On this day (13 April) in 1918, General Lavr Kornilov, briefly Supreme Commander of the Russian Army in July and August 1917 and later one of the founders of the anti-Bolshevik White Volunteer Army, was killed by a Bolshevik shell which landed on his headquarters outside the city of Ekaterinodar in the Kuban region of southern Russia. Below is an ode to Kornilov penned by Ivan Savin in 1925. Ivan Savin (1899-1927) was the pen name of Ivan Savolainen, a Russian Finn who fought in the Volunteer Army in the later stages of the Civil War before going into exile in Finland, where he died in 1927. Savin’s brothers all died in the war, and his poems are full of the pathos of loss – loss of family, of youth, of homeland. In this poem, which was regularly reprinted in émigré military journals, he declares that Kornilov saved Russia’s honour by proving that at least somebody had stood up to the Bolsheviks. The (not very poetic) translation is mine.
Не будь тебя, прочли бы внуки В истории: когда зажег Над Русью бунт костры из муки. Народ, как раб, на плаху лег.
И только ты, бездомный воин, Причастник русского стыда, Был мертвой родины достоин В те недостойные года.
И только ты, подняв на битву Изнемогавших, претворил Упрек истории – в молитву У героических могил.
Вот почему с такой любовью, С благословением таким Клоню я голову сыновью Перед бессмертием твоим.
But for you, our children would have read In history, that when revolt Kindled in Russia fires of torment; The people, like a slave, lay down on the executioner’s block.
And only you, homeless warrior, Sharing in Russia’s shame, Were worthy of the dead motherland In those unworthy years.
And only you, having roused The exhausted to battle, turned The reproach of history into a prayer By heroes’ graves.
That is why with such love, With such blessing I bow my head as a son Before your immortality.