’re most welcome, Cathy. It’s a sad commentary on human nature that some people want to take away other people’s freedom.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 10:13 AM

  5. Very pertinent and thank you for posting your father’s beautiful essay, Steve.

    Lavinia Ross

    February 27, 2022 at 10:05 AM

  6. My family has a similar story, they fled from the Soviets to Germany, then to Brazil. Very sad what is happening now, people go on with their regular lives without understanding that we are in for big changes. Nothing will be like it has been for these years of truce. This is not just about Ukraine. A new cold world war and I hope it remains cold for most of Europe.

    Alessandra Chaves

    February 27, 2022 at 10:11 AM

    • Have you written about your family’s escape from the Soviet Union? If not, this would be a great time to do so, and you’d have an especially receptive audience.

      Like you, I worry about the consequences of what’s happening now. China’s just as bad as Russia, and between them they’re trying to dominate the world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 10:19 AM

      • I wish I could extract more than one paragraph out of what I know. My great grand parents didn’t talk about what happened beyond we went from here to there, there are no diaries, no photos, just passports and birth and naturalization certificates.

        Alessandra Chaves

        February 27, 2022 at 10:51 AM

  7. This is lovely, and moving ..thank you!

    DD

    February 27, 2022 at 10:15 AM

  8. Steve, A wonderful and timely piece of writing!
    Jack Durston

    John Durston

    February 27, 2022 at 10:21 AM

  9. May I post this on another blog outside of wordpress?

    DD

    February 27, 2022 at 10:28 AM

  10. As I’m sitting here next door to Russia waiting to see if we’ll be on the hit list next, this was a beautiful read. I hope the dream comes true.

    The Snow Melts Somewhere

    February 27, 2022 at 10:50 AM

  11. This is so beautiful, powerful, and timely. Thank you for sharing it. I miss Jack very much!

    clairesterling

    February 27, 2022 at 11:49 AM

  12. A beautiful, expressive piece, Steve. Your father must have been a remarkable man.

    Eliza Waters

    February 27, 2022 at 12:53 PM

  13. Our father’s beautiful essay has remained unfortunately relevant through these many decades. He would indeed have reposted it, I am certain, if he were still with us in more than just spirit….

    msllarchmont

    February 27, 2022 at 12:53 PM

    • Yes, wouldn’t that be something?

      Who would have believed we’d come to this, three decades past the supposed end of the Cold War? I hope the Russian people are as aware now as they were under the Soviet Union that nothing their government claims can be believed. I hope people there have access to news from outside Russia.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 1:08 PM

  14. I could not read it. It was getting to be too saddening. I grew up with kids who came here from Vietnam, who where happy to be here, and happy to be new Americans, but had also left a previous home that they could not return to. I could not understand what that must have been like.

    tonytomeo

    February 27, 2022 at 1:43 PM

    • It does make a person sad, understandably. Lots of people who came to this country have similar stories.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 3:38 PM

      • Some people within this country do also, even without leaving. I can not afford to live in the Santa Clara Valley, where my ancestors lived. Even if I could, I barely recognize it. It is as if it was destroyed by its own ‘success’.

        tonytomeo

        February 27, 2022 at 4:32 PM

        • In towns it’s called gentrification.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 27, 2022 at 4:36 PM

          • I hate that word, but that is another story. My great grandmother, who lived in Sunnyvale when it was a small town, could remember when there were not much more than 20,000 people in San Jose, but was pleased to share it with the more than a million who are there now.

            tonytomeo

            February 27, 2022 at 4:49 PM

  15. Beautiful and, as you say, very timely. The current situation must be especially hard for you with your Ukrainian heritage. I haven’t felt so worried since the 1980s.

  16. What a beautiful piece of writing.

    belindagroverphotography

    February 27, 2022 at 4:25 PM

  17. Thank you, Steve! That was one of the most poignant writings I ever had the honor to read. I shall never forget your father discussing with us so long ago the writings of my favorite author, Ayn Rand.

    Joel Kovacik

    February 27, 2022 at 5:42 PM

    • You’re welcome, friend. Yes, it was a great piece of writing.
      Oh, those long-ago discussions… And we both know a smattering of Russian from that class at Sewanhaka High School.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 7:19 PM

  18. We watched a documentary on the invasion of 2014 with my four children. They were sobered by the reality that despots are able to run roughshod over an entire country without provocation. My 16-year-old was surprisingly aware of current events abroad today; TikTok can be a powerful communication tool! I wonder when it can be that we will quit this petty picking on others and begin to accept each other, help each other as fellow Earthlings.

    Ukrainians are a strong, loving people. I feel The Bear may have broken open the hornets nest instead of the hive; time will tell. What we can do from afar is love and support our brothers in their time of need. Time. Will tell. And history resonates.

    Shannon

    February 27, 2022 at 6:06 PM

    • Your dad must have been a wonderful friend and mentor in your life, Steven.

      Shannon

      February 27, 2022 at 6:08 PM

    • I wouldn’t have thought of TikTok as a powerful communication tool, but I guess your 16-year-old is proof. Or maybe his awareness comes through his parents, in the same way that I learned so much from my father.

      “Despots” is the right word. We still have plenty of them in our world today, even after World War II and the Cold War: Cuba, Myanmar, Belarus, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, China…. History resonates, but sometimes not in tune.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 7:40 PM

  19. Thank you for sharing this, Steve. It is beautifully written and immensely touching. I can see where many of your own abilities and sensitivity had roots. It is hard to believe how timely your father’s message is today. We stand with the Ukrainians.

    Libby Weed

    February 27, 2022 at 6:56 PM

    • You’re welcome, Libby. You can understand why many people consider this my father’s best piece. This morning I realized how appropriate it is for our time, and I knew I had to post it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 7:44 PM

  20. Unfortunately, your father’s excellent essay is a timeless as well as a timely piece. The heartbreak in his story is being echoed in the thousands of Ukrainians fleeing their homeland today. That heartbreak is also part of the story of the 80 million refugees world wide who have fled their own countries or who are internally displaced within their own countries. And there is heartbreak for those left behind; the ones who can’t leave for one reason or another. What a mad world it is. Let’s hope that there is hope for a good outcome in Ukraine and that Ukrainians will be able to go home again.

    Gallivanta

    February 27, 2022 at 9:17 PM

    • As you said, the misery does appear timeless. At least the European countries are finally coming to their senses and realizing that if they don’t stand up against tyranny they’ll soon be swallowed up by it.

      I didn’t know there are 80 million refugees. Now there are likely to be millions more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 27, 2022 at 10:01 PM

  21. Thank you for sharing your father’s innermost thoughts, Steve. His poem is proof of the strength of our olfactory memories–I can almost smell the perfume of lilacs.

    I have my serious doubts whether his country of origin–or the entire earth–will ever be free, because we don’t seem to be able to play the roles we need to in order to realize our own destinies.

    tanjabrittonwriter

    February 27, 2022 at 10:36 PM

    • You’re welcome for the sharing. For a week or two I’d already independently been thinking of looking through my father’s writings for passages I could incorporate into my commentaries. Sunday morning it dawned on me that “Lilacs” corresponds all too well to what’s going on now.

      Yesterday afternoon Eve and I spoke with a Ukrainian neighbor of ours—whom I first met by chance on the street in front of our house a week ago—to see how she’s been holding up. Among the things she told us is that in Russia today people over 50 are more likely to support Putin, while younger Russians are the ones who most want freedom. She noted, as I independently have noticed for the past few years, that that’s the reverse of what’s happening in the United States. Here, younger people are more likely to be fearful and want to clamp down on our freedoms, particularly free speech.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2022 at 5:07 AM

    • Regarding what you said about almost smelling the perfume of lilacs, a neighbor e-mailed me last nigh in response to this post and said: “My childhood home in Ohio had a bank of lilacs along one side of our house. I can still smell their fragrance in the Spring.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2022 at 5:11 AM

  22. So often the people who are driven from a place can see it most clearly. It saddens me that situations do repeat themselves, over and over, even when we pride ourselves on knowing more and having more understanding of the way the world works. Your father’s writing is beautiful and insightful.

    anna warren portfolio

    February 28, 2022 at 1:16 AM

    • Beautiful and insightful indeed. As has been said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” And you’re right that people who have lost something value it all the more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2022 at 5:20 AM

  23. Steve, you might be puzzled that you received the same comment from my wife’s blog that I am presently setting up for her. ‘This Miraculous World’ is still under construction.

