Filled with the final weariness
Seized with the exhaustion before dying
His big hands limply spread
A soldier lies.
He could lie differently –
Could lie beside his wife, in his own bed,
Not tearing at the mosses drenched with blood.
But could he? Could he?
No, he could not.
The Ministry sent him his call-up notice,
Officers were with him, marched beside him.
The court-martial’s typewriters clattered in the rear.
But even without them, could he?
Without a call-up, he’d have gone himself.
And not from fear: from conscience, and for honor.
Weltering in his blood, the soldier lying
Has no complaint, and no thought of complaining.
by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий
(Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
translated by J. R. Rowland
Последнею усталостью устав
Последнею усталостью устав,
Предсмертным умиранием охвачен,
Большие руки вяло распластав,
Он мог лежать иначе,
Он мог лежать с женой в своей постели,
Он мог не рвать намокший кровью мох,
Да мог ли? Будто? Неужели?
Нет, он не мог.
Ему военкомат повестки слал.
С ним рядом офицеры шли, шагали.
В тылу стучал машинкой трибунал.
А если б не стучал, он мог?
Он без повесток, он бы сам пошел.
И не за страх — за совесть и за почесть.
Лежит солдат — в крови лежит, в большой,
А жаловаться ни на что не хочет.
Slutsky’s father was a white-collar worker and his mother a teacher. He went to school in Kharkov and from 1937 he studied in Moscow, first in law school and then at the Gorky Literary Institute. During World War II he made friends with many of the poets who were to die in the war and was himself severely wounded. Though he published some poetry in 1941, he did not publish again until after Stalin’s death in 1953. Ilya Ehrenburg wrote an article in 1956 adovicating that a collection of Slutsky’s work be published. He created a sensation by quoting many unknown poems. Discussings Slutsky’s poetry, Mikhail Svetlov said, “Of one thing I am sure – here is a poet who writes better than we all do.”
Slutsky’s first collection, Pamiat’ (Memory) (1957), immediately established his reputation as a poet. His most celebrated poems are “Kelnskaia iama” (The Pit of Cologne) and “Loshadi v okeane” (Horses in the Sea). His poems “Bog” (God) and “Khozain” (The Boss) sharply criticized Stalin even before the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956.
Slutsky’s poetry is deliberately coarse, prosaic, and always distinctive. He evoked many imitators and much ridicule, but he also taught many of the postwar generation of poets. During the scandalous attacks on Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago in 1959, Slutsky unexpectedly came out against Pasternak. It was a crucial error. Many of his admirers turned their backs on him, but, more important, he never forgave himself. When he died, he left so much poetry unpublished that almost every month for several years new poems appeared in magazines and newspapers.Biographical information about Slutsky, p.689, ‘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).