In the candle-light and among prayers at night, Among trophies of war and serene peaceful fires, Children lived steeped in books, far from crude, real-life fights, By their childish mishaps mortified. Somehow kids always feel A disgust with their age, And in fights we would spill Hidden hurt and dark rage. But our mothers would mend Those patched-up rags of ours, While our hearts would be rent By the books we devoured. Then our foreheads would suddenly glisten with sweat, We would feel as if endlessly falling through space, As the rumble of battle turned our little heads And we breathed in the smell of old dust and suspense. We whoíd seen no wars fought, Either big ones or small (Someone howled - and we thought: What a brave, daring call). We would try to divine The deep meaning of orders, Of attacks, skirmish lines, And the purpose of borders. In the cauldrons of battles fought ages ago There was much food for thought, for our little live brains. We appointed our enemies to play the roles Of cowards, Judases, traitors and such, in our games. We would always see through Any villainous ploys, We would ever stay true To sweet maids of our choice; Upright warriors at heart, We would spoil for the fray - The heroic parts Ourselves we would play. But you canít live forever in this make-believe. Games are over quite soon - so much grief in the land! So you have to begin in real earnest to live And to take up the arms from dead menís tired hands. Still warm armour put on, Take your fatherís old sword - And youíll very soon learn Who is who and whatís what. Coward or hero - this Will be easy to see, You will know how it feels In a real fight to be. When a friend in a battle at your side falls dead, And your heart is with anguish about your loss filled, When your whole soul feels raw, as if you had been flayed, All because it was he, and not you, who got killed, You will know your twin foes - They are Evil and Lie, For wherever they go People die, people die So that these two might live, These assassins depraved. Where these ghouls go, they leave Only ravens and graves. If you hacked your way through with your fatherís old sword, For the loss of your comrades-in-arms tears shed, If in fierce bloody battles you learnt what is what - We can say that in childhood the right books you read. But if meat off a knife You have not even tried. If in all of your life You have not taken sides, Never joined in the strife With the base, the unfair - Then youíve been in this life Neither here, nor there!
© Sergei Roy. Translation, 1990