    I was so touched by your father’s poetic essay, Steve. What he said about the Soviet dictatorship that his family could escape from can be equally applied to the Nazi regime. The world is still amazed how it was possible that Germany, which produced Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Bach, Schweitzer etc. etc., could turn into such a monstrous country. ‘Lilacs’ is a beautiful piece of writing. I read it to my wife, who was also deeply touched by it. I would like to reblog it, but I cannot find the button.

    Peter Klopp

    February 28, 2022 at 8:59 AM

    • Since you’ve got the text of that first comment here, I’ll go ahead and delete the first occurrence.

      As you pointed out, history shows us repeatedly how societies, no matter how apparently well educated, have descended into tyranny. It has sometimes happened very quickly, and that’s what worries me so much about our two countries now, in both of which there’s been an upsurge in the repression of free expression and an increasing insistence that people must adopt certain beliefs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2022 at 9:31 AM

    • Your mention of the reblog button sent me scurrying to some online help and I discovered that the reblog function was turned off on my blog. I went through the motions of turning it on. Apparently you have to be inside an individual post on the website for the Reblog button to show up. When I look at the scrolling view of multiple posts I don’t see the Reblog button.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2022 at 9:36 AM

  24. Peter Klopp

    February 28, 2022 at 11:34 AM

  25. What a nice essay, something to treasure and share. And as a kind of elegy, reminded me of Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” So many people condemned to sad and hate-filled times.

    Robert Parker

    February 28, 2022 at 11:43 AM

    • I believe my father, who was a professor of English at Nassau Community College on Long Island for decades, used to teach that Whitman poem (among many others). Yes, it’s an essay to treasure and share.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2022 at 12:01 PM

  26. Touching.

    The Cedar Journal

    February 28, 2022 at 12:08 PM

    • Yes, it is. (Somehow your comment went into the spam folder and I just now found it there. Sorry.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 2, 2022 at 12:25 PM

  27. A lovely essay, which continues to be pertinent. I’ll reread it in a more considered way later too.

    margaret21

    February 28, 2022 at 3:48 PM

  28. Your father was both wise and eloquent. From here on this piece of writing will be on my mind with each spring’s return of lilacs in our front yard.

    Steve Gingold

    February 28, 2022 at 5:58 PM

  29. Steve, this is exquisite, and yes, so very timely. I appreciate so much that you sent it on to me so I wouldn’t miss it. May your father’s words light the way in this dark hour.

    Susan Scheid

    February 28, 2022 at 9:41 PM

  30. I think the essay says it all. Poetic, tragic, moving.

    Ankur Mithal

    March 1, 2022 at 6:11 AM

  31. Reblogged this on Peter's pondering and commented:
    Georgina, on NavasolaNature, blogged today on War and Peace in fiction, truth, and reality. She included a link to Steve Schwartzman’s post, beautifully written by his father, Jack Schwartzman, about leaving his homeland, and said that it reminded her of those who have had to leave their homes because of war and tyrants. It is, indeed, very moving and reminds us in a small way of all those who are currently having to flee their homes, their loved ones, and their country in Ukraine.

    Peter's pondering

    March 1, 2022 at 9:35 AM

  32. I love your apt post and I love the writing of your talented father.

    Joanna

    gabychops

    March 1, 2022 at 9:59 AM

  33. Reblogged this on Janet's Thread 2.

    Janet McKee

    March 1, 2022 at 11:10 AM

  34. I came here via Janet’s Thread 2 and feel privileged to read this moving essay as well as many of the comments that have followed. We must not forget what happened in the past and need to work at building a united future for everyone. We are feeling the cold wind, even down here in South Africa.

    Anne

    March 1, 2022 at 12:20 PM

  35. I came here from Georgina’s blog Navasolanature. Thank you so much for sharing your late father’s beautiful writing.

    Clare Pooley

    March 1, 2022 at 6:10 PM

  36. So beautiful and so timely. Thank for for sharing this….

    Ann Coleman

    March 1, 2022 at 7:43 PM

  37. I think I sent an email to you when I first read this. It is very moving and very appropriate but tragic that 1920s and 2020s bring the same problem of forced loss of homeland.

    navasolanature

    March 2, 2022 at 12:11 PM

    • And think of all the millions of people that dictators (most notably but not only Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot) killed in the century between those two bookends. It’s almost as if all those lives were lost for naught.

