Мы под Колпиным скопом стоим… (We Are Huddled In A Crowd…) by Aleksandr Mezhirov

We are huddled in a crowd before Kolpino.
Under the fire of our own artillery.

It’s probably because our reconnaissance
Gave the wrong bearings.

Falling short, overshooting, falling short again…
Our own artillery is shooting us.

It wasn’t for nothing we took an oath,
Blew up the bridges behind us.

No one will escape from these trenches.
Our own artillery is shooting at us.

We’re lying in a heap before Kolpino.
We’re trembling, saturated with smoke.
They should be shooting at the enemy,
But instead they’re shooting at their own.

The commanders want to console us.
They say the motherland loves us.
The artillery is thrashing its own
They’re not making an omelette, but they’re breaking eggs.

by Александр Петрович Межиров
(Alexandr Petrovich Mezhirov)
translated by Deming Brown

Мы под Колпиным скопом стоим…

Мы под Колпином скопом стоим,
Артиллерия бьет по своим.
Это наша разведка, наверно,
Ориентир указала неверно.

Недолет. Перелет. Недолет.
По своим артиллерия бьет.

Мы недаром присягу давали.
За собою мосты подрывали,-
Из окопов никто не уйдет.
Недолет. Перелет. Недолет.

Мы под Колпиным скопом лежим
И дрожим, прокопченные дымом.
Надо все-таки бить по чужим,
А она — по своим, по родимым.

Нас комбаты утешить хотят,
Нас, десантников, армия любит…
По своим артиллерия лупит,-
Лес не рубят, а щепки летят.

Recited by the Soviet and Russian actor Вениамин Борисович Смехов (Venyamin Borisovich Smekhov).

Additional information: Alexander Petrovich Mezhirov (Александр Петрович Межиров)(26 September 1923 – 22 May 2009) was a Soviet and Russian poet, translator and critic.

Born in Moscow, he was the son of an educated Jewish couple — his father a lawyer, his mother a German-language teacher, and one of his grandfathers was a rabbi. Drafted as a private in July 1941, he fought in World War II before a serious injury led to his demobilization in 1943 as a second lieutenant. That same year, he joined the Communist Party; after the war he attended the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute, graduating in 1948. He translated poetry from Georgian and Lithuanian poets.

Mezhirov was a prominent figure in the Soviet literary establishment, although his allegiances and associations were varied. At some points he was close to fellow Jewish-Russian Boris Yampolsky, Kazakh writer Olzhas Suleimenov, and Russian cultural ultranationalist and critic Vadim Kozhinov. Mezhirov associated with younger writers Yevgeny YevtushenkoTatyana Glushkova (known for her nationalist views in the mid-1980s, according to Shrayer) and Evgeny Reyn, who was censored in the Soviet Union until the mid-1980s.

Although Mezhirov had publicly stated that his patriotism for Russia was so intense that, unlike other Russian Jews, he could not emigrate, he suddenly left Russia for the United States in 1992, settling first in New York, then in Portland, Oregon. As of 2007, according to anthologist Maxim D. Shrayer, he had not revisited Russia. In March 2009 Mezhirov published a collection of new poems, two months before his death. According to the ITAR/TASS news service, his body was to be cremated in the United States, with the ashes to be buried in Peredelkino near Moscow.

Mezhirov was among what has been called a “middle generation” of Soviet poets that ignored themes of communist “world revolution” and instead focused on Soviet and Russian patriotism. Many of them specialized in patriotic lyrics, particularly its military aspects. According to G. S. Smith, Mezhirov and a number of other “middle generation” poets “were genuine poets whose testimony, however well-laundered, to the tribulations of their times will endure at least as long as their generation.” Some of Mezhirov‘s lyrical poems based on his wartime experience belong with the best Russian poetical works created in the Soviet 1950s-1960s.

Mezhirov had a “special gift” for absorbing the voices of his contemporaries and his predecessors from the 1900s–1930s, according to Maxim D. Shrayer, who notes the influences in Mezhirov‘s writing of Eduard BagritskyErich Maria RemarqueAnna AkhmatovaAleksandr BlokVladislav KhodasevichMikhail KuzminVladimir LugovskoyDavid Samoylov and Arseny Tarkovsky.

