One of the passengers in the planeloads of Soviet Jews who disembarked at Vienna airport last week was a bewildered young man of 32 who declared: "They have simply kicked me out of my country, using the Jewish issue as an excuse." The reluctant expatriate was Joseph Brodsky, who is widely regarded in Russia and the West as one of the U.S.S.R.'s finest poets.
Brodsky's expulsion was puzzling.The Soviets have sometimes "invited" Jews and non-Jews whom they regard as troublemakers to leave Russia. But Brodskywho is Jewishis not an active dissident, a Zionist or a political poet. Last month he was simply summoned by the Soviet secret police and told that he must leave Russia or "things would become worse." It was a threat that could not be ignored. He was forced to leave behind his elderly parents and his young son, who is in the custody of the child's mother. His departure seemed to fulfill the prophecy he made in a 1965 poem, alluding to Karl Marx's famous phrase:
Adieu to the prophet who said:
"Forsooth, you've nothing to lose but your
chains." In truth there's also your conscienceno
His expulsion appeared to be the culmination of an inexplicable secret-police vendetta against him that has been going on for over a decade. In 1964, he was the victim of a trumped-up trial in Leningrad. He was accused of writing poetryadjudged "gibberish" by the courtinstead of engaging in "honest work." He was also attacked in the press for allegedly "nurturing a plan" to steal a plane and fly abroad. Sentenced to five years at hard labor in the Soviet far north, Brodsky became a cause celebre in Russia and the West. Released after 18 months, he was still unable to find Soviet publishers for his lyrics, which the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, who died in 1966, described as "magical." In a poem written in exile Brodsky said:
I sailed with honor, but my frail craft wounded its side on a jagged reef.
In Vienna last week, Brodsky was invited by Poet W.H. Auden to visit his country house outside the city. Auden had only recently praised Brodsky as "a poet of the first order, of whom his country should be proud." Next fall Brodsky will be poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan, and a collection of his verse will be published in English translation by Penguin Books.
The prospects cheered Brodsky. Drinking Coca-Cola in a Vienna cafe, the sturdy, red-haired young poet grinned while cracking a pun in English: "I'm neither a refugee, nor a refu-Jew." He added: "I'm not bitter or angry about what happened to me. I see it as a test of my ability to endure."