The recent death of the Russian poet with whom I was acquainted, Yevgheny Yevtushenko, prompted these considerations of the role of poets in social-cultural-political progress in general and in a particularly spectacular fashion in Russia. In few other countries have poets played a more significant than in Russia. Nonetheless, for centuries Russian poets have been harassed, persecuted, and punished for their songs. Dostoevsky imprisoned, Pushkin exiled, Yesenin, Mayakovsky and Tsvetaeva suicides, Mandelshtam and others perished in the cultural events of 1937. Poets seldom lead easy lives anywhere. The poet sees the ideals but he must flee from the world in order to rejoice in them and he cannot remain unaffected by the caricatures of these ideals around him.
Politely walking into pens set up by police, shaking our signs and gently dispersing will not build a movement serious about root-and-branch change. Even the more militant demonstrations, in which people — gasp! — actually take the streets in defiance of authorities, both legal and NGO, are far from sufficient.