Soldier by Anna Wigley

What did he see in the war, my father?
All I have are the photos – small sharp stills
from a 1940s film: Trevor Howard,
angular, tanned, glancing up handsome
from the shade of a cocked serge cap.
His hands, fine and strong, held compasses, maps;
knew the levers of lorries and the shafts of guns.
The same hands that cupped my head
like an egg when I tripped and fell,
could tell the cool weight of a grenade, the exact bite
of a Stanley knife. Had laid out the dead.

I could well believe he’d been a soldier,
the hardness of his body showed it.
And the way he held the bowl of his pipe,
firmly, with a kind of sure commitment:
this is what I am, these are my tools,
my equipment. There are tasks to be done.
It was there in the weave and cut of his clothes:
things well made, stout for their purpose –
gaberdine and wool, best leather, double-stitched,
double-knotted, built for wear and weather.

What could he do in peacetime
that would compare with those days
deliberate as a bird’s of animal’s days
when there’s food to be found, nests to be made?
The medals meant nothing:
trinkets, he called them. But the men –
ordinary, afraid and brave,
welded to him in the long slow furnace
of shared smokes in canvassed trucks,
nights under desert skies – it was they
who brought up the light in him,
repeating their lines forty years on.

What of the rest could he find to say
to a young girl who knew only
the safe house of his steady arms,
the gentleness of his delphinium eyes;
and the cheerfulness worn casually,
daily, like collar and tie.

by Anna Wigley

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Отцу (To Father…) by Yury Kuznetsov

What can I say at your grave?
That you had no right to die?

You have left us alone in the world.
Look at mother – she is nothing but a scar.
A wound like this can see even the wind!
Father, these scars will never fade.

On a widow’s bed a memory grieves her,
She begged you to give her children.

Like flashes in distant storm clouds,
She gave the world fleeting spirits –
Sisters and brothers grew up in her mind…
Whom can I tell this to?

It’s not for me to ask my fate at your grave,
What have I got to wait for? …
Year after year will pass.
“Father,” I cry. “You didn’t bring us
happiness!…
Mother quiets me in fear…

by Юрий Поликарпович Кузнецов
(Yury Polikarpovich Kuznetsov)
(1969)
translated by Sarah W. Bliumis

Отцу

Что на могиле мне твоей сказать?
Что не имел ты права умирать?
Оставил нас одних на целом свете.
Взгляни на мать — она сплошной рубец.
Такая рана видит даже ветер!
На эту боль нет старости, отец.
На вдовьем ложе памятью скорбя,
Она детей просила у тебя.
Подобно вспышкам на далёких тучах,
Дарила миру призраков летучих —
Сестёр и братьев, выросших в мозгу…
Кому об этом рассказать смогу?
Мне у могилы не просить участья.
Чего мне ждать?..
Летит за годом год.
— Отец! — кричу. — Ты не принёс нам счастья!.. —
Мать в ужасе мне закрывает рот.

Additional information: Kuznetsov‘s father died during war so there is an autobiographical aspect to this poem even if the literal event of shouting at his father’s grave never occurred.

Yuri Polikarpovich Kuznetsov (11 February 1941 – 17 November 2003) was a Russian poet, translator and literary critic. There is not much immediately available in English so I took some leads from his Russian Wikipedia page. Notably it seems Yuri Kuznetsov is a relatively common name as I came across a pianist and various athletes who share the name.

“In 1970 he graduated with honours from the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute. After the institute he worked in the Moscow publishing house “Sovremennik” in the editorial office of national poetry. From 1994 he was the editor of the publishing house “Sovetsky Pisatel a.k.a. Soviet Writer“, then in 1996 the editor of the poetry department in the magazine “Nash Sovremennik a.k.a Our Contemporary“. He was also a professor of the Literary Institute, member of the Union of Soviet Writers a.k.a. Union of Writers of the USSR since 1974 and in 1990 he signed the Letter of 74.”

Here is a biography of Kuznetsov with an English translation by a non-native speaker.

Here is information about the location of his grave.

He received the following awards:
* Order of the Badge of Honor (1984)
* State Prize of the RSFSR in the field of literature (1990) – for the book of poems and poem “The soul is faithful to unknown limits” (1986)
* Yesenin Prize (1998)
* Lermontov Prize (2001)
* D. Kedrin Prize “Architect” (2001)
* International Competition “Literary Russia” (2003)

Kuznetsov’s father was a military officer who rescued his wife and son from certain execution by the Germans behind enemy lines in 1942; he himself was killed later in the war. Kuznetsov was raised in villages in the region of Stavropol and at age nine began to write poetry that was published in local newspapers. Critics in the 1960s toiled hard to establish a counterbalance to the poetry of the postwar generation, but no “great reactionary poet” ever appeared. Instead, Kunetsov wrote his own alternative to the liberalism of the day. He is not reactionary on a political sense, but his poetry seems antihumanistic and lacking in tenderness and lacking in tenderness. Kuznetsov’s unquestioned, even rare talent as a poet is a unique combination of vampire and nightingale, of darkness and light. Perhaps no one has written so shatteringly about the pain of orphanhood as he, transforming pain into a cry of accusation against his father for dying and thus abandoning his wife and son.

