Darkness-and white

Snow hurled

By the wind. The wind!

You cannot stand upright
For the wind: the wind Scouring God's world.

The wind ruffles

The white snow, pulls

That treacherous

Wool over the wicked ice.

Everyone out walking
Slips. Look-poor thingl

From building to building over
The street a rope skips nimble,
A banner on the rope:


This old weeping woman is worried to death,

She doesn't know what it's all about:
That banner-for God's sake
So many yards of cloth!
How many children's leggings it would make

And they without shirts-without boots ...


The old girl like a puffed hen picks

Her way between drifts of snow.
"Mother of God, these Bolsheviks
Will be the death of us, I know!"

Will the frost never lose its grip
Or the wind lay its whips aside?
The bourgeois where the roads divide
Stands chin on chest, his collar up.

But who's this with the mane

Of hair, saying in a whisper:
"They've sold us down the river.
 Russia's down and out!"

A pen-pusher, no doubt,
A word-spinner ...

There's someone in a long coat, sidling
Over there where the snow's less thick.
 "What's happened to your joyful tidings,

Comrade cleric?"

Do you remember the old days:
 Waddling belly-first to prayer,
When the cross on your belly would blaze
On the faithful there? ...

A lady in a fur
 Is turning to a friend:
"We cried our eyes out, dear ..."

She slips up-
Smack! -on her beam end.

Heave ho
And up she rises-so!

The wind rejoices,
Mischievous and spry,
 Ballooning dresses
 And skittling passersby.
It buffets with a shower
Of snow the banner cloth:

And carries voices.

... "Us girls had a session …
… In there on the right …
… Had a discussion
Carried a motion:
Ten for a time, twenty-five for the night …
 ... And not a ruble less from anybody …
 ... Coming to bed ... ?"

Evening ebbs out.
The crowds decamp.
Only a tramp
Potters about.

And the wind screams ...

Hey you! Hey
Give us a kiss ... ?

A crust!
What will become
Of us? Get lost!

Black sky grows blacker.

Anger, sorrowful anger
Seethes in the breast .. .
Black anger, holy anger .. .

Friend! Keep
Your eyes skinned!



The wind plays up: snow flutters down.
Twelve men are marching through the town.

Their rifle butts on black slings sway.
Lights left, right, left, wink all the way ...

Cap tilted, fag drooping, every one
Looks like a jailbird on the run!

Freedom, freedom,
Down with the cross!



It's cold, boys, and I'm numb'

"Johnny and Kate are living it up ..."

"She's bank notes in her stocking top'"

"John's in the money, too, and how'"

"He was one of us; he's gone over now'"

“Well, Mister John, you son of a whore,

Just you kiss my girl once more'"

Freedom, freedom,
Down with the cross!  
Johnny right now is busy with Kate.
What do you think they're busy at?


Lights left, right, left, lights all the way ...
 Rifles on their shoulders sway ...

Keep a Revolutionary Step!
The Relentless Enemy Will Not Stop!

Grip your gun like a man, brother!
 Let's have a crack at Holy Russia-

with her big, fat arse!

Down with the cross!




The lads have all gone to the wars

To serve in the Red Guard-

To serve in the Red Guard-

And risk their hot heads for the cause!

Hell and damnation,
Life is such fun.
With a ragged greatcoat
And a Jerry gun!


To smoke the nobs out of their holes
We'll light a fire through all the world,
A bloody fire through all the world-

Lord, bless our souls!



The blizzard whirls; a cabby shouts;

Away fly Johnny and Kate with a 'lectric lamp
Between the shafts ...
Hey there, look out!

He's in an army overcoat,
A silly grin upon his snout.
He's twirling a mustachio,

Twirling it about,
Joking as they go ...

Young Johnny's a mighty lover

With a gift of the gab that charms!
He takes silly Kate in his arms,
He's talking her over ...

She throws her head back as they hug

And her teeth are white as pearl ...
Ah, Kate, my Katey girl,
With your little round mug ...



Across your collarbone, my Kate,
A knife has scarred the flesh;
And there below your bosom, Kate,
That little scratch is fresh!

Hey there, honey, honey, what
A lovely pair of legs you've got!

You carried on in lace and furs-
Carry on, dear, while you can!

You frisked about with officers-
Frisk about, dear, while you can!

Honey, honey, swing your skirt!
My heart is knocking at my shirt!

Once upon a time you wore gray spats,
Scoffed chocolates in gold foil,
Went out with officer-cadets--
Now it’s the rank and file!

Honey, honey, don’t be cruel!
Roll with me to ease your soul!





Carriage again and cabby's shout

Come storming past: "Look out! Look out!

Stop, you, stop! Help, Andy-here!

Cut them off, Peter, from the rear!...

The snow whirls skyward off the road!


Young Johnny and the cabman run
Like the wind. Take aim. Give them one! ...

