Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Nina Kossman: Giordano Bruno’s Unwritten Letter

It was freezing on the Campo de’Fiori on February 17, 1600.
A crowd gathered to watch a heretic burn alive.
There he was, naked, hung upside down,
punished for denying the dogmas of the Catholic Church,
and while the crowd hooted and hollered,
Giordano Bruno, whose mind was still intact,
despite weeks of torture endured by his body,
(the boot did not suffice to make him recant),
was composing a letter, in his head, to those
who would stand on this piazza centuries later,
when every child would know the obvious facts
for which he was sentenced to burn today:
that the earth revolves around the sun
and not the other way around;
that God is inside us, and not out there,
a bearded man looking on from a cloud,
taking cue from old men in cassocks;
that freedom of thought was worth striving for,
and even dying for, even torturously burned at the stake.
He didn’t have time to complete the letter
which he was composing in his head,
as the flames were beginning to engulf his body,
and even his mind, strong as it was, could not work as before.
“The day will come,” he tried to continue in his head,
“When everything I wrote would be proven facts…”
This was the last line in Giordano Bruno’s unwritten letter.
In a few hours his ashes would be collected into a bag,
and the bag would be carried to the Tiber. Opened. Emptied.


“The Good and the Bad — the fire consumes them equally” (painting by Nina Kossman)

Nina Kossman is a bilingual writer, poet, translator of Russian poetry, painter, and playwright. Among her published works are three books of poems in Russian and in English, two volumes of translations of Tsvetaeva’s poems, two books of short stories, an anthology she put together and edited for Oxford University Press, and a novel. Her work has been translated into Greek, Japanese, Hebrew, Spanish, Persian, and Dutch. A recipient of UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, an NEA translation fellowship, and grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, and Fundación Valparaíso, she lives in New York.

Poem and image copyright 2021 Nina Kossman. All rights reserved.

5 comments on “Nina Kossman: Giordano Bruno’s Unwritten Letter

  1. Barbara Huntington
    March 7, 2021

    And how many before and after?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Rose Mary Boehm
    March 7, 2021

    Excellent!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Russell Buker
    March 7, 2021

    Wonderful to see you here-such a strong poem and painting

    Liked by 3 people

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