War (Война), Nikolai Gumilev


“…[I]t is Gumilev’s name which is most often associated with the Russian poetic experience of the First World War. … One of the reasons for this … association is that Gumilev was the only major Russian poet to see actual service in the Imperial Army. Although he had a medical exemption, Gumilev volunteered for service just one month after Russia entered the war. … Gumilev’s war poems are usually exalted and rhetorical in tone. He treats the “poetic” aspects of the situation (honor, courage, sacrifice) with little concern for objective reality.” (“The Theme of War in the Works of Gumilev”, N. Elaine Rusinko, in The Slavic and East European Journal, Volume 21, No. 2 (Summer 1977))

Gumilev wrote this in 1914.

To M.M. Chichagov

Like a dog that strains on heavy halter
Rifle yaps across the forest now,
Bee-like, buzzing shrapnel doesn’t falter,
Gathering bright red honey from the bough.

In the distance, though, “Hurrah” is sounding
Like the reapers’ singing when they’re done.
Oh, you’ll say that peace is here abounding –
Blessèd village ’neath the setting sun.

And, indeed, it’s bright and seeming holy
As unfolds majestic art of war.
Gleaming seraphim descend on lowly
Soldiers’ shoulders as they have before.

Now, O Lord, we pray you’d grant your blessing
On those reapers as they slowly tread
Through the fields where blood is earth caressing –
Those who sow, in glory reap instead.

As for those who over plough are bending,
Those who kneel in prayer as they mourn,
Hearts they have whose flame will burn unending,
Dripping candles gutter as they burn.

But, O Lord, I pray in your compassion
Grant to others strength and glory’s bliss,
To defeated grace these words to fashion:
“Here, beloved, take a brother’s kiss!”


М. М. Чичагову

Как собака на цепи тяжелой,
Тявкает за лесом пулемет,
И жужжат шрапнели, словно пчелы,
Собирая ярко-красный мед.

А «ура» вдали — как будто пенье
Трудный день окончивших жнецов.
Скажешь: это — мирное селенье
В самый благостный из вечеров.

И воистину светло и свято
Дело величавое войны.
Серафимы, ясны и крылаты,
За плечами воинов видны.

Тружеников, медленно идущих,
На полях, омоченных в крови,
Подвиг сеющих и славу жнущих,
Ныне, Господи, благослови.

Как у тех, что гнутся над сохою,
Как у тех, что молят и скорбят,
Их сердца горят перед Тобою,
Восковыми свечками горят.

Но тому, о Господи, и силы
И победы царский час даруй,
Кто поверженному скажет: «Милый,
Вот, прими мой братский поцелуй!»

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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