Konstantin Simonov

"With death an inch above my head"

to Valentina Serova

With death an inch above my head
Upon the blackened ridge I lay
And I was grateful in my heart
That you were very far away.
And thunder was not in your ears,
And hell was not before your eyes,
And somewhere in a distant town,
A peaceful house and garden lies;
And water flows there to refresh,
And peaceful shade beneath a tree
- Yes, I was glad to tell myself
You could not share this day with me.

And yet I want you to be here,
Through every day and every night
And like a shadow, follow me
Through every battle that I fight.
I want you here to share my bread,
To share my grief, to share my tears,
To share my anger when I rage
And when I fear, to share my fears;
If I am frozen, you must freeze;
If I am blinded, you'll be blind;
My voice must be upon your lips,
My every thought be in your mind.

The friends with whom I share my fate
Must not say (as they seem to do)
"She's far away and I am here!
What can that woman mean to you?
"It wasn't her in the attack!
It wasn't her who got you through!
It wasn't her who saved your life!
What can that woman mean to you?
How can you say she's at your side?
How can her name be on your breath?
How can she take the place of friends
Who share with you this life, this death?"

I should be able to reply
"Did you not see her as she lay
Curled up beside me on the ground
When death was but an inch away?
"Have you forgotten, in the days
When things were blackest, she was there,
And when you came to save my life,
She helped you as you pulled me clear.
"And when - perhaps you did not see -
I raised my grateful glass to you
To celebrate my near escape -
Beside us there - I saw her too."