Here, bird-song
is unknown;
here one learns patience
and the wisdom of stone.

I have seen no colour
except lingonberry
in the fourteen years
I have lived as a prisoner.

I’m being led away,
far away and in fetters;
my yoke is easy,
my burden grows lighter.

My track is swept clean
dusted with silver;
I’m climbing to heaven
on wings of fire.

Through cold and hunger,
through grief and fear,
towards God, like a dove,
I rose from the pyre.

O far-away Russia —
I give you my vow
to return from the sky,
forgiving no foe.

May I be reviled,
and burnt at the stake;
may my ashes be cast
on the mountain wind.

There is no fate sweeter,
no better end,
than to knock, as ash,
at the human heart.

— Varlam Shalamov
(Trans. by Robert Chandler)

Varlam Shalamov was first arrested in 1929 and sentenced to three years of hard labor for making statements critical of Stalin. After his release, he worked as a journalist in Moscow. He was arrested again in 1937, accused of being a Trotskyist. He was sentenced originally to five years of hard labor in the Kolyma prison camp, but was given an additional ten years for making anti-Soviet statements. He was released in 1951 and allowed to return to the Moscow region only after Stalin’s death in 1953.