Konstantin Simonov

Simonov through English Eyes

Open Letter

An Open Letter to a woman in Vichuga

I must inform you that the letter
Which you, at some time, recently,
Were not ashamed to send your husband,
Has failed to reach the addressee.

He was not wounded by your letter.
The coarse, unthinking things you said.
They have not made him lose his reason
Or curse the feelings that are dead.

And when he rose to lead his men
Against the ruins in the square
You cruel, cold, unthinking letter
Was fortunately not yet there.

And when he staggered, badly wounded,
Bleeding and roughly bandaged, numb,
The letter you had sent to him
Had fortunately not yet come.

And when he fell down on the pavement
And dark and cold broke off his breath,
The letter that his wife had sent him
Was undelivered at his death.

We took the town. I may inform you
That in the liberated square,
We wrapped him in a soldier's groundsheet
And buried him at nightfall there.

A tin star marks his grave location,
Next to a poplar, very tall.
But I forget - to you these details
Are of no interest at all.

Your letter came the morning after
And as the addressee was dead,
(I hope you will excuse us soldiers)
We read aloud what you had said.

It's possible you have forgotten
So by his comrades' general vote
I shall remind you of the contents.
Here is the gist of what you wrote:

You have, you say, another husband;
Have lived with him about a year.
The former man would not be welcome
If he should ever reappear.

Apparently you live in plenty;
You lack for nothing. By the way,
There's no more need for the allowance
Deducted from his Army pay.

And he should pester you no longer
And stop expecting you to write
That was the word you use - just "pester"
You chose a word to make it hurt.

And that was all. And nothing more.
We read it patiently again -
The words which, in a soldier's absence,
You mustered to inspire your pen.

"Don't pester me." "Another husband".
What words to send when you're apart!
This man had gone to die for you!
Where had you lost your woman's heart?

I shall nor be your judge. Not all
Can bear the strain of absence. No -
Not all, I know, can love for ever -
For love can come and love can go.

But still I cannot understand it
How you, without a thought or care,
Could send this virus in a letter
To spread the plague among us here.

I know you now don't love him. So
He isn't wanted any more.
Live with whichever man you choose to -
The latest, or the one before!

But God! It's not the soldier's fault
Defending you is such a bother.
More than two years he's had no leave
And so you've left him for another!

Was it not possible at least
To break it gently to the man?
If you can't find the right expressions,
Then get some help from one who can.

There are, thank God, still now in Russia,
Some kind and thoughtful women who
Would willingly have helped you write it
And chosen the right words for you.

Homage is due to these good women.
Like you, they have been left behind.
They would not hesitate to help you
To find the words to spare his mind.

I hope that they will read this verse;
Those torn apart from us by war
Should know about the harm you're doing -
Not just unfaithfulness, but more.

You've sown a seed of doubt in us -
And made their husbands think a little
And hesitate to open letters
Which come to them before a battle.

You shall be judged by distant wives
Whom you have slandered, made us doubt
And wonder, if we trust too much,
Unpleasant truths may soon come out.

And they will try and find you guilty
That for too long, you played a part -
The role of woman and of wife,
And hid your cold reptilian heart.

Well, now, your husband's killed. He's dead.
No problem! You have found a better!
The dead man won't annoy you now
With more of his unwanted letters.

Live without fear of shame or blame!
You'll get no pestering, no harm.
He won't come back, when the War's over,
And see you walking arm and arm.

You must forgive him one slight problem -
It's just that, for a month or more
It's possible the postal system
May bring his letters to your door.

A letter's slower than a bullet!
And nothing can be done; that's why
You'll get a letter in September
When he was killed in late July!

Each line he wrote in adoration
- Which I expect you'll find absurd.
So on behalf of all his comrades,
I formally take back his words.

On behalf of the officers of the regiment K. Simonov

1943