Konstantin Simonov

Константин Симонов

(1915 - 1979)





Smolensk Roads


To A. Surkov


You remember, Alyosha, the roads of Smolensk province,
And how the evil rains poured down and gave no rest,
And milk in jars was offered by tired women
Who hugged each jar like a babe against the breast.

How they quietly wiped their tears and whispered to God
"Lord, save them," praying as we rolled,
And again described themselves as the wives of soldiers
As the custom was in great Russia of old.

Measured by tears rather than versts, and lurching,
The paths wound into the hillocks, lost in space,
Villages, villages, villages, with churchyards,
As if all Russia had met in this huddled place,

As if behind each village-bound, all day,
Protecting the living with the cross of their hands,
Our great-grandfathers in village mirs were praying
For the unbelieving heirs of their broad lands.

I see my country - I think you know it, Alyosha -
Not in the townhouses where time idled by,
But in the hamlets with their simple crosses
On Russian graves, where our forefathers lie.

Not vainly, I trust, has war borne me along
These village-ways, to hear with anguished heart
The wail of the widow and the women singing,
And learn for the first time here the country-part.

You remember near Borisov the wooden shack,
The girls lamenting the dead man day and night,
The grey-haired woman in the velvet jacket,
The old man dressed for meeting death, in white.

What could we say to them? How to console their tears?
But the old woman knew why we looked so stern,
And read and answered our grief, "Now go my dears ones,
And we'll be waiting here when you return."

Aye, we'll be waiting, all the cornfields rustled,
Waiting for your return, the forests cried.
Alyosha, I heard them in the midnight hush,
The voices always echoing at our side,

And so, as the Russian custom ordered, grimly
The homes were burned and the heavy winds were grey;
Before our very eyes, our comrades, dying
Tore their shirts down the front, the Russian way.

So far we've come in safety through the bullets,
Though thrice I thought I'd seen my last of earth.
How proudly I have come to know in fullness
That loved and bitter country of my birth.

Proud that it's destined for my death-bed,
Proud that a Russian mother gave us to the day,
And proud that Russian women bid us proud farewell
With threefold kisses, in the Russian way.