Joining the Imperial Bourgeoisie by Selwyn Pritchard

Bright as their regimental cap badges,
morning sun shines on crop-headed conscripts,
officer-cadets, temporary gents,
oiling their rifle bolts and easing springs.

It is all good chappery: some brown-nose
instructors making up teams… ‘Flower of
the fucking country!’ the RSM screams
back on the square. Oh it is just ‘not on’
not to be keen on shooting, hitting the bull.

The wind cracks red flags down the range;
snatches officerly cant; details march:
under the cloudy mystery of Wales,
beyond the buckling company marquee,
estuarial lawns run emerald down,
ravined and mollusced, to the Irish Sea.

Smartly we slip away, employ the fieldcraft
we have been taught, below the rims of streams
build dams, play like kids all day: Max, destined
soon in Penang to charge into his own
covering fire, a farmer’s only son;
myself, poet, gagging for thirty years
on thoughts ‘not on’ before Australia;
both eighteen, enjoying the higher talk
of God and Englit while the brine wind blew and bullets flew
then sliding back like spies from
the estuary of the Dee, scruffy as
the keenest shot amongst the rank and file.

by Selwyn Pritchard

Additional information: Selwyn Pritchard (4 August 1933 – 30 June 2005) was the third son of a Welsh carpenter. He left school at 16, was conscripted and served five years as a subaltern in The Royal Welch Fusiliers in Jamaica, Guyana, Dortmund and Berlin. He subsequently became a teacher before getting into Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and graduating at the age of 35. He then taught philosophy for some years before moving to the Orkney Islands with his wife and three children. In 1980 they emigrated to New Zealand, then Australia. He began to write poetry on leaving the United Kingdom. His last post was as professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Jinan University in Guanghou, People’s Republic of China. Selwyn suffered a cardiac arrest at home on the evening of June 26. He was pronounced dead on June 30 2005.

Here is his website, a brief biography and an interview with him. There are even e-books available in PDF form for free on his website of some of his works and his last collection titled ‘Autumn Tiger‘.

Последнею усталостью устав (Filled with the final weariness…) by Boris Slutsky

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?
Hardly.
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,
Лежит солдат.
Он мог лежать иначе,
Он мог лежать с женой в своей постели,
Он мог не рвать намокший кровью мох,
Он мог…
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?
Едва ли.
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.

Additional information: Бори́с Абра́мович Слу́цкий (Boris Slutsky) (7 May 1919 in Slovyansk, Ukraine – 23 February 1986 in Tula) was a Soviet poet of the Russian language.

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).