Нас хоронила артиллерия… (Artillery Was Burying Us…) by Konstantin Levin

Artillery was burying us.
At first it killed us.
But, with blatant hypocrisy,
Now swears that it loved us.

It broke open its muzzles,
But with all the charred nerves
In the overworked hands of the medics.
We didn’t readily believe it.

We could trust only morphine,
In the very last resort – bromide.
But those of us who were dead
Trusted the earth, and no one else.

Here everyone still crawls, laying mines
And receiving counterattacks.
But there – already illumining,
They draft memoirs…

And there, away from the destruction zone,
They scrape and polish parquet.
The Bolshoi Theater lofted on a quadrangle
Follows the celebration skyrocket.

Soldiers lay about. At night the mint showers
Them with regalia from time to time.
But machine guns belch them out
With explosive vomit.

One of them, accidentally surviving,
Came to Moscow in autumn.
He shuffled along the boulevard like a drunk,
And passed among the living like an echo.

With his artificial leg
He got in someone’s way in the trolley.
By a string of petty absurdities
He approached the Mausoleum.

He recalled the eroded hillocks,
Scraps of plywood along the roadways,
The soldier’s eyes, opened forever,
Shown in calm reproach.

Pilots fell down on them from the sky,
Bogged down in clouds of bones.
But courage does not grow scarce,
As sky doesn’t let one grow obsolete.

And the soldier knew that, for the Motherland,
Those who were swallowed by the war,
Are the equals of those who lie here buried
In the wall itself or beneath the wall.

by Константин Ильич Левин
(Konstantin Illyich Levin)
(1946)
translated by Albert C. Todd

Нас хоронила артиллерия…

Нас хоронила артиллерия.
Сначала нас она убила,
Но, не гнушаясь лицемерия,
Теперь клялась, что нас любила.

Она выламывалась жерлами,
Но мы не верили ей дружно
Всеми обрубленными нервами
В натруженных руках медслужбы.

Мы доверяли только морфию,
По самой крайней мере — брому.
А те из нас, что были мертвыми, —
Земле, и никому другому.

Тут всё ещё ползут, минируют
И принимают контрудары.
А там — уже иллюминируют,
Набрасывают мемуары…

И там, вдали от зоны гибельной,
Циклюют и вощат паркеты.
Большой театр квадригой вздыбленной
Следит салютную ракету.

И там, по мановенью Файеров,
Взлетают стаи Лепешинских,
И фары плавят плечи фраеров
И шубки женские в пушинках.

Бойцы лежат. Им льет регалии
Монетный двор порой ночною.
Но пулеметы обрыгали их
Блевотиною разрывною!

Но тех, кто получил полсажени,
Кого отпели суховеи,
Не надо путать с персонажами
Ремарка и Хемингуэя.

Один из них, случайно выживший,
В Москву осеннюю приехал.
Он по бульвару брел как выпивший
И средь живых прошел как эхо.

Кому-то он мешал в троллейбусе
Искусственной ногой своею.
Сквозь эти мелкие нелепости
Он приближался к Мавзолею.

Он вспомнил холмики размытые,
Куски фанеры по дорогам,
Глаза солдат, навек открытые,
Спокойным светятся упреком.

На них пилоты с неба рушатся,
Костями в тучах застревают…
Но не оскудевает мужество,
Как небо не устаревает.

И знал солдат, равны для Родины
Те, что заглотаны войною,
И те, что тут лежат, схоронены
В самой стене и под стеною.

Read by Лаврентий Анатольевич Сорокин (Lavrenty Anatolyevich Sorokin) who was an Honored Artist of Russia and actor at the Globus theatre.

Included in the recital there is the following passage, as the third stanza, which is omitted from other versions I have sourced. Possibly it is due to the ‘improved’ version Yevtushenko states he requested be made by Levin briefly prior to his passing.

За нас молились леди Англии
И маркитантки полковые.
Нас интервьюировали б ангелы,
Когда бы были таковые.

Translated it reads as:

Ladies of England prayed for us.
And regimental vivandieres.
We’d be interviewed by angels
If they existed.

Additional information: It goes without saying but if you look up Konstanin Levin‘s name, for further information, in English you will probably come across page after page about the character of Konstantin ‘Kostya’ Levin from Lev Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. For those who can read Russian or are willing to use Google translate there is the poet Levin‘s Wikipedia page but for everyone else I will share this biography from the Yad Vashem page about the poet and his wartime service they compiled as part of their ‘Jews in the Red Army, 1941–1945′ research project:

Konstantin Levin was born in 1924 in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipro), Ukraine to a medical family. In 1941, following the family tradition, he entered a medical institute (medical university). A short time later, his institute was evacuated to Western Siberia. Having finished the first semester, Levin was drafted into the Red Army and sent to the Rostov School of Artillery (RSA), which specialized in anti-tank artillery. In 1942 the RSA was located not in Rostov-on-Don, which at this time was occupied by the enemy, but in the Urals. In the fall of 1943 Levin graduated from the RSA as a second lieutenant and was appointed the commander of a platoon of 45-mm cannons. These cannons were the most dangerous kind of artillery to operate: being ineffective against enemy tanks, after their first shot they became a good target for the enemy. Levin succeeded in surviving at the front for less than half a year.

