"Russian Tanks in Prague"

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia began on this day in 1968. As the end of the Prague Spring and the beginning of the collapse of communism, the invasion holds a top spot in any chronicle of "The Year That Rocked the World," as the subtitle of Mark Kurlansky's 1968 puts it. Other events that tumultuous year included the Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, the Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago, the Tet Offensive, the Paris student riots, the election of Richard Nixon, the USS Pueblo incident, Hair….


In a 1997 interview, Yevtushenko recalled his naïve optimism on the day before the tanks rolled into Prague, and his ensuing despair:

I remember we were sitting with my writer colleagues in Crimea, and we were talking about it. I was always an incorrigible idealist -- I couldn't be a different man. I don't lose hope even in the most difficult moments. And so I remember I very romantically exclaimed: "This couldn't happen!" And one more experienced writer, who was veteran of the Second World War, he said to me: "Genya, Genya, I envy you. I envy your idealism. Probably now, in this moment when we are sitting and talking about it, Brezhnev's tanks are crossing Czechoslovakian borders." The next morning I heard the radio and I learned that it was true.… I tell you, it was the first time in my life when I was absolutely thinking about committing suicide. And when some people congratulated me on my courage when I sent a telegram of protest, and I wrote up a poem, it was not courage, it was my fear, because I saved myself from committing suicide -- otherwise I couldn't live with such a burden on my conscience, if I could keep silent.

Yevtushenko's poem "Russian Tanks in Prague" was picked up immediately on underground radio in Czechoslovakia, making him a hero there and an official target at home:

Tanks are rolling across Prague

     in the sunset blood of dawn.

Tanks are rolling across truth,

     not a newspaper named Pravda.


Tanks are rolling across the temptation

     to live free from the power of clichés.

Tanks are rolling across the soldiers

     who sit inside those tanks....

(translation by Albert C. Todd, from Collected Poems, 1952-1990)

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.