      (I’m sorry if an e-mail of yours didn’t arrive. I just found someone else’s comment in the spam folder from two days ago.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 2, 2022 at 12:34 PM

      • Yes, it is indeed a tragic indictment and you can add Franco to that too. The 1930s here in Spain were pretty brutal and there are still unmarked mass graves.

        navasolanature

        March 2, 2022 at 12:58 PM

  38. Thank you for sharing your father’s beautifully-written account of leaving his homeland. I found it both moving and evocative. How many people must be going through the same thing right now! If it’s OK, I’d like to share a link to your post on Twitter.

    Ann Mackay

    March 2, 2022 at 12:48 PM

  39. A lovely, poignant essay and what a gift to have that from your beloved father. May his memory be for a blessing.

    Tina

    March 3, 2022 at 7:41 AM

  40. This is such a beautiful gift. I saw the link over at Peter’s Ponderings. Thank You from the bottom of my heart. ❤️

    forresting365

    March 3, 2022 at 5:55 PM

  41. Every time I feel the scent of lilacs, I too will remember the words you wrote and ponder about the past ~ and sadly, about what is happening now. Your father’s words are hypnotic and their relevancy today is both enlightening and yet very sad: “The salvation of man lies in his ability to harness his dreams; in his capacity to capture the stars; in his endeavor to hear the eternal music of the spheres… Someday, the land of Russia will be free because of the innermost ability of man to see the visage of God, and to understand the reason for man’s own existence on earth.”

    The incredible history of the people of Russia, Ukraine, and around the world comes through via great works of creativity… and in wars such as this it is not only wasted, but destroyed and the world is robbed of such beautiful work, beautiful minds, beautiful people. Thank you very much for sharing this post.

    Dalo 2013

    March 5, 2022 at 5:10 AM

    • It’s been over half a century since my father declared his belief that someday the land of Russia will be free. How sad that that freedom still hasn’t come about. The destruction in/of Ukraine haunts me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 5, 2022 at 5:30 AM

      • Yes, it is haunting and especially for another generation as another ‘brain drain’ of talent is underway from both Ukraine and Russia… it cripples communities and the country for today and sadly for the future as well.

        Dalo 2013

        March 5, 2022 at 10:36 AM

  42. Wow!!

    norasphotos4u

    March 7, 2022 at 8:52 PM

  43. I know that I will never smell the fragrance of a lilac without thinking of your father’s prose. His thoughts and reflections were so eloquent… poignant. What a blessing to have a father who expressed so much wonderment, emotion, and confidence. A beautiful legacy for you, Steve… and for all of us.

    Littlesundog

    March 11, 2022 at 9:21 PM

    • I’m pleased that my father’s essay made such a strong impression on you, Lori. I wish I could feel confidence in such a sad time in world affairs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 12, 2022 at 5:09 AM

  44. Heartwrenching and beautiful, Melanie, made all the more so by the horrific ongoing events in Ukraine.
    Your father made the right decision for his family to leave, but I can see the terrible emotion in the faces of the refugees as they leave Ukraine.

    noelleg44

    March 15, 2022 at 8:52 AM

    • I asked my grandmother (shown upper right in the top photograph) near the end of her life if she’d like to go back and see the land where she grew up. She said she wouldn’t mind, but it never came to pass. Let’s hope the new wave of refugees gets to go back.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 15, 2022 at 10:40 AM

  45. Very powerful. Thank you for sharing. A friend of mine speaks Russian. I asked her what the word for Freedom was in Russian. I remembered Pravda was Truth. She said Svoboda. And that Russia hadn’t known Svoboda or Pravda in a very long time…

    equinoxio21

    March 18, 2022 at 2:17 PM

    • Yes, it’s a powerful testament.

