Poems from the Front

Photos kindly provided by Robert Chandler

A collection of poems by Russian poets who served in the Second World War (Great Patriotic War).

This picture shows the crossing of the River Don by Soviet soldiers in 1942, described by Nikolay Gribachyov in one of the poems in the collection.

13 of us translators worked on this anthology under the leadership of Katherine E Young. I translated poems by Nikolay Gribachyov, Dmitriy Kedrin, Sergey Markov, Sergey Narovchatov, and Nikolay Starshinov. The anthology was published in Russia in hardback in late 2021. It has been nominated for ‘Book of the Year 2021’ in a category specifically relating to the war. If you read Russian, you can see a little more about it here and here.

По земле позёмкой жаркий чад.
Стонет небо, стон проходит небом!
Облака, как лебеди, кричат
Над сожжённым хлебом.

Хлеб дотла, и всё село дотла.
Горе? Нет… Какое ж это горе…
Полплетня осталось от села,
Полплетня на взгорье.

Облака кричат. Кричат весь день!..
И один под теми облаками
Я трясу, трясу, трясу плетень
Чёрными руками.

Сергей Наровчатов, 1941

Along the ground, hot fumes like wind-whipped snow.
The sky is howling, the howl has become the sky.
Clouds like swans are screaming, screaming over
Crops burned cinder-dry.

The crops are gone. The village burned and gone.
Grief? No. Grief’s too plain a word.
Half a fence is left of all the village,
Half a fence upon the hill.

The clouds are screaming. They scream and won’t relent.
And all alone beneath the screaming clouds,
I rock and rock and rock the scrap of fence
With blackened hands.

Sergey Narovchatov, 1941