Today’s book is something a little different – the collected works of Ivan Savin, sometimes referred to as the ‘poet of the White ideal’. When doing research for my doctoral thesis, I discovered that Russian émigré military journals often contained poems by Savin, so when I found this book for sale in a Moscow bookstore I snapped it up.
Ivan Savin was the pen-name of Ivan Savolainen, a Russian of Finnish extraction who was born in Odessa in 1899. During the Russian Civil War, he served in the White Volunteer Army, as did his brothers, all of whom were killed during the war. When the Whites abandoned Crimea in November 1920, Savin was left behind because he was suffering from typhus. Eventually released by the Bolsheviks, he fled to Finland where he lived until his premature death in 1927 following an operation for appendicitis.
Reflecting on Savin’s work, Nobel prize winning novelist Ivan Bunin commented, ‘What he left behind him has guaranteed him for ever an unforgettable page in Russian literature; first because of the complete originality of his poems and their pathos; and second because of the beauty and strength of their general tone.’
Below is the poem from which the line on the book’s cover (‘My white knight’) is taken. My not very poetic translation follows the Russian:
Мальчик кудрявый смеется лукаво.
Смуглому мальчику весело.
Что наконец-то на грудь ему слава
Беленький крестик повесила.
Бой отгремел. На груди донесенье
Штабу дивизии. Гордыми лирами
Строки звенят: бронепоезд в сражении
Синими взят кирасирами.
Липы да клевер. Упала с кургана
Капля горячего олова.
Мальчик вздохнул, покачнулся и странно
Тронул ладонями голову.
Словно искал эту пулю шальную.
Вздрогнул весь. Стремя зазвякало.
В клевер упал. И на грудь неживую
Липа росою заплакала …
Схоронили ль тебя – разве знаю?
Разве знаю, где память твоя?
Где годов твоих краткую стаю
Задушила чужая земля?
Все могилы родимые стерты.
Никого, никого не найти …
Белый витязь мой, братик мой мертвый,
Ты в моей похоронен груди.
Спи спокойно! В тоске без предела,
В полыхающей болью любви,
Я несу твое детское тело,
Как евангелие из крови.
To my brother Nikolai
The curly-haired young boy laughs slyly.
The dark-complexioned young boy is happy.
That at last on his chest, glory to him,
Hung a white cross.
The battle thundered. At his chest a dispatch
To the division staff. With proud lyres
The lines ring out: in battle an armoured train
Was captured by the Blue Cuirassiers.
Lime trees and clover. There fell from the kurgan
A drop of hot tin.
The young boy sighed, reeled, and strangely
Touched his head with his palms.
As if he was looking for the stray bullet.
He started. His stirrup began to jingle.
He fell into the clover. And on his lifeless chest
The lime cried with dew.
Did they bury you … how do I know?
How do I know where your memorial is?
Where did your short life
An alien soil suffocate?
All native graves have been erased.
You won’t find anybody, anybody.
My white knight, my dead little brother,
You are buried in my heart.
Rest in peace! In limitless grief,
In the blazing pain of love,
I bear your childish body,
Like a gospel of blood.