- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: May-11-1999
The 30 year old Anton Chekhov, determined to pay his "debt to medicine," sets off from civilized Russia to investigate the prison colonies on Sakhalin Island, off the east coast of Siberia. (See Chekhov's A Journey to Sakhalin, annotated in this database.) In the poem Chekhov stands at the rail of a steamer on Lake Baikal and downs a jigger of cognac, then smashes the glass on the rocks. "In the months to come / It rang on like the burden of his freedom / To try for the right tone--not tract, not thesis--"
In his attempt "to squeeze / His slave's blood out" (Chekhov was the grandson of serfs), he spent the next several months feverishly documenting the conditions on Sakhalin. Subsequently, he spent several years trying to express his experience in writing.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux