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Russian/Soviet military poetry thread

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  • Russian/Soviet military poetry thread

    After the songs, paintings and movies threads the only cultural aspect of war as it is seen from the Russian side that remains uncovered on this forum is poetry. I can't promise I'll put such a great effort into it as Andrey did with his threads, but hopefully the other Russian members will make their contributions here.

    I'll start with the poems of the greatest Russian military poet ever, Konstantin Simonov. Many of them were translated into English by a poetry enthusiast Mike Munford and published on his site The poems below were taken from this site.

    Wait for me

    Wait for me, and I'll come back!
    Wait with all you've got!
    Wait, when dreary yellow rains
    Tell you, you should not.
    Wait when snow is falling fast,
    Wait when summer's hot,
    Wait when yesterdays are past,
    Others are forgot.
    Wait, when from that far-off place,
    Letters don't arrive.
    Wait, when those with whom you wait
    Doubt if I'm alive.

    Wait for me, and I'll come back!
    Wait in patience yet
    When they tell you off by heart
    That you should forget.
    Even when my dearest ones
    Say that I am lost,
    Even when my friends give up,
    Sit and count the cost,
    Drink a glass of bitter wine
    To the fallen friend -
    Wait! And do not drink with them!
    Wait until the end!

    Wait for me and I'll come back,
    Dodging every fate!
    "What a bit of luck!" they'll say,
    Those that would not wait.
    They will never understand
    How amidst the strife,
    By your waiting for me, dear,
    You had saved my life.
    Only you and I will know
    How you got me through.
    Simply - you knew how to wait -
    No one else but you.


    It is the most well-known of his poems, and it became immesely popular at the front as it was first published in summer-autumn 1941.

    Remember, Alyosha, the roads of Smolenshchina

    to Alexei Surkov

    Remember, Alyosha, the roads of Smolenshchina,
    Remember the rain and the mud and the pain,
    The women, exhausted, who brought milk in pitchers,
    And clasped them like babies at breast, from the rain.

    The whispering words as we passed them - "God bless you!"
    The eyes where they secretly wiped away tears!
    And how they all promised they would be "soldatki",
    - The words of old Russia from earlier years.

    The road disappearing past hills in the distance,
    Its length that we measured with tears on the run.
    And villages, villages, churches and churchyards,
    As if all of Russia were gathered in one.

    It seemed that in each Russian village we passed through,
    The hands of our ancestors under the sod
    Were making the sign of the cross and protecting
    Their children, no longer believers in god.

    You know, I believe that the Russia we fight for
    Is not the dull town where I lived at a loss
    But those country tracks that our ancestors followed,
    The graves where they lie, with the old Russian cross.

    I feel that for me, it was countryside Russia
    That first made me feel I must truly belong
    To the tedious miles between village and village,
    The tears of the widow, the women's sad song.

    Remember, Alyosha, the hut at Borisov,
    The cry of the girl as she mourned, and the sight
    Of the grey-haired old woman, her velveteen jacket,
    The old man, as if dressed for death, all in white!

    And what could we say? With what words could we comfort them?
    Yet seeming to gather the sense of our lack,
    The old woman said "We shall wait for you, darlings!
    Wherever you get to, we know you'll come back!"

    "We know you'll come back!" said the fields and the pastures,
    "We know you'll come back!" said the woods and the hill.
    Alyosha, at nights I can hear them behind me.
    Their voices are following after me still.

    By old Russian practice, mere fire and destruction
    Are all we abandon behind us in war.
    We see alongside us the deaths of our comrades,
    By old Russian practice, the breast to the fore.

    Alyosha, till now we've been spared by the bullets.
    But when (for the third time) my life seemed to end,
    I yet still felt proud of the dearest of countries,
    The great bitter land I was born to defend.

    I'm proud that the mother who bore us was Russian;
    That Russian I'll fall as my ancestors fell;
    That going to battle, the woman was Russian,
    Who kissed me three times in a Russian farewell!

    July 1941

    The Lieutenant

    For three long months continues the bombardment.
    The bloodstained Malakhov withstands it still.
    The hoarse-voiced drum drives on the British redcoats.
    Once more they throw themselves against the hill!

    But by the far Pacific on Kamchatka
    The fortress slumbers on in peace profound.
    The lame lieutenant, garrison commander,
    Pulls on his gloves and goes his daily round.

    A grey old soldier, lazily saluting,
    Shades with his sleeve his eyes against the sun;
    The skinny goat belonging to the fortress
    Is tethered with a rope beside the gun.

    No news, no letters, no response to pleading -
    They have forgotten, seven seas away,
    That here upon the farthest point of Russia,
    A company of men is in their pay.

    But as he strained his eyes against the sunlight,
    Far to the south across the sea, perhaps,
    It seemed to the lieutenant they were coming -
    There in the mist - he saw the shape of ships!

    He seized the glass. Across the silent water,
    Now green, now white with agitated foam,
    In line ahead, the British ships were moving,
    Advancing steadily towards his home.

    What can have brought them here from far off Albion?
    What do they want? A distant booming sound -
    And suddenly, the sea below the bastion
    Rose boiling with the impact of the round.

    All afternoon, the guns fired on at random
    And threatened soon to set the town aflame.
    Then bearing a demand for their surrender,
    Beneath a flag of truce, an envoy came.

    The old lieutenant, feeling that his lameness
    Might make the credit of his country fall,
    Received the envoy haughtily and seated
    Upon a bench beside the fortress wall.

    What was there to defend? The rusty cannons,
    Two dirty streets all overgrown with weeds,
    The slant-roofed huts that served to house the soldiers,
    A useless bit of land that no one needs!

    But something told him he would not surrender.
    He felt a chunk of earth beneath his hand.
    He would not yield this place up to the sailor;
    Perhaps forgotten, it was still his land!

    The tattered weather-beaten flags still fluttered
    Above the roof and up against the tree.
    "Go tell your queen I shall not sign your paper!"
    He answered the attacker from the sea.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    The British, beaten off, had long departed,
    The roofs repaired that stood beside the waves,
    Some time had passed since all the dead were buried
    And pinewood crosses placed upon their graves

    And then, delayed a year upon the voyage,
    St Petersburg despatches came at length.
    The orders were to take decisive measures:
    The garrison must be brought up to strength.

    A captain, fit to lead the force in battle,
    Was posted there, where now he was to serve.
    The old lieutenant's service was rewarded -
    He was retired and placed on the reserve!

    The poor old soldier walked about the fortress...
    He knew the ship was ready to depart -
    But in his mind, the cold official paper,
    The useless bit of land that claimed his heart!


    The British Military Cemetery at Sebastopol

    No holly bush is here; no ancient yew tree;
    Strange stones embedded in the salt marsh stand,
    And rusted by the sun, the cypresses,
    Like swords erect and planted in the sand.

    And underneath the slender crowns of cypress,
    Deep in the earth beneath the flagstones laid,
    In order by battalion and by squadron,
    The British troops are drawn up on parade.

    The heavy lilac bushes break the sunlight
    And rustle, moving in the wind, the while
    The caretaker, on hands and knees beside them,
    Cuts short the turf into the English style.

    To soldiers resting in their final dwelling,
    A ship from Devon brought a load of tiles,
    A prickly blackthorn hedge was planted round them,
    And flowers came, from seven thousand miles.

    The soldiers far from home will sleep more soundly
    Knowing the sheltering mounds above their heads
    Are roofed across with tiles from distant England
    And English grass is planted round their beds.

    On dusty granite pyramids above them,
    On plates of brass on which the writing fades,
    An English craftsman has engraved in detail
    Their numbers and the names of their brigades.

    But yet, before they loaded up the vessel,
    In fear of foreign treachery and hate,
    They hurriedly translated into Russian
    The sad descriptions of the soldiers' fate.

    The villainous translator made a garble
    Of putting into Russian as he must
    The words in which the mourning English widow
    Implored us to respect her husband's dust.

    "Here lies a sergeant. In the name of Heaven,
    Bow down your head before this holy cross!"
    So many miles from England! Such a distance
    From wives and girls who must endure this loss!