      I used to quip to my algebra students that we use the letter m to represent the slope of a line because the word slope doesn’t have an m in it. Similarly, the newspaper Pravda is called Pravda because it doesn’t have any truth in it. As far as I can tell, in all of Russian history there has never really been any freedom (I’m not sure the early 1990s qualify).

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 18, 2022 at 5:15 PM

      • Serfdom was abolished in Western Europe around the Middle Age if I’m not mistaken. In Russia only until the late 19th century.
        (I like slope and m…)
        And as an afterthought, I too wonder whether the early 90’s qualify.
        It did in Prague, where I went around the turn of century, when I saw the monument to Jan Hus, and had a visual shock. I remembered the pictures of the Russian invasion with the houses all dark and sooty. I thought: when the Russians left, the Czechs rolled up their sleeves and said “Okay. let’s paint it anew.”

        equinoxio21

        March 20, 2022 at 12:31 PM

        • Even after the formal abolition of serfdom, I don’t think the Russian people were really free. The Tsar was the ruler, and then came the Communists.

          It’s good to hear that the Czechs cleaned up their country and did away with the darkness and soot.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 20, 2022 at 3:20 PM

          • Absolutely agree. I only use the example of serfdom to mark the time difference between, let’s say western Europe and Russia. When serfdom was abolished in France, c.1315, people were not “free”. It took until 1789 and the Revolution to “start” the movement. Just as another example, women in France didn’t get the right of vote until 1944 or 1945. So Russia? Still a long way.
            And yes, Prague was a visual shock of how Freedom can be used for the good of all.

            equinoxio21

            March 20, 2022 at 5:59 PM

            • The suffering of Poland under Soviet Communism explains why the Poles are heroically helping Ukrainian refugees now.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 20, 2022 at 6:27 PM

              • Absolutely. And it goes back long before that, when Poland was split between Russia, Prussia and Austria. end of the 18th century I think. Poland ceased to exist for a while.

                equinoxio21

                March 21, 2022 at 6:30 PM

                • Right you are. Poland means ‘flat land,’ which explains why it was so easily and so often invaded.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 21, 2022 at 9:02 PM

                • IS that right? I didn’t know the meaning. And yes, it is basically open for anyone to grab… Sigh…

                  equinoxio21

                  March 23, 2022 at 2:00 PM

                • The Polish word pole means ‘field.’ In fact the native English word field is etymologically related. So are the English words plane and plain, which go back to Latin and French.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 23, 2022 at 3:12 PM

                • Indeed, “la plaine” in French. My Latin is too rusty to remember. Field would be Saxon wouldn’t it? “Feld”?
                  How do you know all that? Your name is German. The dark or black man.

                  equinoxio21

                  March 23, 2022 at 6:18 PM

                • I studied Romance linguistics in graduate school. And yes, the Old English form of field was feld, just as in German.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 23, 2022 at 6:23 PM

                • You “read” linguistics as the English would say? (You know they don’t study, just read a bit)
                  Green with envy. It’s a field I’ve always been interested in but studied something else. Had to it on the side.
                  I used to tell my English bosses that English was really not a language of its own: all it amounted to was French vocabulary with a simplified German grammar… 😉 They were not amused.
                  Take care Steve.

                  equinoxio21

                  March 23, 2022 at 6:28 PM

                • No one can do everything. If I had the chance to start over, I might well study history.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 23, 2022 at 6:35 PM

                • Likewise. Though… I also considered philosophy recently… 😉

                  equinoxio21

                  March 24, 2022 at 4:46 PM

  46. Your dad was my professor at NCC. Today is his birthday and I was thinking of sharing his poem on FB. In looking for it, I came across your post. I didn’t realize how fitting it was for the current crisis until I reread it now. Wasn’t this poem hanging in the White House? I was very fond of your dad. He was extraordinary.

    Mary Ann Formisano

    March 22, 2022 at 3:37 AM

    • Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you have such fond memories of my father, who was indeed extraordinary and who set a fine example for learning. I’m impressed that you remember today is his birthday. I reposted his essay on February 27 for the reason you said, that it suits the current crisis in the land where he was born and from which he had to flee, like millions of others are unfortunately having to do now, a century later. I don’t remember whether “Lilacs” was Hanging in the White House.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 22, 2022 at 5:27 AM


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