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).

Беженцы (Refugees) by Ilya Krichevsky

On and on we go over steppes,
forests, swamps, and grasslands,
still yet a long, long way to go,
still yet many who will lie in ditches.

Fate is harsh: you there will go to the end,
you will not,
you will tell grandchildren all of it,
you will die as the dawn barely breaks,
blinded by a pistol’s fire.
But ours is to go on, and on, tearing calluses,
not eating, not sleeping, not drinking,
through forests, hills, and deaths –
in an open field!
To live is what we want, we want to live!

By Илья Маратович Кричевский
(Ilya Maratovich Krichevsky)
(3 February 1963 – 21 August 1991)
(1981)
translated by Albert C. Todd

Беженцы

 (фрагменты)
.
Мы идем и идем по степи,
По лесам, по болотам и травам.
Еще долго и много идти,
Еще многим лежать по канавам.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Рок суров: кто дойдет, а кто нет,
И расскажешь ты внукам об этом,
Ты умрешь, как забрезжит рассвет,
Ослепленный огнем пистолета.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
Но идем мы, идем, раздирая мозоли,
Нам не есть, нам не спать, нам не пить,
Смерть везде, смерть в лесу, за холмом, в чистом поле…
Как смертельно нам хочется, хочется жить!
. . . .

.

Additional information: I was only able to find a fragmented version of the poem in Russian but it matches the English translation I had as reference. It is possible it was always intended to be in that form but any help on clarifying the matter would be appreciated as there is so little information on him in English.

His only collection of poetry Красные бесы (Red Devils) was published in Kyiv during 1992.

Krichevsky died on 21 August 1991, during the Soviet coup d’état attempt.

On 24 August 1991, by the decree of the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, “for courage and civic valour shown in the defence of democracy and the constitutional order of the USSR“, Krichevsky was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal (No. 11659).

Gorbechev also decreed that the  families of the three defenders Dmitry Komar, Ilya Krichevsky and Vladimir Usov would receive a one-time award of 250 rubles each and a Zhiguli car from VAZ. Later, by decree of Boris Yeltsin, Krichevksy was posthumously awarded  the second ever “Defender of Free Russia” medal.

He was a Jewish Russian and there is an interesting story regarding his funeral. It was held on the sabbath, when no work or activities outside the home should be done, but Yeltsin insisted. It is speculated this was in order to publicly show the country needed to break away from the previous era’s Soviet symbols, values and practises. His grave has a memorial statue beside it.

Krichevsky is one of the three killed on the Sadovoye Koltso road during the August 1991 putsch that attempted to overthrow the government of Mikhail Gorbachev. For some time he had been bringing his work to the seminar in poetry conducted at the journal Iunost’, and the discussion of his poetry had been scheduled for the fall of 1991.

Biographical information about Krichevsky, p.1058, ‘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).

In Kiev by Yunna Morits

Why do I fly to that town,
With its blue cathedral on a hill?
I knock at the red doors
And feel lips on my throat.

I’m becoming myself entirely,
I am fed, like a bird, from the hand.
And on that rectangular rug
Firmly I take my stand.

Happy is he whose trade it is,
Lovingly in a crystal shower,
To cleanse my eyes, my mouth, my ears
Of all that drifted on the wind.

I dream my blouse becomes
Like powdered snow upon my back.
And before I leave, I dream
Of a dog staring straight at me.

By Ю́нна Петро́вна Мо́риц
(Yunna Petrovna Morits (Moritz)
Translated by Daniel Weissbort

Additional information: Morits was born in Kiev.

I couldn’t find the original Russian version for comparison so if anyone can link it or copy/paste it in the comments it would be very much appreciated.

Return to Cardiff by Dannie Abse

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:
grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first cigarette
in the back lane, and fool, my first botched love affair.
First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.

The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid
on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:
the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in some black
gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy facade.

Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,
odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor quit,
a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face
of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.

Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,
and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be
as much as for what it unashamedly is
now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.

Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,
uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections
like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in the Taff,
hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.

Illusory, too, that lost, dark playground after rain,
the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.

No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,
smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,
where the boy I was not and the man I am not
met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

By Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green
(1962)

.

Additional information: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.

The River Taff (‘Afon Taf’ in Welsh) is a river in Wales. It rises as two rivers in the Brecon Beacons; the Taf Fechan (little Taff) and the Taf Fawr (great Taff) before becoming one just north of Merthyr Tydfil. Its confluence with the River Severn estuary is in Cardiff. The river supports several species of migratory fish, including salmon, sewin (sea trout), and eel.

Tiger Bay (‘Bae Teigr’ in Welsh) was the local name for an area of Cardiff which covered Butetown and Cardiff Docks. Following the building of the Cardiff Barrage, which dams the tidal rivers, Ely and Taff, to create a body of water, it is referred to as Cardiff Bay. Tiger Bay is Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community with sailors and workers from over 50 countries settling there in the 1950s.

A Winter Visit by Dannie Abse

Now she’s ninety I walk through the local park
where, too cold, the usual peacocks do not screech
and neighbouring lights come on before it’s dark.

Dare I affirm to her, so agèd and so frail,
that from one pale dot of peacock’s sperm
spring forth all the colours of a peacock’s tail?

I do. But she like the sibyl says, ‘I would die’;
then complains. ‘This winter I’m half dead, son.’
And because it’s true I want to cry.

Yet must not (although only Nothing keeps)
for I inhabit a white coat not a black
even here – and am not qualified to weep.

So I speak of small approximate things,
of how I saw, in the park, four flamingoes
standing, one-legged on ice, heads beneath wings.

.

By Dannie Abse
from Welsh Retrospective

(1997)

.

Interesting fact: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.