    On foreign soil they might insult her husband -
    Plough up the land and break his tombstone there!
    His wife, his mother beg you not to do it!
    In heaven's name, please listen! Do not dare!

    No need to fear! The date's already fading
    On monuments above their silent bed.
    The British soldiers sleep in peace in Russia.
    We never wreaked our vengeance on the dead!


    Comrades in Arms

    It is as if my friends are marching
    And I along with them, in time,
    Through many different streets they're passing,
    Those nearest, dearest friends of mine.

    They are not those with whom I started
    And learned my letters, in my place,
    Nor those with whom I shaved moustaches
    Still scarcely noticed on the face.

    We have not drunk our tea together,
    Divided bread in equal shares.
    Quite unaware of my existence,
    They go about their own affairs.

    And yet the time will come when fortune
    Will bring us side by side in war.
    We'll tear a corner from a letter
    To roll the cigarette we share.

    And we shall use an empty food-can
    To scoop up water for a friend
    And wrap a spare puttee around him
    To help his wounded leg to mend.

    By Konigsberg, one early morning,
    We both shall fall, two wounded men,
    And then a month in hospital,
    And we'll survive, and back again.

    The sacred hot offensive frenzy,
    The bitter, brutal toil of war
    Will bind as one our generation -
    An iron knot for evermore.


    Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour

  • #2
    Two poets and two generals

    The two poems you'll read in this post form an interesting historical parallel, providing a comparison between the fates of poets and warlords - the two most glorified human creeds. The first poet, Derzhavin, was a courtier who praised the high and mighty in his odes and elegies, holding high ranks in the times of Catherine the Great. The second one, Brodsky, was a dissident, who was exiled from the country for pretty much no reason. One of his poems, written on the occasion of Zhukov's death, is a poetic answer to Derzhavin's ode to Suvorov, the greatest military commander Russia ever had. He masterfully exploited the similarities in their lives, like being glorified and disfavoured by their rulers, to write a poem that is much greater than a parody or a stylisation, as it provides an insight if not into the Russian soul, then into the Russian fate.

    The Bullfinch
    *(Suvorov had a pet bullfinch that could sing a part of a military march's tune)

    Why do you strike up songs military
    Fife-like, o, bullfinch, my friend?
    Who'll take the lead in our fight with Hell's forces?
    Who will command us? What Hercules?
    Where is Suvorov, strong, swift and fearless?
    Now Northern thunder lies dead in the grave.

    Who will ride fiery, ahead of the legions,
    Nag for a steed, and crusts for meal,
    Temper his sword in the heat and in ice storms,
    Sleep on straw pallets, labor 'til dawn,
    Bring down the armies, the walls and the forts
    With but a handful of stout Russian men?

    Who will excel in unwavering courage,
    Conquering fate with a prayer and with faith,
    Evil with bayonets, envy with jests?
    Capturing scepters, remaining a slave,
    Who will keep striving for valor alone,
    Live for our Tsars, while consuming himself?

    Glorious heroes like this one are gone now
    Bullfinch cease singing your songs military!
    Music of war brings us no more enjoyment.
    Sad laments everywhere sound from the lyres:
    Heart of a lion and wings of an eagle
    Now and forever gone-how will we fight?

    Translation taken from here

    On the Death of Zhukov

    Columns of grandsons, stiff at attention;
    gun carriage, coffin, riderless horse.
    Wind brings no sound of their glorious Russian
    trumpets, their weeping trumpets of war.
    Splendid regalia deck out the corpse:
    thundering Zhukov rolls toward death’s mansion.

    As a commander, making walls crumble,
    he held a sword less sharp than his foe’s.
    Brilliant maneuvers across Volga flatlands
    set him with Hannibal. And his last days
    found him, like Pompey, fallen and humbled –
    like Belisarius banned and disgraced.

    How much dark blood, soldier’s blood, did he spill then
    on alien fields? Did he weep for his men?
    As he lay dying, did he recall them –
    swathed in civilian white sheets at the end?
    He gives no answer. What will he tell them,
    meeting in hell? “We were fighting to win.”