When his first book was published in 1972, the naked sincerity of his work had a remarkable impact. Many consider him the future hope of Russian poetry. Others, who maintain that antihumanism and talent are incompatible, considered him and obtuse reactionary. One aspect of his reactionary character is the scandalous, mocking statement he made about the poetry of women, insulting both Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva and all other women poets. (He announced that there are only three types of women poets, the first being the embroidery work of Akhmatova, the second the hysteria of Tsvetayeva, and the third, a general, faceless type.) Kuznetsov is certainly more complex that Aleksandr Blok’s definition of the poet: “[The poet] is entirely the child of the good and of light, he is entirely the triumph of freedom.” Kuznetsov is a child of light, but also darkness. We should not forget his light.

Biographical information about Kuznetsov, p.984-5, ‘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).

Измена (Infidelity) by Olga Berggolts

Not waking, in my dreams, my dreams,
I saw you – you were alive.
You had endured all and come to me,
crossing the last frontier.

You were earth already, ashes, you
were my glory, my punishment.
But, in spite of life,
of death,
you rose from your thousand
graves.

You passed through war hell, concentration camp,
through furnace, drunk with the flames,
through your own death you entered Leningrad,
came out of love for me.

You found my house, but I live now
not in our house, in another;
and a new husband shares my waking hours…
O how could you not have known?!

Like the master of the house, proudly you crossed
the threshold, stood there lovingly.
And I murmured: ‘God will rise again’,
and made the sign of the cross
over you – the unbeliever’s cross, the cross
of despair, as black as pitch,
the cross that was made over each house
that winter, that winter in which

you died.
O my friend, forgive me
as I sigh. How long have I not known
where waking ends and the dream begins…

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)
a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz
(1946)
translated by Daniel Weissbort

Recited by Veronika Nesterov with some additional music

Измена

Не наяву, но во сне, во сне
я увидала тебя: ты жив.
Ты вынес все и пришел ко мне,
пересек последние рубежи.

Ты был землею уже, золой,
славой и казнью моею был.
Но, смерти назло
и жизни назло,
ты встал из тысяч
своих могил.

Ты шел сквозь битвы, Майданек, ад,
сквозь печи, пьяные от огня,
сквозь смерть свою ты шел в Ленинград,
дошел, потому что любил меня.

Ты дом нашел мой, а я живу
не в нашем доме теперь, в другом,
и новый муж у меня — наяву…
О, как ты не догадался о нем?!

Хозяином переступил порог,
гордым и радостным встал, любя.
А я бормочу: «Да воскреснет бог»,
а я закрещиваю тебя
крестом неверующих, крестом
отчаянья, где не видать ни зги,
которым закрещен был каждый дом
в ту зиму, в ту зиму, как ты погиб…

О друг,— прости мне невольный стон:
давно не знаю, где явь, где сон …

Тень (Shade) by Anna Akhmatova

What does a certain woman know

about the hour of her death?

Osip Mandelstam

Tallest, most elegant of us, why does memory

Insist you swim up from the years, pass

Swaying down a train, searching for me,

Transparent profile through the carriage-glass?

Were you angel or bird? – how we argued it!

A poet took you for his drinking-straw.

Your Georgian eyes through sable lashes lit

With the same even gentleness, all they saw.

O shade! Forgive me, but clear sky, Flaubert,

Insomnia, the lilacs flowering late,

Have brought you – beauty of the year

’13 – and your unclouded temperate day,

Back to my mind, in memories that appear

Uncomfortable to me now. O shade!

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

.

.

Beneath is the original version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Тень

Что знает женщина одна о смертном часе?

О. Мандельштам

Всегда нарядней всех, всех розовей и выше,

Зачем всплываешь ты со дна погибших лет,

И память хищная передо мной колышет

Прозрачный профиль твой за стеклами карет?

Как спорили тогда — ты ангел или птица!

Соломинкой тебя назвал поэт.

Равно на всех сквозь черные ресницы

Дарьяльских глаз струился нежный свет.

О тень! Прости меня, но ясная погода,

Флобер, бессонница и поздняя сирень

Тебя — красавицу тринадцатого года —

И твой безоблачный и равнодушный день

Напомнили… А мне такого рода

Воспоминанья не к лицу. О тень!

In 1940 by Anna Akhmatova

1

When you bury an epoch

You do not sing psalms at the tomb.

