Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Legend of the Prisoners' Violin

The cells were cold. That's why the prisoners were curled in balls on the bare wooden cots. Even the ones who weren't afraid curled up. The guards were miserable as well, even with layers of thick woolen clothing. If a prisoner began groaning through his teeth, though, a guard would beat on the bars of the cell and shout, "Shut up!" If the groaning continued, guards would enter and beat the prisoner senseless and once again there would be quiet.

For several weeks now the prison had a deathly stillness and quiet to it. Only the occasional echoing footsteps of the guards relieved the utter silence, and that sound was not one to comfort those who lay, waiting for they knew not what. One morning, in March, with the chill still deep in the aching backs and bones of the trembling prisoners, a sound began. It was a distant tuning of violin strings.

In any other place in the busy world, it might have been ignored, but here the sound was cherished as though it were gold, or as though it were the only plate of food left in the whole world. Their ears strained eagerly at the sound, and gaunt eyes grew wide some moments later when the violin strings sang into life. A bow stroked them, their tight wires suddenly humming and wailing. Guards' footsteps began marching restlessly up and down the corridors, searching for the source of the music. The string music blossomed into life then, beautiful delicate cantatas, long glorious lines from old masters, sometimes sliding into cheeky folk dances or long melancholy tunes. All day long the violin music filled the echoing cells as tears poured down from the eyes of the huddled prisoners.

Guards searched every floor from basement to attic, and roamed outside the dank prison, searching for the violin player, but were frustrated. At eight p.m. that evening, after having eaten their bowls of tastless gruel, the prisoners lay still again as the violin quieted its tone. It played old wistful tunes and then sank into infinitely peaceful reveries, calming even the guards' nerves, frazzled as they were. The prisoners sank into sleep, one by one, and dreamed happy dreams of hope that night, some for the first time in years. In the morning they awoke to quiet, and many sat up in bed, staring, waiting, almost not breathing.

As the sun slowly turned their tiny cell windows into brighter boxes above them, a distant tuning of violin strings began again. Smiles leaped onto stretched faces bony with sorrow. Eyes brightened. Many stood to their feet and began pacing their cells with new-found energy. All day that day, and the next, and the next, the music continued, every day different, though sometimes replaying old tunes again like old friends come to visit. And in fact it was as though a best friend had come into their cell, and held their hands, talked with them, looked them in the eye, even danced with them.

The guards never found where the music emanated from. They tried once forcing the prisoners to wear ear-plugs, but it proved impossible to enforce. The guards themselves for the most part became somewhat kinder and more good-natured under the music's influence. The only sad note to the whole miraculous affair was that after some months certain prisoners began to take the music for granted, which means they stopped listening and appreciating. But most clung every day to the bright glory they heard, kissing its lips in their heart as though it were an angel from God. And perhaps it was.


  1. It's so enriching to learn more about Orthodox faith on your blog. And to see Tolkien's pictures...Thank you

  2. This is a remarkably powerful story with multiple levels of meaning. Your writing ability is amazing. I'm quite impressed.

    --Jon Cooper