    Zhukov’s right arm, which once was enlisted
    in a just cause, will battle no more.
    Sleep! Russian history holds, as is fitting,
    space for the exploits of those who, though bold,
    marching triumphant through foreign cities,
    trembled in terror when they came home.

    Marshal! These words will be swallowed by Lethe,
    utterly lost, like your rough soldier’s boots.
    Still, take this tribute, though it is little,
    to one who somehow – here I speak truth
    plain and aloud – has saved our embattled
    homeland. Drum, beat! And shriek out, bullfinch fife!

    --Joseph Brodsky (translated by George L. Kline)

    Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour


    • #3
      One of my favourites from from Vladimir Vysotsky

      Почему все не так? Вроде все как всегда:
      То же небо - опять голубое,
      Тот же лес, тот же воздух и та же вода,
      Только он не вернулся из боя.

      Мне теперь не понять, кто же прав был из нас
      В наших спорах без сна и покоя.
      Мне не стало хватать его только сейчас,
      Когда он не вернулся из боя.

      Он молчал невпопад и не в такт подпевал,
      Он всегда говорил про другое,
      Он мне спать не давал, он с восходом вставал,
      А вчера не вернулся из боя.

      То, что пусто теперь, - не про то разговор,
      Вдруг заметил я - нас было двое.
      Для меня будто ветром задуло костер,
      Когда он не вернулся из боя.

      Нынче вырвалась, будто из плена, весна,
      По ошибке окликнул его я:
      - Друг, оставь покурить! - А в ответ - тишина:
      Он вчера не вернулся из боя.

      Наши мертвые нас не оставят в беде,
      Наши павшие - как часовые.
      Отражается небо в лесу, как в воде,
      И деревья стоят голубые.

      Нам и места в землянке хватало вполне,
      Нам и время текло для обоих.
      Все теперь одному. Только кажется мне,
      Это я не вернулся из боя.


      • #4
        Originally posted by skoblin View Post
        One of my favourites from from Vladimir Vysotsky
        Vysotsky is my favorable singer. I have some thousands of his records...
        If you fire a rifle at the past, the future will fire a cannon at you.....


        • #5
          He didn’t come back from the battle

          Now the world seems so strange, though it looks just the same:
          Skies are blue as the iris petal,
          Just the same are the forest, the river, the flame,
          But he didn’t come back from the battle.

          I don’t see who was right in the disputes we had,
          I cannot understand who was better...
          Yet I started to miss him as soon as this lad
          Failed to come back alive from the battle.

          With his gibberish talk he would wake me at dawn,
          He would not let me sleep with his prattle;
          His remarks would be wrong, he would slip in a song,
          But he yesterday fell in the battle.

          It’s not loneliness that I’m talking about;
          We were two - and no one can reset it...
          By the wind my campfire at once was put out
          When he didn’t return from the battle.

          To the troubles we have, our dead will respond,
          They’ll protect our values and treasures,
          Skies reflect in the forest as if in the pond
          And the trees look as if painted azure.

          Spring has just shaken off winter’s shackles. And I
          Simply called him, forgetting the matter:
          “Buddy, leave me a drag!” - but there is no reply,
          He would never come back from the battle.

          In the dug-out we had I would share with him
          Time and space and a battered old kettle...
          Now I own them alone. But I really seem
          To have fallen myself in the battle.

          © George Tokarev. Translation, 1998
          Edited by Robert Titterton

          Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour


          • #6
            Alexander Tvardovsky


            I was killed near Rzhev
            In a nameless bog,
            In fifth company,
            On the Left flank,
            In a cruel air raid

            I didn’t hear explosions
            And did not see the flash
            Down to an abyss from a cliff
            No start, no end

            And in this whole world
            To the end of its days -
            Neither patches, nor badges
            From my tunic you’ll find

            I am where the blind roots
            Seek for food in the dark
            I am where the rye waves
            On a hill in the dust

            I am where the cockerel cries
            In the dew of the dawn
            I am where your cars
            Tear the air on highways

            Where – small stalk to small stalk –
            River’s weaving its grass
            Where for the remembrance
            Even my mother won’t come

            In a bitter year’s summer
            I was killed. And for me
            Neither news nor bulletins
            Will come after this day

            Would you, the living, count
            How long before that
            For the first time in front news
            They named Stalingrad

            The front burned without stopping
            Like a scab on the flesh
            I was killed and I don’t know
            Is Rzhev ours at last?

