Posted on: July 15, 2020 Posted by: belle Comments: 0
The Motherland Calls Statue in Volgograd, Russia

I learned about war a bit too young. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to how children discover their world and I remember it was an innocent primary school project about ANZAC soldiers writing letters home that lifted the veil for me.

I remember it so clearly – pretending to write a single page goodbye. Realising in words a moment before the battle where death would not be accidental nor unavoidable, and where even if you escaped the odds you would never be the same again. Like a thumbprint on my soul, I’ve had a lifetime of uncontrollable sobbing at the last post and panic attacks at war memorials. I’ve learned to be very delicate in my consumption of war media to avoid becoming overwhelmed. The battle of Stalingrad is my white whale.

At the end of that battle it’s estimated two million souls lay under the snow. Russian archaeologists continue to uncover bones today, still wearing helmets and boots undisturbed since the day they fell. Hundreds of thousands have been recovered, thousands are still lost. I wish that military cemeteries for unknown soldiers weren’t planted in neat rows. It just reminds me that these boys were conscripted into battalions they have not escaped, even in death.

A russian soldier uncovered by archaeologists

This year (as my birthday dawned in Australia), Russia was celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Nazi Surrender with a huge concert in Volgograd. One of my favourite actors Konstantin Khabensky read a poem that was so beautiful I needed to share it.

Written by poet Yuri Levitansky (who fought on the Eastern Front) it was published in 1981. I’ve found a few translations of the poem but each one does not seem to capture it – weirdly Google translate is the best version I have found. I’m not a translator or a poet but I’ve tried to smooth out the Google grammar to share these wonderful words with you.

Ну что с того, что я там был.
Я был давно. Я все забыл.
Не помню дней. Не помню дат.
Ни тех форсированных рек.

(Я неопознанный солдат.
Я рядовой. Я имярек.
Я меткой пули недолет.
Я лед кровавый в январе.
Я прочно впаян в этот лед —
я в нем, как мушка в янтаре.)

Но что с того, что я там был.
Я все избыл. Я все забыл.
Не помню дат. Не помню дней.
Названий вспомнить не могу.

(Я топот загнанных коней.
Я хриплый окрик на бегу.
Я миг непрожитого дня.
Я бой на дальнем рубеже.
Я пламя Вечного огня
и пламя гильзы в блиндаже.)

Но что с того, что я там был,
в том грозном быть или не быть.
Я это все почти забыл.
Я это все хочу забыть.
Я не участвую в войне —
она участвует во мне.
И отблеск Вечного огня
дрожит на скулах у меня.

(Уже меня не исключить
из этих лет, из той войны.
Уже меня не излечить
от той зимы, от тех снегов.
И с той землей, и с той зимой
уже меня не разлучить,
до тех снегов, где вам уже
моих следов не различить.)

Но что с того, что я там был!..
Well, so what? I was there.
It was long ago. I have forgot.
I don’t remember the days, the dates.
Nor those forced rivers.

(I am an unknown soldier.
I am ordinary. I am any name.
I am a bullet mark undershot.
I am a bloodstain on January ice.
I am soldered firmly —
frozen within, like a fly in amber.)

Well, so what? I was there.
I’ve lost everything. I have forgot.
I don’t remember the dates, the days.
I don’t remember their names.

(I am the trample of driven horses.
I am a hoarse cry as I run.
I am a moment in an unlived day.
I am fighting on a distant front.
I am the fire of the Eternal Flame
and the fire of a shell in the trenches.)

Well, so what? I was there.
In that formidible ‘to be or not to be’
I have almost forgotten all this.
I want to forget all this.
I do not fight in war —
war fights in me.
And the light of the eternal flame
trembles on my cheek.

(No longer can I be removed
from those years, from that war.
I cannot be healed
from that winter, from that snow.
And from that land, and from that winter
I cannot be torn away,
until my final snowfall
when my footprints will be lost.)

Well, so what? I was there.