"To Rasshcheplennoe Iadro": From Lucretian Swerve to Sundered Core in Shalamov’s Atomnaia poema
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Varlam Shalamov's Atomnaia poema addresses a primordial "wish to split" at the core of nature and within the human heart. This wish to split is informed by Shalamov's Gulag experience as well as his reflections on Auschwitz and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Whereas Lucretius interprets an atomic tendency to swerve as an indication of free will, Atomnaia poema posits an atomic proclivity to split, that is, to self-destruct and destroy others. Atomnaia poema weighs the role of science, "its verses and its faith," in this destruction. Neither a treatise nor didactic counsel, Atomnaia poema is a conversation between physics and poetry, human and world, held in a "third language" whose rhyme and rhythm carry an emotional impact rather than a cognitive load. Splitting its own elements as it grieves the splitting atom, Shalamov pursues "Ovid's epiphany," releasing what is "housed in a single verse."