            Have ours held their ground
            There, on the Middle Don?
            This was the month of horror
            Everything was at stake

            Could it be that by autumn
            He already took Don?
            And he broke through to Volga
            Riding onto its bank?

            No, it’s not true! That mission
            He could never complete.
            No way I say, no! Even for the dead
            It would be too terrible to hear

            Even the dead and voiceless
            Have one last single joy
            We have fallen for the Motherland
            But it’s finally saved.

            Our eyes have faded
            Out is the flame of our hearts
            And up there, at roll calls
            They are not calling us.

            We’re like bumps or stones
            Even darker and dumber.
            Our memory eternal –
            Who is jealous to it?

            Our ashes are rightfully
            Owned by black earth
            Our eternal glory
            Is of little delight.

            We shall not wear our
            Battle awards
            This is all for you, the living,
            We have just one last joy

            That we didn’t fight in vain
            For our Motherland
            Let our voice be inaudible
            You’ve got to know it now.

            And you had to, my brothers,
            Stand fast like a wall
            For the curse of the dead
            Is a terrible wrath

            We are forever given
            This bitter right
            And it is forever ours
            This bitter right

            In the summer of forty-two
            I was buried without a grave
            Everything what came later
            Was taken by the death

            All, what has been for many
            So clear and common
            But then may it all be
            In accord with our belief

            Brothers, maybe you didn’t
            Lose the Don battlefield only
            And were dying in battles
            Fighting behind Moscow

            And in steppes behind Volga
            Dug your trenches in haste
            And in battles you marched
            To the limits of Europe

            For us it would suffice
            To know for sure
            There was that last inch
            On the road of war -

            That very last inch:
            If it is abandoned,
            There’s nowhere to put
            The foot that had stepped behind

            And you drove the enemy
            Back to the West
            May it be so, my brethren
            And Smolensk’s now ours

            And you’re crushing the enemy
            On the other front,
            And maybe it’s the border
            Your are nearing now?

            May it be… Let the holy oath’s
            Words be fulfilled :
            For Berlin, if you remember
            Was named near Moscow

            Brothers, who now trample
            The stronghold of enemy land
            If the dead and the fallen
            Could only cry!

            If only victory salvoes could
            Resurrect us for an instant,
            Us, deaf and numb,
            Us, who rest in eternity

            O, my faithful comrades,
            Only then at this war
            Your limitless happiness
            You would realise!

            In this happiness there is
            Our inalienable part,
            Our, severed by the death,
            Faith and hatred and passion.

            All is ours! We did not cheat,
            In this cruel fight,
            We have given all ours
            And left nothing to ourselves

            Everything is bequeathed to you
            For all time, not for a term
            And this mental voice of ours
            Is no reproach to the living.

            For we had no distinction
            In this war at all:
            Those living and those fallen –
            We were all equal.

            And no one of the living
            Is indebted to us
            Those, who took up the colours
            From us on the run

            Only to fall one step later
            For the holy cause,
            For the Soviet power,
            Like all of us.

            I was killed at Rzhev,
            And he – somewhere near Moscow…
            Where are you, warriors, where,
            Is there anyone alive?!

            In the million-large cities
            In the villages, at family homes?
            At the military garrisons,
            On a foreign land?

            Ah, does it really matter
            If it’s foreign or ours
            If it’s snow-covered or blossoming…

            I bequeath you to live –
            What more can I do?

            I bequeath you to be happy
            In your life over there
            And to serve your Motherland
            With honour for long.

            When in sorrow – be proud,
            Do not bend down your head
            When rejoicing – don’t boast
            In the victory hour.

            And to safeguard, brothers, this victory,
            The happiness of yours, -
            In the memory of your warrior-brother
            Who has fallen for it.


            Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour


            • #7
              My favorite remains the following:

              Мой товарищ, в смертельной агонии
              Не зови понапрасну друзей.
              Дай-ка лучше согрею ладони я
              Над дымящейся кровью твоей.
              Ты не плачь, не стони, ты не маленький,
              Ты не ранен, ты просто убит.
              Дай на память сниму с тебя валенки.
              Нам еще наступать предстоит.

              Ион Деген

              Although the second to last line I have seen written differently:
              Дай-ка лучше сниму с тебя валенки.
              Last edited by Kunikov; 28 Dec 09, 15:33.
              "This isn't Paris, you will not get through here with a Marching Parade!" Defenders of Stalingrad
              "Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out... and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.... And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for "the universal brotherhood of man" - with his mouth". Mark Twain
              "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire


              • #8
                I don't share the author's attitude, but I thought it should be mentioned as it was written by a well-known and talented poet and probably reflected the sentiment of some part of the Soviet people at the time. This poem wasn't published at the time, only after the war in the "Novy mir" magazine.

                To Chicago factory owner

                Out of the crates, burst open by a shell
                Tin can rolled down in the tree branches' mesh
                A dead cook stares with a dim sight
                Upon the stencil "Made in U-S-A"

                He silently demands an answer
                The dead man with a wound on his temple
                But the one who's hiding behind the stencil's letters
                Is numb in his overseas faraway land

                Those, whose shreds of meat were scattered in the field,
                Are never seen from so distant land
                That lays beyond the ocean, which is always
                So neat and still and ever blessed by god

                His heart is clean, he's pleased and content
                He is amassing profits for the future
                The goods of his Chicago slaughterhouses
                He's sent in time, they have been paid in our blood

                He couldn't care less that in foul captivity
                You little ones have been torn apart by dogs
                And he will get his full measure
                For every pound of his Chicago sausage

                And on the day you will achieve your victory
                He will, spreading sweet words around,
                Just like a jackal, walk the trail of glory
                Of a lion, wounded in a deadly battle.

                Alexey Surkov, 1942


                Из ящиков, расколотых снарядом,
                Скатились банки в бурелом ветвей.
                Убитый повар смотрит тусклым взглядом
                На трафаретку “Мэйд ин Ю-Эс-Эй”.

                Он молчаливо требует ответа,
                Мертвец с кровавой раной на виске.
                Но тот, кто скрыт за буквой трафарета,
                Молчит в своем заморском далеке.

                Валяющихся в поле мясом рваным
                Ему из дальней дали не видать.
                Его страна лежит за океаном.
                Там тишь, да гладь, да божья благодать.

                Он сердцем чист, доволен и спокоен.
                Он прибыли откладывает впрок.
                Продукцию чикагских скотобоен
                В расчет за нашу кровь он выслал в срок.

                Ему полгоря, что в плену поганом
                Твоих малюток растерзали псы.
                И он с тебя получит чистоганом
                За каждый фунт чикагской колбасы.

                А в день, когда добудешь ты победу,
                Он, расточая сладкие слова,
                За славой, как шакал, придет по следу
                Израненного в смертной схватке льва.

                Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour


                • #9
                  Антонеску и Михай подралися за малай.
                  И такой поднялся хай, хоть ложись, хоть умирай.
                  *** Антонеску был высок - захватил большой кусок.
                  *** Романия, папушой у Михая нос большой.
                  Антонеску дал приказ за 2 дня забрать Кавказ.
                  А румыны не поняли и за 2 дня Кавказ отдали.
                  *** Нема сала, нема вина, досвиданья Украина.
                  *** Ши гаина, ши кукош Сталин дядька нуй карош.
                  Антонеску дал приказ всем румынам на Кавказ,
                  а румыны ласа, ласа, на каруци да акаса!
                  *** Романия - аста бун,
                  *** Романия нуй сапун!
                  Kind regards

                  * My grandfathers WW2 memoirs - Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, 1944-1945.
                  * On the question of "2 mil. rapes" by RKKA
                  * Verdicts of RKKA Military Tribunals for crimes against civilians in 1945


                  • #10
                    Vysotsky singing "He didn't come back from the battle"


                    • #11


                      Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour


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