Friday book #12: My white knight

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:


Брату Николаю

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.



5 thoughts on “Friday book #12: My white knight”

  1. Lucky bastard. My great grandfather also stayed in Crimea but was among those who went to registration as former czarist officer. Needless to say that wasn’t just registration.


  2. “… the collected works of Ivan Savin, sometimes referred to as the ‘poet of the White ideal’. “

    I say, the memetic “crunch of the French bread” (rus. “хруст французской булки”) is stronK in this one.

    Meme source:

    Как упоительны в России вечера
    Любовь, шампанское, закаты, переулки
    Ах, лето красное, забавы и прогулки
    Как упоительны в России вечера.

    Балы, красавицы, лакеи, юнкера
    И вальсы Шуберта и хруст Французской булки
    Любовь, шампанское, закаты, переулки
    Как упоительны в России вечера.

    This meme – “хруст французской булки” – has become the descriptive phrase to describe people crying over “[Czarist] Russis that we have lost”, White Movement’s fans and various Imperiorasts.

    “Lucky bastard. My great grandfather also stayed in Crimea but was among those who went to registration as former czarist officer. Needless to say that wasn’t just registration.”

    Alexey, you’ve been posting here in in other places for a while. Probably, you already know that my family come from the other side of the conflict. If I’m not asking for too much, can you provide a little bit of your family history in this context? How did it survive in the USSR afterwards? Or did they emigrate?


    1. Hard to speak in detail because much of family history was lost (and willfully destroyed too). So for example can’t say if my ancestor actually participated in civil war. Highly unlikely I think. He was military pilot but had to become instructor after injury even before it’s start. Since he had job and family in Crimea he decided to stay.

      Going to “registration” he left behind wife and 4 daughters. Wife died soon after and girls were under care of their aunt who’s husband was among victims of same “registration”. Again hard to say but it appears that surprisingly they were well off afterwards until they grew up and married away. And then comes WWII but this is a completely different story.

      Btw speaking of sides. I have Red Army jewish commissar among my ancestors so it’s a bit hard to say my family comes from specific side.


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