Sunday, 19 April 2015

World War II Memorial Poetry

The Soviet Union was among the hardest hit countries in the Second World War (often called the "Great Patriotic War" in Russia), with an estimated 20 million casualties, civilian and military combined, while being responsible for 75% of the total Nazi casualties, turning the tide of the war. This year, Trinity College's poetry and song evening for the Dublin Festival of Russian Culture was themed as a memorial to Soviet losses during WWII. Below are three new poetry translations that were featured.

'Wait for Me' was a popular anthem of the war by poet Konstantin Simonov, in tribute to the many lovers separated by the war. In 1957, famed Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov (I Am Cuba) portrayed the anguish of the uncertainly waiting women left behind, in The Cranes Are Flying, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Song text:
Wait for me and I'll return, only wait for long,
Wait when the driving yellow rains make you feel forlorn,
Wait for me through storms of snow, wait in burning heat,
Wait while all forget their vows, don't admit defeat.
Wait when letters fail to come over oceans wide,
Wait when all are overcome, waiting by your side.
Wait for me and I'll return, spare no kindly thought
For anyone who acts concerned, says "time that you forgot".
Let my son and mother think that I must be expired,
Let my friends have turned to drink, sitting by the fire,
Toast my memory... you wait. Don't believe that it's too late.
Wait for me and I'll be there, to spite each mortal peril,
Let those who didn't wait declare "what a lucky devil!"
Those faithless fools can never know how under cannon-fire,
You alone could save me, for your waiting never tired,
How I survived, just you and I, we two have understood,
Simply, you knew how to wait, the way no other could.

Marina Tsvetaeva was one of the major poet's of Russia's Silver Age, at the start of the 20th century. In How Many Plunged Down This Abyss? she meditates on mortality, the meaning of life and the need to cherish each other.

Song text:

How many plunged down this abyss,
I measure from afar?
The day comes when I won't exist.
My planet, au revoir!

All will chill that sang and strove,
Burst forth and radiantly glowed,
My green eyes, tender voice of love,
And waving hair of gold.

And living, with its daily bread,
The day oblivious,
Will all remain; sky overhead,
As though I never was.

My face as fickle as a child's
As soon forgets its spite,
When stoves burn wood, I am beguiled;
Make cinders in my sight.

Cellos and cavalcades in the woods,
Let village bells all toll,
For me, so lively, who once stood
Upon the good earth whole.

To all of you - I know no bounds,
For me or any other -
My faith demands for me be found
Some love, as for a brother.

Night and day, do write and say,
You love my 'yes' and 'no',
Because at twenty years of age,
I've lived through too much woe.

Because it cannot be avoided
My offences must be pardoned,
My tenderness too overjoyed and
My look too proud and hardened.

Because events can move too fast,
For my games, for I don't lie,
- And listen - when the rest is past,
Love me because I'll die.

Singer-songwriter-actor Vladimir Vysotsky was an icon of post-war Russia (you can find other songs elsewhere on this blog), composing songs that addressed almost all aspects of Soviet life, from the gulags to the space race. In 'He Hasn't Come Back From the War', Vysotsky pays tribute to the young men lost in WWII and the pain of those left behind.

Song text:
What's wrong with the world? It's the same as ever,
The sky still as blue as before,
The same woods, the same water, just the same weather,
But he isn't home from the war.

I cannot make out, who was wrong, who was right,
When we fought day and night without pause,
Only now do I wish he were here by my side,
When he hasn't come home from the wars.

His outbursts lacked tact, he was mute and distracted,
Off topic, an ignorant bore,
Kept me up from the crack of the dawn, he was active,
But never came home from the war.

What matter the emptiness? more of the same,
But to realize our duo's no more,
Made me feel that the wind had extinguished a flame
When he never came back from the war.

Captive spring's bursts free of its bonds,
Unthinking, I turn to implore
"Pal, leave me a smoke," only silence responds,
He hasn't come home from the war.

Our dead never leave us in need, and forever
Our fallen, like guards, will stand by,
The watery woods are a mirror to heaven,
Their trees are the color of sky.

There was plenty of room in the trenches for two,
Time enough for us both to endure,
I've the world to myself now, but still, in my view,
It is I who's not back from the war.

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