He was presented with the following awards (taken from the Russian language Wikipedia page):

Regarding the reference to Kolpino: With the onset of the Great Patriotic War, Kolpino factory workers formed the Izhora Battalion, part of the militia around 24 August – 4 September, 1941. The front line was held in the immediate vicinity of the plant, which was subjected to heavy enemy shelling. By 1944, only 327 of Kolpino’s 2183 houses remained intact. 140,939 shells and 436 aerial bombs fell in Kolpino’s neighborhoods and boulevards. According to incomplete data for the war, shelling and starvation in the Kolpino district killed 4,600 people, not counting the dead on the front. By 1 January, 1944 Kolpino had only 2196 inhabitants. After the lifting of the siege, people gradually came back from the evacuation and army. On 1 January, 1945 the population was 7404 and by the beginning of the next year numbered 8914 people.

Mezhirov is one of the finest poets of the World War II generation. His father, who was both a lawyer and physician, took great pains to ensure his son’s broad education. As a soldier in World War II, Mezhirov took part in the defense of Leningrad, where he was seriously wounded and discharged. He wrote poetry as a schoolboy and began to publish in 1941; from 1943 to 1948 he studied at the Gorky Literary Institute. His first collection, Doroga dalioka (The Road Is Long) (1947), spoke with youthful passion of the war and of the suffering and triumphs it entailed; the poetry was criticized for being “too personal.” His romantic poem “Kommunisty vperyod” (Forward Communists) was for several years the most widely read work in the Soviet Union, both from the stage and over the radio. However, the finest things he has written have always been emphatically independent and nonpartisan. Mezhirov’s poetry was criticized throughout his career, but he never bowed to the pressure; as a result of his steadfastness, the quality of his verse never suffered.

Mezhirov spent considerable time in Georgia and has translated much Georgian poetry. A highly sophisticated connoisseur of Russian poetry, his more recent work speaks out against the negative influences and lack of spirituality in the modern world, especially the tendencies to destruction and isolation he perceives in the young. Not only a great poet, Mezhirov is also the teacher of many younger poets, including the compiler of this anthology.

Biographical information about Mezhirov, p.721, ‘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).

Хотят ли русские войны? (Do the Russians want war?) by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Do Russian people stand for war?
Go, ask the calm on plain and shore
The wide expanse of field and lea,
The birches and poplar tree.

The soldiers who once fought abreast,
And near the birches lie at rest,
Their sons will answer by the score,
Ask them if Russians are,
Ask them if Russians are,
Ask them if Russians are for war.

Not only for their country’s life
Did soldiers perish in their strife –
But that all human creatures might
Sleep always peacefully at night.

Ask those that fearful battles knew,
Who on the Elbe joined with you,
We keep these memories evermore –
And ask if Russians are,
And ask if Russians are,
And ask if Russians are for war.

Yes, We know how to fight,
But we don’t want again
For soldiers to fall
On their bitter land.

Ask the mothers,
Ask my wife,
And then you should understand
If the Russians,
If the Russians,
If the Russians want war.

The working people of each land
Will come, for sure, to understand
Throughout the world on sea and shore –
If Russian people are,
If Russian people are,
If Russian people are for war.

by Евгений Александрович Евтушенко
(Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko)
(1962)
English lyrics translation by Ольга Моисеенко (Olga Moisseyenko)

Sung by Mark Naumovich Bernes who was a Soviet actor and singer of Jewish ancestry, who performed some of the most poignant songs to come out of World War II including “Dark Night” and “Cranes”.

Хотят ли русские войны?

Хотят ли русские войны?
Спросите вы у тишины
Над ширью пашен и полей,
И у берез, и тополей.

Спросите вы у тех солдат,
Что под березами лежат,
И вам ответят их сыны:
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Не только за свою страну
Солдаты гибли в ту войну,
А чтобы люди всей земли
Спокойно ночью спать могли.