Soon, nettles and thistles

Will be in bloom.

And only – bodies won’t wait! –

The gravediggers toil;

And it’s quiet, Lord, so quiet,

Time has become audible.

And one day the age will rise,

Like a corpse in a spring river –

But no mother’s son will recognize

The body of his mother.

Grandsons will bow their heads.

The moon like a pendulum swinging.

And now – over stricken Paris

Silence is winging.

.

.

2

To the Londoners

Shakespeare’s play, his twenty-fourth –

Time is writing it impassively.

By the leaden river what can we,

Who know what such feasts are,

Do, except read Hamlet, Caesar, Lear?

Or escort Juliet to her bed, and christen

Her death, poor dove, with torches and singing;

Or peep through the window at Macbeth,

Trembling with the one who kills from greed –

Only not this one, not this one, not this one,

This one we do not have the strength to read.

.

.

3

Shade

What does a certain woman know
about the hour of her death?
– Osip Mandelstam

Tallest, most elegant of us, why does memory

Insist you swim up from the years, pass

Swaying down a train, searching for me,

Transparent profile through the carriage-glass?

Were you angel or bird? – how we argued it!

A poet took you for his drinking-straw.

Your Georgian eyes through sable lashes lit

With the same even gentleness, all they saw.

O shade! Forgive me, but clear sky, Flaubert,

Insomnia, the lilacs flowering late,

Have brought you – beauty of the year

’13 – and your unclouded temperate day,

Back to my mind, in memories that appear

Uncomfortable to me now. O shade!

.

.

4

I thought I knew all the paths

And precipices of insomnia,

But this is a trumpet-blast

And like a charge of cavalry.

I enter an empty house

That used to be someone’s home,

It’s quiet, only white shadows

In a stranger’s mirrors swim.

And what is that in a mist? –

Denmark? Normandy? Or some time

In the past did I live here,

And this – a new edition

Of moments lost forever.

.

.

5

But I warn you,

I am living for the last time.

Not as a swallow, not as a maple,

Not as a reed nor as a star,

Not as water from a spring,

Not as bells in a tower –

Shall I return to trouble you

Nor visit other people’s dreams

With lamentation.

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

.

.

Below are the original Russian versions of this verse in Cyrillic.

.

.

1

Август 1940

То град твой, Юлиан!

Вяч. Иванов

.

Когда погребают эпоху,

Надгробный псалом не звучит,

Крапиве, чертополоху

Украсить ее предстоит.

И только могильщики лихо

Работают. Дело не ждет!

И тихо, так, господи, тихо,

Что слышно, как время идет.

А после она выплывает,

Как труп на весенней реке,—

Но матери сын не узнает,

И внук отвернется в тоске.

И клонятся головы ниже,

Как маятник, ходит луна.

Так вот — над погибшим Парижем

Такая теперь тишина.

.

.

2

Лондонцам

И сделалась война на небе.

– Апок.

.

Двадцать четвертую драму Шекспира

Пишет время бесстрастной рукой.

Сами участники чумного пира,

Лучше мы Гамлета, Цезаря, Лира

Будем читать над свинцовой рекой;

Лучше сегодня голубку Джульетту

С пеньем и факелом в гроб провожать,

Лучше заглядывать в окна к Макбету,

Вместе с наемным убийцей дрожать,—

Только не эту, не эту, не эту,

Эту уже мы не в силах читать!

.

.

3

Тень

Что знает женщина одна о смертном часе?

О. Мандельштам

.

Всегда нарядней всех, всех розовей и выше,

Зачем всплываешь ты со дна погибших лет,

И память хищная передо мной колышет

Прозрачный профиль твой за стеклами карет?

Как спорили тогда — ты ангел или птица!

Соломинкой тебя назвал поэт.

Равно на всех сквозь черные ресницы

Дарьяльских глаз струился нежный свет.

О тень! Прости меня, но ясная погода,

Флобер, бессонница и поздняя сирень

Тебя — красавицу тринадцатого года —

И твой безоблачный и равнодушный день

Напомнили… А мне такого рода

Воспоминанья не к лицу. О тень!

.

.

4

Уж я ль не знала бессонницы

Все пропасти и тропы,

Но эта как топот конницы

Под вой одичалой трубы.

Вхожу в дома опустелые,

В недавний чей-то уют.

Всё тихо, лишь тени белые

В чужих зеркалах плывут.

И что там в тумане — Дания,

Нормандия или тут

Сама я бывала ранее,

И это — переиздание

Навек забытых минут?

.

.

5

Но я предупреждаю вас,

Что я живу в последний раз.

Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,

Ни тростником и ни звездой,

Ни родниковою водой,

Ни колокольным звоном —

Не буду я людей смущать

И сны чужие навещать

Неутоленным стоном.