“Suddenly” is a word used often by the Russians. I remember being told once in a writing workshop never to use the word “suddenly.” Only Dostoevsky can use that word, the teacher said.

Writing instructors often say that nothing in fiction happens without a stated or hinted reason. Dostoyevsky uses the word “suddenly” seven times in the first five pages of his short story the “White Nights.” In Russian history it is often the foreign ray, or light, or idea, or perspective that drives Russia, sometimes driving it crazy.

But, we generally know that human events do not usually happen suddenly. Like earthquakes, we feel them in a moment, but underneath the causal elements were long before inexorably moving toward the explosion. We, on the surface of things, measuring only what our senses tell us or what we want to believe, feel only the culminating shock.

Some say the Russian Revolution started with the Peredvizhniki, the Wanderers, those artists who revolted against the art establishment in St. Petersburg in the 1860s expressed in their art the tragic realism of the common man. But before that, the change started in the 1830s, with the enlightened writers like Belinsky, Bakunin, etc. More recently, the Soviet Union was crumbling years before the flag came down, but we didn’t know it or didn’t want to know it. The Twin Towers collapsed in 102 minutes. But surely the inertia for that disaster began years before, unnoticed or ignored by our political leaders.

Do things happen suddenly, or are the shocks of life always just an ignorance of predicting clues? If we were smart enough to notice and measure all the tremors of coming explosions, we might be prepared for the resulting shocks. But then life, especially ironic Russian life, would not be judged so eloquently by the masters like Dostoevsky.

Like a Russian River

Russian history,
it seems to me,
is much like a Russian river.

It lays unhappily frozen,
obedient within its constraining banks
for a period longer than it can stand.

Then suddenly,
A warm foreign ray of change
permeates the ice
and the river erupts,
climbing upon itself
moving recklessly down stream
releasing its discontent,
taking everything with it,
the good and the bad—
until it finds its kind of peace
and flows quietly again
with all appearances of normality.

But winter will come again
and how soon
no one knows
for sure.

Frederick R. Andresen (1996)

For more read “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman is Russia.”



  1. noie says

    The Poem – insightful languageing about the sometimes unnoticed “currents” of life and their “sudden” effects. Certainly warns us to wake up and be alert all the time.

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