Спросите тех, кто воевал,
Кто нас на Эльбе обнимал.
Мы этой памяти верны,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Да, мы умеем воевать,
Но не хотим, чтобы опять
Солдаты падали в бою
На землю горькую свою.

Спросите вы у матерей,
Спросите у жены моей,
И вы тогда понять должны,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Performed by Ансамбль Александрова (the Alexandrov Ensemble) using the 1970s (?) translated lyrics of Ольга Моисеенко (Olga Moisseyenko). Although she titles it ‘Do the Russian people stand for war’ a translation along the lines of ‘Do the Russian want war?’ is more common.

Additional information: Хотят ли русские войны? (Do the Russians Want War?) is a 1961 anti-war song lyric written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and set to music by Eduard Kolmanovski.


Yevtushenko later said he wrote the song in response to conversations he had with foreigners while travelling in western Europe and the United States. The lyrics evoke the peaceful Russian countryside, the memory of the millions of lives lost in the Second World War, and the friendly meeting of U.S. and Soviet soldiers on Elbe Day.


The poem was cited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his address to the Russian people immediately prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine during the 2021-2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

On Thursday 24 February 2022 Russian citizens were heard singing the song at protests held in St Petersburg and Moscow. After these protests were broken up, by authorities in riot gear, it was apparently remarked by civilians “в России запрещено говорить, что русские не хотят войны…” (“In Russia it is forbidden to say Russians do not want war…”)

No civilians anywhere want war.

Tidal by R. S. Thomas

The waves run up the shore
and fall back. I run
up the approaches of God
and fall back. The breakers return
reaching a little further,
gnawing away at the main land.
They have done this thousands
of years, exposing little by little
the rock under the soil’s face.
I must imitate them only
in my return to the assault,
not in their violence. Dashing
my prayers at him will achieve
little other than the exposure
of the rock under his surface.
My returns must be made
on my knees. Let despair be known
as my ebb-tide; but let prayer
have its springs, too, brimming,
disarming him; discovering somewhere
among his fissures deposits of mercy
where trust may take root and grow.

by R. S. Thomas
from Mass for Hard Times (1992)

‘Твой зрачок в небесной корке’ (‘Let it be blessed’) by Osip Mandelstam

The reserve of weak,
sensitive eyelashes protects
your pupil in its heavenly rind,
as it looks into the distance and down.

Let it be blessed
and live long in its homeland –
cast the surprise pool
of your eye to catch me!

Already it looks willingly
at the ephemeral ages –
bright, rainbowed, fleshless,
still pleading.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam)
(His surname is commonly Latinised as Mandelstam)
(2 January 1937)
from the second Voronezh Notebook
translated by Richard and Elizabeth McKane

‘Твой зрачок в небесной корке’

Твой зрачок в небесной корке,
Обращенный вдаль и ниц,
Защищают оговорки
Слабых, чующих ресниц.

Будет он обожествленный
Долго жить в родной стране —
Омут ока удивленный,—
Кинь его вдогонку мне.

Он глядит уже охотно
В мимолетные века —
Светлый, радужный, бесплотный,
Умоляющий пока.

Additional information: The translators chose to use the first line of the second stanza as a title for the unnamed piece rather than the first line of the first stanza as most would do with untitled poems for reference purposes. Hence the discrepancy in the title of this post between the Russian and English. Aside from this they numbered this poem as the seventeenth entry in the second of Mandelstam’s Voronezh Notebooks but I don’t know if that is a officially recognised convention when referring to the unnamed pieces in the three notebooks (as you might use regarding, for example, Shakespeare’s sonnets).

The notebooks were written while he was in exile, accompanied by his wife Nadezhda in the southwestern Russian city of Voronezh, which was a reprieve of sorts after he had been arrested during the repression of the 1930s. Mandelstam and his wife chose Voronezh, possibly, partly, because the name appealed to him. In April 1935, he wrote a four line poem that included the pun – Voronezh blazh‘, Voronezh voron, nozh meaning ‘Voronezh is a whim, Voronezh – a raven, a knife.’

The apartment building he resided in during his exile, located on Friedrich Engels Street next to the Orlyonok Park, was recently given special status.