Mikhail Lermontov: Borodino
|Battle of Borodino, by Peter von Hess, 1843|
– HEY tell, old man, had we a cause
When Moscow, razed by fire, once was
Given up to Frenchman's blow?
Old-timers talk about some frays,
And they remember well those days!
With cause all Russia fashions lays
– Yea, were there men when I was young,
Whose songs your tribe is not to 've sung:
They'd fight,– you 're none as good!
An evil lot have they been drawn:
Few left the grounds to which they had gone...
Had it not been God's will alone,
Old Moscow should have stood!
Retreating this day and the next,
We wonder'd when 's our battle, vext;
The veterans talk'd upset:
"What then? we 're off to winter dorms?
Go the commanders by new norms;
Daren't they rip foreign uniforms
On Russian bayonet?"
And then we had come upon a plain:
Here 's room to fight with might and main!
There built we a redoubt.
Our troops are curt on high alert!
Soon as sun's beams on cannon spurt,
And on the bluish wood-tops squirt –
The Frenchmen march right out.
I drove the shell in tight: well isn't
It meet our guest receive a present!
Hold off, my friend Moosue!
Who needs these games, why not begin;
Those left alive will wall you in,
If this be what it takes to win
Our motherland from you!
Why give of that too many thoughts?
We waited third day on.
Words started then to fly to the ear:
"'Tis time we use the grape-shot, hear!"
And now the field of carnage sheer
The pall of night does don.
Then I dozed off beside our gun,
And not until the dawn, was done
The revel of the French.
But quiet was our open camp:
His shako with a brush one 'd scamp,
Cross-hearted, would another tramp,
His sharpen'd bayonet clench.
And once the sky lit from its border –
Formations, gleaming, pass'd in order,
With shouts all took its berth.
Our colonel's mettle did you feel:
Czar's servant, soldiers' father real...
Yea, 'tis a pity: slain by steel,
Now sleeps he in black earth.
And eyes aflame, he spoke his mind:
"Hey lads! is Moscow not behind?
By Moscow then we die
As have our brethren died before!"
And that we'll die we all then swore,
And th' oath of loyalty ne'er tore
Neath Borodinian sky.
Some day it was! Through flying smoke
Set out in swarms many a French bloke,
And e'er for our redoubt.
The lancers in their motley guise,
Dragoons with horse-tails with loud cries –
They all would flash before our eyes,
They all were near about.
You 're never to behold such fights!..
The banners would fly by like sprites,
In smoke would glimmer fire,
The blade would sound, the grape would shriek,
The fighters' hand to thrust grow weak,
And muzzles have no space to seek
O'er bloody heaps e'er higher.
The foe that day had many ways
To feel what daring combat weighs,
Our Russian hand-to-hand!..
As did our chests – earth's hollows trembled;
The steeds, the men all disassembled,
And cannon volleys' sound resembled
A moaning o'er the land...
Dusk fell. We all were ready to
Next morrow start the fight anew
And stand till none were left...
Of drums we heard far off the rattle:–
The pagans left the field of battle.
To count then we began the sad toll
Of wounds and comrades reft.
Yea, were there men when I was young,
Bold tribe of whom shall songs be sung:
They'd fight,– you 're none as good.
An evil lot have they been drawn:
Few left the grounds to which they had gone.
Were 't not the will of God alone,
Old Moscow would have stood!
Translation from Lermontov. BORODINO
M. Iu. Lermontov 1814-1841