Vladimir Mayakovsky joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party when he was 15 years old and was jailed multiple times for subversive activity. He started writing poetry in 1909 while in solitary confinement at Moscow’s Butyrka prison. Later he said, “Revolution and poetry got entangled in my head and became one.”
During his lifetime, Mayakovsky was one of the most important figures of the Soviet literary landscape. His poems often criticized the Soviet system and led to confrontations with the state’s cultural censors.
Mayakovsky took his life at the age of 36 — he reportedly fired a bullet through his own heart. His handwritten suicide note said:
“To all of you. I die, but don’t blame anyone for it, and please do not gossip. The deceased dislike that sort of thing terribly. Mother, sisters, comrades, forgive me – this is not a good method (I do not recommend it to others), but there is no other way out for me.”
Three decades later, writers and activists that opposed communist dogma gathered for poetry readings under Mayakovsky’s statue in Moscow.
Our inspiration for today is a poem Mayakovsky wrote about existential questioning, and the potential search for spiritual connection. It’s a somewhat disconcerting piece with the one-word title, “Listen.”
By Vladimir Mayakovsky
if stars are lit
it means – there is someone who needs it.
It means – someone wants them to be,
that someone deems those specks of spit
in the swirls of afternoon dust,
he bursts in on God,
afraid he might be already late.
he kisses God’s sinewy hand
and begs him to guarantee
that there will definitely be a star.
he won’t be able to stand
that starless ordeal.
He wanders around, worried,
but outwardly calm.
And to everyone else, he says:
it’s all right.
You are no longer afraid,
if stars are lit,
it means – there is someone who needs it.
It means it is essential
that every evening
at least one star should ascend
over the crest of the building.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Backbone Flute: Selected Poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky.
More spiritual nuggets for today …
Today is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 1809, as well as the anniversary of the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.
The NAACP was birthed out of the Race Riot of 1908 in Springfield, Illinois — Lincoln’s hometown. With lynchings of Black men and violence against African-Americans on the rise, a small group of civil rights supporters met in New York City in January to organize a gathering for the creation of a new civil rights organization.
They set the date for the gathering as February 12 to intentionally coincide with the 100thanniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Attendees included W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and other prominent civil rights activists.
Today, the NAACP has more than a half million official members carrying out its mission to ensure,”the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.”
And on this day in 1994, Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream was stolen from Oslo’s National Art Museum.
The theft occurred on the same day as the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Thieves entered the building using a ladder, cut the painting from its frame and left a note reading, “Thanks for the poor security.”
The entire event was recorded by security cameras — from start to finish it lasted less than a minute.
In an interesting twist, a Lutheran minister and Norwegian anti-abortion activist named Borre Knudson made a statement that the painting would be returned if the government ran the anti-abortion film, The Silent Scream, on Norwegian TV.
The authorities quickly determined Knudson had no involvement in the theft and set up a sting operation that netted the real thieves three months later. The painting was recovered none the worse for wear and The Scream is currently on display at the National Museum in Oslo.
In honor of his birthday, today’s words of wisdom come to us from Honest Abe himself:
“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
Something about that seems almost right. So, I hope you find a way to do something good today.
And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
For additional reading, see Backbone Flute: Selected Poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky. There’s a link above.
Thanks for stopping by. If you like something you heard today, I’d appreciate it if you gave us a share or like. But for now, be kind, take good care and I’ll see you tomorrow.