In February 1944, while fighting in Ukraine, Levin was wounded for the first time, in the head. On April 29, 1944, participating in the battle of Târgu Frumos, in eastern Romania, Levin was hit by an enemy shell and he lost a leg. His former RSA comrade and a participant in the same operation Moisei Dorman noted: “At the end of April 1944, near Iaşi, a German tank crushed his cannon. A shell fragment cut Kostia’s leg right at the knee. The leg was hanging on by the tendons. Levin tried to cut it off with a penknife, but he was bleeding and did not have enough strength…. Almost fainting, he managed to get to his own side by crawling.” After this battle, Levin was awarded the Order of Patriotic War, 2nd Class. After his release from the Red Army, he was recommended for the Order of Patriotic War, 1st Class – for his fighting in Ukraine.

In 1945 after the war, Konstantin Levin entered the Literary Institute in Moscow. Although the admission committee found his poems depressing, he was admitted because he was a disabled veteran who had earned two military orders. He was a good student. Levin walked with a prosthesis, never using a cane or crutches. In 1946, after he wrote the poem “Artillery Buried Us,” he was almost expelled from the Institute. In the following year, he wrote a poem about himself, in which he let the reader know that he had been not simply a soldier, but a Jewish one. After that, poem Levin was, in fact, expelled from the Institute, and only the intervention of the Russian poet Aleksei Surkov helped him receive his diploma.

For the rest of his life Konstantin Levin earned his living by routine literary work. He died in 1984. The first collection of his poems was published posthumously in 1989.

https://www.yadvashem.org/research/research-projects/soldiers/konstantin-levin.html

The poem therefore appears to be autobiographical though Levin uses the third person when recounting the events of it when referring to himself as “one of them, accidentally surviving/…/with his artificial leg”.

Levin’s renowned poem “Artillery was burying us…” passed from hand to hand throughout literary Moscow in the years following World War II, along with Naum Korzhavin’s poems against Stalin. Levin worked as a literary consultant and never tried to publish his poetry. Just prior to his death the compiler of this anthology persuaded him to make a new, even better version of his masterpiece. Boris Slutsky considered him one of the finest poets in the front-line generation.

Biographical information about Levin, p.736, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. (transcribed as found in the original text).

The Death of Sophocles by Anna Akhmatova

Then the king learnt that Sophocles was dead

(Legend)

To Sophocles’ house that night an eagle flew down from the sky,

And sombrely rang from the garden the cicadas’ choir.

At that hour the genius was passing into immortality,

Skirting, at the walls of his native town, the night-fires

Of the enemy. And this was when the king had a strange dream:

Dionysus himself ordered the raising of the siege,

That no noise disturb the Athenians in burying him

With fitting ceremony and with elergies.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1961)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: Sophocles (Σοφοκλῆς) c. 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC) is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and also Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War. As with many famous men in classical antiquity, his death inspired a number of apocryphal stories. The most famous is the suggestion that he died from the strain of trying to recite a long sentence from his Antigone without pausing to take a breath. Another account suggests he choked while eating grapes at the Anthesteria festival in Athens. A third holds that he died of happiness after winning his final victory at the City Dionysia. A few months later, a comic poet, in a play titled The Muses, wrote this eulogy: “Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune.” According to some accounts, however, his own sons tried to have him declared incompetent near the end of his life; he is said to have refuted their charge in court by reading from his as yet unproduced Oedipus at Colonus. One of his sons, Iophon, and a grandson, also called Sophocles, also became playwrights.

Several ancient sources mention Sophocles’ homosexuality or bisexuality. Athenaios reported that Sophocles loved boys like Euripides loved women. The poet Ion of Chios relates an anecdote involving Sophocles seducing a serving boy at a symposium, and Athenaios one in which Sophocles is tricked by a hustler.

Regarding LGBT history under Stalin it makes interesting reading regarding the recriminalisation of homosexuality by him, associating it with fascism and accusating men of being pederasts thus conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Especially as he tolerated the activities of Beria. Long after Stalin’s death in 1953, a 1964 Soviet sex manual instructed citizens that: “With all the tricks at their disposal, homosexuals seek out and win the confidence of youngsters. Then they proceed to act. Do not under any circumstances allow them to touch you. Such people should be immediately reported to the administrative organs so that they can be removed from society” despite liberalisation reforms under Khrushchev.