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Read on..

 

The Hostess

to Valentina Serova

Peace will be signed and we’ll be at your door
At twelve o’clock at night, with noise and mirth,
Your humble servant, just as in the war,
And all his dearest friends - those that remain on earth.
That night I wish that you may be again
That woman who is present in my mind,
Surrounded at your table by the men,
Beside the window with the cotton blind.
The anti-aircraft thuds a distant bass,
The record player wails an ancient sorrow,
The men are all enraptured by your face
And half of them go back to war tomorrow.
It’s three o’clock, we’re almost at the door,
But someone’s reading verse before it ends
And one of those who came the time before
Must now be mourned for as men mourn their friends.
I wasn’t jealous then or now - I know
That only you could smooth away their cares.
So short the evening and it’s time to go!
The horns are sounding from the jeeps downstairs!

With you, I had a silent understanding -
I went with all the rest into the snow,
I walked with them across the winter landing -
And back again to see you when they go.
Perhaps the truth was not too hard to guess -
It’s better thus, our love was in the way.
These evenings, you belonged to none of us.
How right you were, to take my rights away!
It’s not for me to judge how they should feel,
But in those days of parting and distress,
There lived in you that feminine ideal,
That gentle voice, those slender arms, that dress
Which they so greatly lacked, as they went off
As go they must, come morning, to the front
To the Crimea, or Kaluga, or Rzhov.
No girls were there to wave their scarves to them;
No trumpets sounded for them; and their wives
Far away somewhere neither knew nor saw;
And in the morning they must give their lives
Into the implacable embrace of war.
That final hour before they went that night,
You all at once seemed to them all they had.
You never realised the frightful height
Which you had reached in them, for good or bad.
Perhaps they were not quite in love with you -
For me alone, most wonderful of wives -
But that last evening, they all saw in you
That high ideal for which men give their lives -
That radiance of the child, the girl, the woman -
The bride - all that we simply can’t surrender.
We go to death, protecting you in common
You, women, you - so helpless and so tender.
That image that we all have known since childhood -
A woman's smile - how much it is, how little!
How right you were that, as you parted from us,
You gave to all the same before we went to battle.

So peace is signed, and we are at your door,
At twelve o’clock at night, with noise and mirth,
Your humble servant, just as in the war,
And all his dearest friends - those that remain on earth.
They come in army greatcoats and are are slow
To take their belts off and to come inside.
War was but yesterday - but days ago
They buried him - the latest one who died.
The one you ask about: “Hasn’t he come?”
And suddenly the conversation ceases
How wide, it seems, the table has become -
They silently begin to count the places.
And as you meet their glance, you’ll feel you ought
To tell them why you’ve laid an extra plate.
You’ll whisper softly “Oh, I guess I thought
Someone might be delayed and get here late..”
We’ll say no more to that - we know precisely -
Those who still live, have come, and those not in the hall
Have gone so far away that they’re unlikely
To make it later on this earth at all.

So, let’s sit down. How many do you think?
One, two, three, four - let’s move the chairs up tight
To those who “may come later” we shall drink
In the first toast we share with you tonight.
- But what if it was me who was delayed?
And when I don’t appear and you complain,
A whisper breaks the silence, half afraid
To tell you that you’ll wait for me in vain?
Don’t call it off - you must not spoil the evening!
What if for me you feel a special pain?
What if I loved you? What does it mean
That I shall never see your eyes again?
We gathered here as equals - only later
Fate gave you me alone when back I came,
But sitting in this room around this table
Our rights in you were equal and the same.
Later will be the time when you’ll remember.
Later, if need be, will be time for tears,
When, standing in the cold sheet at the window,
You’ll beg for mercy from the lonely years.
But now you must not spoil with tears and sorrow,
By grief for me deny the final right
To those who yet will go to war tomorrow,
And those, like me, who don’t return tonight.

Put out our glasses there with all the others!
And when you least expect us, we'll arrive!
Pour out the wine into our silent glasses -
That task must fall to someone who’s alive!
You’re sober yet, and so it’s still too early
For us to join you; but we’re on our way.
Midnight has struck. Drink on until the morning!
We’ll wait here on the threshold till the day.
Who told a lie and said I wasn’t coming?
We’re here all right! And when you’re drunk all round,
We’ll silently pull up our chairs to join you
And toast our living hosts without a sound...R

1942

Konstantin Simonov