Is it like heavy rain falling, and lights going on, across the fields, in the new housing estate?
Cold, cold. Too domestic, too temperature, too devoid of history.
Is it like a dark windowed street at night, the houses uncurtained, the street deserted?
Colder. You are getting colder, and too romantic, too dream-like. You cannot describe it.
The brooding darkness then, that breeds inside a cathedral of a provincial town in Spain?
In Spain, also, but not Spanish. In England, if you like, but not English. It remains, even when obscure, perpetually. Aged, but ageless, you cannot describe it. No, you are cold, altogether too cold.
Aha-the blue sky over Ampourias, the blue sky over Lancashire for that matter…
You cannot describe it.
… obscured by clouds? I must know what you mean.
Like those old men in hospital dying, who, unaware strangers stand around their bed, stare obscurely, for a long moment, at one of their own hands raised- which perhaps is bigger than the moon again- and, then, drowsy, wandering, shout out, ‘Mama’.
Is it like that? Or hours after that even: the darkness inside a dead man’s mouth?
No, no, I have told you: you are cold, and you cannot describe it.
Exhausted from depression, to the gravestone I went, and beyond the gravestone I saw not peace, but an eternal battle which we only dreamed of in life.
Without hesitation I leaped into the gulf of greedy fire, but here I begged the Lord: “Give back to me, Lord, peace, why eternal battle for me, take me, I am yours, I am yours.”
All my life I’ve rushed, between hell and heaven, today the devil, and tomorrow God, today exhausted, and tomorrow empowered, today proud, and tomorrow I burn… Stop.
By Илья Маратович Кричевский (Ilya Maratovich Krichevsky) (3 February 1963 – 21 August 1991) translated by Albert C. Todd
Additional information: I believe this is a fragment or shortened version but I was unable to find a copy of the original Russian version online to check against. If anyone knows where to find it please leave a link in the comments or, if you feel like it, copy/paste it. Many thanks.
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.
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 poetLevin‘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.
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).
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
(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.
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).