  For the road. Crack-crack! Now learn
To leave another man's girl alone!

 Running away, you bastard? Do.
Tomorrow I'll settle accounts with you!

But where is Kate? She's dead! She's dead!

A bullet hole clean through her head!

Kate, are you satisfied? Lost your tongue?
Lie in the snowdrift then, like dung!

Keep a Revolutionary Step!
The Relentless Enemy Will Not Stop!





Onward the twelve advance,
Their butts swinging together,
But the poor killer looks
At the end of his tether…


Fast, faster, he steps out.
Knotting a handkerchief
Clumsily round his throat
His hand shakes like a leaf…


“What’s eating you , My friend?”
“Why so downhearted, mate?”
“Come, Pete, what’s on your mind?
Still sorry for Kate?”


“Oh brother, brother, brother,
I loved that girl…
Such nights we had together,
Me and that girl…”


“For the wicked come-hither
Her eyes would shoot at me,
And for the crimson mole
In the crook of her arm,
I shot her in my fury--
Like the fool I am…”


“Hey, Petey, shut your trap!
Are you a woman?”
“Are you a man, to pour
Your heart out like a tap?”

“Hold your head up!”
“And take a grip!”


“This isn’t the time now
For me to be your nurse!
Brother, tomorrow
Will be ten times worse!”

And shortening his stride,
Petey slows his step ...


Lifts his head
And brightens up ...

What the hell!
It's not a sin to have some fun!

Put your shutters up, I say
There'll be broken locks today!

Open your cellars: quick, run down ... !
The scum of the earth are hitting the town!



God, what a life!
I've had enough!
I'm bored!

I'll scratch my head
And dream a dream ...

I'll chew my cud
To pass the time ...

I'll swig enough
To kill my drought ...

I'll get my knife
And slit your throat!

Flyaway, mister, like a sparrow,
Before I drink your blue veins dry
For the sake of my poor darling
With her dark and roving eye ...

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord ...

I'm bored!



Out of the city spills no noise,
The prison tower reigns in peace.


"We've got no booze but cheer up, boys,
We've seen the last of the police!"

The bourgeois where the roads divide,
Stands chin on chest, his collar up:
Mangy and flea-bitten at his side
Shivers a coarse-haired mongrel pup.

The bourgeois with a hangdog air
Stands speechless, like a question mark,
And the old world behind him there
Stands with its tail down in the dark.



Still the storm rages gust upon gust.
What weather! What a storm!
At arm's length you can only just
Make out your neighbor's form.

Snow twists into a funnel,
A towering tunnel ...

"Oh, what a blizzard! ... Jesus Christl"
"Watch it, Pete, cut out that rot!
You fool, what did Christ and his cross
Ever do
for the likes of us?
 Look at your hands. Aren't they hot
With the blood of the girl you shot?
"Keep a Revolutionary Step?
The Enemy Is Near and Won't Let Up!"

Forward, and forward again
The working men!



… Abusing God's name as they go,

All twelve march onward into snow.
Prepared for anything,
Regretting nothing ...

Their rifles at the ready
For the unseen enemy ...
In back streets, side roads
Where only snow explodes

Its shrapnel, and through quag--
mire drifts where the boots drag ...

Before their eyes
Throbs a red flag.

Left, right,
The echo replies.

Keep your eyes skinned
Lest the enemy strike!

Into their faces day and night
Bellows the wind Without a break ..

Forward, and forward again
The working men!



... They march far on with sovereign tread ...
 "Who else goes there? Come out! I said
Come out!”  It is the wind and the red
Flat plunging gaily at their head.

The frozen snowdrift looms in front.
"Who's in the drift? Come out! Come here!"
There's only the homeless mongrel runt
Limping wretchedly in the rear ...

"You mangy beast, out of the way
Before you taste my bayonet.
Old mongrel world, clear off, I say!
I'll have your hide to sole my bood"

... The shivering cur, the mongrel cur
bares his teeth like a hungry wolf,
droops his tail, but does not stir ...
"Hey, answer, you there, show yourself."

"Who's that waving the red flag?"
"Try and see! It's as dark as the tomb!"
"Who's that moving at a jog

Trot, keeping to the back-street gloom?"


"Don't you worry-I'll catch you yet,
Better surrender to me alive!"
"Come out, comrade, or you'll regret
It-we'll fire when I've counted five!"

Crack-crack-crack! But only the echo
Answers from among the eaves ...
The blizzard splits his seams, the snow
Laughs wildly up the whirlwind's sleeve ...



... So on they go with sovereign tread
Behind them limps the hungry mongrel,

And wrapped in wild snow at their head
Carrying the flag blood-red
Soft-footed in the blizzard's swirl,

Invulnerable where bullets sliced-

Crowned with a crown of snowflake pearl,
In a wreath of white rose,
Ahead of them Christ Jesus goes.


January 1918


Translated by Ion Stallworthy and Peter France (Revised)