to Alexei Surkov
Remember, Alyosha, the roads of Smolenshchina,
Remember the rain and the mud and the pain,
The women, exhausted, who brought milk in pitchers,
And clasped them like babies at breast, from the rain.
The whispering words as we passed them – ‘God bless you!’
The eyes where they secretly wiped away tears!
And how they all promised they would be ‘soldatki’,
The words of old Russia from earlier years.
The road disappearing past hills in the distance,
Its length that we measured with tears on the run.
And villages, villages, churches and churchyards,
As if all of Russia were gathered in one.
It seemed that in each Russian village we passed through,
The hands of our ancestors under the sod
Were making the sign of the cross and protecting
Their children, no longer believers in God.
You know, I believe that the Russia we fight for
Is not the dull town where I lived at a loss
But those country tracks that our ancestors followed,
The graves where they lie, with the old Russian cross
I feel that for me, it was countryside Russia
That first made me feel I must truly belong
To the tedious miles between village and village,
The tears of the widow, the women's sad song.
Remember, Alyosha, the hut at Borisov,
The girl and her passionate, desperate cry,
The grey-haired old woman, her velveteen jacket,
The old man,,in white as if ready to die!
And what could we say? With what words could we comfort them?
Yet seeming to gather the sense of our lack,
The old woman said, ‘we shall wait for you, darlings!
Wherever you get to, we know you'll come back!’
‘We know you'll come back!’ said the fields and the pastures,
‘We know you'll come back!’ said the woods and the hill.
Alyosha, at nights I can hear them behind me.
Their voices are following after me still.
Because we are Russian, just fire and destruction
Are all we abandon behind as we go.
And fighting beside us, our comrades are dying
And Russians die only the face to the foe.
Alyosha, till now we've been spared by the bullets.
But when (for the third time) my life seemed to end,
I yet still felt proud of the dearest of countries,
The great bitter land I was born to defend.
I'm proud that the mother who bore us was Russian;
That Russian I'll fall as my ancestors fell;
That going to battle, the woman was Russian,
Who kissed me three times in a Russian farewell!
© 2019-20 Mike Munford