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).

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).

Беженцы (Refugees) by Ilya Krichevsky

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

Беженцы

 (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.

Krichevsky died on 21 August 1991, during the Soviet coup d’état attempt.

On 24 August 1991, by the decree of the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev, “for courage and civic valour shown in the defence of democracy and the constitutional order of the USSR“, Krichevsky was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal (No. 11659).

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).

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.

‘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.