Nikolay Gumilev

War

Like a dog on a chain the machine-gun
Barks out from beyond the wood;
Splinters of shrapnel are buzzing
Like bees as they forage for food.

And that distant ‘Hurrah’, like the song of
The reapers, might tempt you to say
That this is some peaceful village
At the end of a fruitful day.

And in truth, the majestic work of
War is so holy and good
You’d think that behind each warrior
A bright-winged angel stood.

Then bless this day the labourers
As they slowly proceed, oh Lord,
To reap a harvest of glory
From fields which they’ve soaked with blood.

Before you, like those who labour
In sorrow and prayer at the plough,
As luminous as waxen candles,
The hearts of the soldiers glow.

But remember, oh Lord, to grant victory
To the one who before the end
Says to the fallen enemy:
‘Receive this kiss from a friend.’
1914

Translated from the Russian by Stephen Capus

Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov was an influential Russian poet, literary critic, traveler, and military officer. He was a cofounder of the Acmeist movement. He was arrested and executed by the Cheka, the secret Soviet police force, in 1921.

Stephen Capus studied Russian at the University of Birmingham and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London. He has published poems, translations and articles in various magazines. A number of his translations were featured in the Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, published in 2015.