SONGS OF RUSSIA
( From the Yiddish of Morris Rosenfeld )
Not far from Plevna, fifty and a hundred steps away,
There is a grave, but where it lies no passer-by could say.
The place is all forsaken, a dreary spot and lone;
No wreath lies on that sepulchre, there stands no marble stone;
There grows no grass, no flower, no leaf—yet there in death's embrace
A hero rests, a soldier brave who came of Jewish race.
Upon the spot where erst he fell in battle he doth lie,
Where Russia celebrates with pride her greatest victory.
A deep, dead silence reigns around; all things have fallen asleep;
But when the clock upon the tower at midnight boometh deep,
A strong east wind begins to blow; it thunders, it appals,
It clamors, storms and rattles, it roars and loudly calls;
And 'neath the storm the silent earth cleaves and doth open stand;
The hero rises from his grave, his drawn sword in his hand.
He stands upon the fortress, grim courage in his frown,
And from the wound within his heart the blood is flowing down.
His pure blood wells forth freely, his heart's deep wound is wide;
He lifts his sword, and cries in tones that ring on every side:
"My comrades of the war, arise to judgment! Speak and say!
Tell me, did I fight faithfully upon the battle day?
Say, did I fall upon this spot with an heroic band,
And die for Russia's honor, die for the Russian land?"
And then in wrath a countless host awakens suddenly,
As many as the sands that, sleep beside a silent sea.
For swiftly the whole army arises at his call;
From near and far, with heavy tread, they gather, one and all.
There is a trampling and a clang, a marching and a hum,
A galloping and whirling, as in a cloud they come;
And of that phantom army each soldier lifts his hand,
And swears, "You died with honor, died for your native land!"
Soon all again is quiet, the night is still as death,
And all that countless army has vanished in a breath.
But still the Jewish soldier on the fortress stands alone,
And every word he utters like a hot grenade is thrown:
"O Russia! from my wife and child you reft me without ruth,
And to defend your honor I perished in my youth.
Why now my wretched family drive forth their bread to find
In distant lands? A heavy curse I send you on the wind!"
Scarce has the curse been uttered—full fraught with pain, alack!—
When into the cold grave again the tempest sweeps him back;
And every night at midnight this scene is acted o'er.
The soldier's curses, deep and dread, are gathering more and more.
They grow and grow; the tempest's wings on to Gatschina bear
Those curses keen, and scatter them upon the palace there.
( From the Yiddish of Morris Rosenfeld )
The awful wind, the storm with peril fraught,
Is wrestling with a ship upon the sea.
It would destroy her; she in sore distress
Cleaves the deep waters, groaning heavily.
The mast is cracking, quivering is the sail,
Frightful the water's depths of roaring strife;
The wind contends and struggles with the ship
In fury, in a fight for death and life.
Now she is driven forward and now back,
Now she must stoop, now rise upon the main.
The ship is but a plaything of the waves
That swallow her, then spew her forth again.
The ocean roars, the billows lift themselves,
And awfully they thunder, lash and hiss.
The murderous storm seeks all things to destroy,
And opened are the jaws of the abyss.
Sighs, prayers are heard, for great the peril is,
And dreadful the distress. With suppliant breath
Now every man is calling on his God
To save the people from a certain death.
The children weep, the women wail in fear,
The folk confess their sins, with desperate mind;
And souls are fluttering, bodies quivering,
In terror of the mad, destructive wind.
But in the steerage down below, two men
Sit quietly; no pangs their heart-strings thrill.
They seek no rescue and they make no plans,
As if all things around were safe and still.
The water roars, the billows foam, the winds
Howl with prodigious tumult as they blow;
The boiler gasps, the smokestack buzzes loud,
But calm and silent are the men below.
Coolly they gaze into the eyes of Death;
They care not for the tempest's dangerous might.
It seems as if the spectre Death himself
Had reared the two, in terror and dark night.
"Who are you, tell me, miserable men,
That you can hide all signs of pain and dread—
That even at the awful gates of death
You have no sighs to breathe, no tears to shed?
"Say, did graves give you birth, and do you leave
No parents and no wife behind to weep —
No child who will lament when you are lost
In these abysses terrible and deep?
"Do you leave no one to feel grief for you,
To long for you, shed tears in sorrow sore,
When the vast watery graveyard covers you
And you unto the earth return no more?
"Have you no country and no fatherland,
No friendly house, no home to which to go,
That you have such contempt for life, and wait
For the dark grave without a sign of woe?
"No one in heaven have you on whom to call
From trouble's depths, no God to whom to cry?
Have you no nation, say, have you no faith?
Ye wretched ones, what is your destiny?"
Yawns the abyss, and loud the billows roar;
Creaks the ship's rigging as the blast sweeps by;
The tempest howls, and wildly pipe the winds;
And thus, at last, with tears one makes reply:
"The graveyard dark was not our mother, nay,
Nor was the grave our cradle-bed of old,
'Twas a good angel that gave birth to us,
A mother dear, with heart of tenderest mould.
"A mother fondled us, a loving breast
Nurtured us, warm as any breast could be.
A happy father also every day
Gazed in our eyes and kissed us tenderly.
We had a house, but it has been destroyed;
Our holy things were burned by murderous bands,
Our best and dearest slain — dead bones are they ;
Those left were driven forth with fettered hands.
''Known is our country—oh! 'tis recognized
With ease, alas! by ceaseless bloody news
Of baitings, beatings, burnings, riots wild,
Death and destruction dealt to wretched Jews.
"Jews, hapless Jews are we, without a friend,
A joy, or hope of happiness, alack!
Ask us no more, no more! Leave us in peace.
America to Russia drives us back —
"To Russia, whence we fled; to Russia back,
Because we have no money. Journeying thus,
What have we left to look for or to hope?
What good is life or this dark world to us ?
"Something you have to weep for; you have cause
To murmur and fear death. You have a home
To which to go; you left America
Of your free choice, not forced by fate to roam.
"We are forlorn and lonely like a rock;
On this ill earth no place for us is found.
Travellers are we, but no one waits for us.
Tell us, I pray you, whither we are bound?
"Let the wind storm, and let it howl with rage,
Let the deep seethe and boil and roar around!
We Jews are lost, however it may be;
The sea alone can quench our burning wound."
Armenian Poems translated by Alice Stone Blackwell
Blackwell, Alice Stone. Songs of Russia rendered into English verse
by Alice Stone Blackwell. Chicago, IL: printed under the Supervision
of Charles H. Kerr & Company (Co-operative)