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.
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 Yevtushenko, Tatyana 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 Bagritsky, Erich Maria Remarque, Anna Akhmatova, Aleksandr Blok, Vladislav Khodasevich, Mikhail Kuzmin, Vladimir Lugovskoy, David Samoylov and Arseny Tarkovsky.
He was presented with the following awards (taken from the Russian language Wikipedia page):
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1983)
- Medal “For the Defense of Leningrad” (Act of the Field Administration 42 A of 18.6.1943 TsAMO: f.397, op.9272, d.124_t1).
- Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd art. (Jubilee card index: No. 71 of 6.4.1985 TsAMO: No entry 1516619411).
- Laureate of the USSR State Prize (1986) (For the book “Prose in Verse“)
- Laureate of the State Prize of the Georgian SSR (1987)
- Laureate of the Vazha-Pshavela Prize of the Independent Joint Venture of Georgia (1999).
- In 1994, the President of the United States of America Bill Clinton, at the White House presented him with an award for being “Imbued with the spirit of partnership and mutual assistance, a grateful Nation will never forget your incomparable personal contribution and sacrifice shown in World War II”.
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).