Category Archives: Poetry

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.

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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:

Continue reading Friday book #12: My white knight

Soaring over Gallipoli

Today (25 April) is ANZAC Day, which commemorates the Australians and New Zealanders who fought at Gallipoli 100 years ago. As I have mentioned before, Russian soldiers were also at Gallipoli, although a little later (in 1921 and 1922). These soldiers made up the First Army Corps of the Russian Army of General P.N. Wrangel, and were interned at Gallipoli after the Red Army had driven them out of the Crimea in November 1921. The hardships and moral resurrection experienced by Wrangel’s troops at Gallipoli gave it a mythological status in the minds of many Russian emigres.

Below is a poem by Ivan Savin dedicated to Gallipoli. The (literal and very quick) translation is mine. The monument referred to is that constructed by the Russians before they left. Later destroyed in an earthquake, it was rebuilt in 2008.

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The original Russian monument at Gallipoli.

Огневыми цветами осыпали                                                                           Этот памятник горестный Вы                                                           Несклонившие в пыль головы                                                                             На Кубани, в Крыму, и в Галлиполи.

Чашу горьких лишений дo дна                                                                          Вы, живые, вы, гордые, выпили                                                                            И не бросили чаши … В Галлиполи                                                       Засияла бессмертием она.

Что для вечности временность гибели?                                                 Пусть разбит Ваш последний очаг –                                           Крестоносного ордена стяг                                                                               Реет в сердце, как реял в Галлиполи.

Вспыхнет солнечно-черная даль                                                                         И вернетесь вы, где бы вы ни были,                                                             Под знамена … И камни Галлиполи                                                       Отнесете в Москву, как скрижаль.

You strewed with fiery flowers                                                                           This mournful monument,                                                                                       You who did not bow your heads in the dust                                                     In the Kuban, in Crimea, and at Gallipoli.

The cup of bitter deprivations                                                                                     You – alive, you – proud, drank to the dregs                                                         And you did not cast away the cup … At Gallipoli                                           It began to shine with immortality.

What to eternity is the transience of death?                                               Though your last hearth be smashed apart –                                                       The crusading order’s banner                                                                               Will soar in the heart, as it soared at Gallipoli.

The sun-black distance flames up                                                                     And, wherever you are, you return                                                                           Under the colours … And you carry off                                                           The stones of Gallipoli to Moscow, like a tablet.

Ode to Kornilov

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.