Igor Vishnevetsky







In loving memory of my father


Essential introductory note


“Leningrad” is crammed with quotations –

both verbatim and modified –

which tell the story of events

that took place in reality

or in the imagination.

I have merely arranged them

in a specific order.



Chapter one. DITHYRAMB



Gleb Alfa’s diary:


“I went to look at the sand-bagged statue

packed in planks.

Custodian and transformer of our ill-starred swamps,

crowned with triumphant victor’s laurels,

goggling wide-eyed at the turgid stream,

the bridge and collegia building – yes, yes, named for him! –

at the nocturnal shimmer of the Scandinavian  Arctic Circle,

at the clouds,

gently highlighted in the late, unfading evening,

but traced out brightly now,

now he resembles a sphinx,

sinking ever deeper into corporeal time.

The serpent is hidden:

no doubt it is hissing, pinned under the hoof there inside.

The steed’s body is covered by sacks secured with planks,

not even the laurel-crowned horseman’s head can be discerned.

Atop this Afro-Asiatic construction

towering up from the boulder,

I believe Nikander would have smiled –

a few workers in black jackets potter about –

and a hoist is visible –

a beam with a squeaking cable.

They say now it is less obvious from the air,

it does not cast a sharp

horse’s shadow with a long tail and a rider,

but some quite obscure shape.

You could say, there is no shadow.

In short, the patron of our city,

who gave it his name,

is now following that name

into the realm of phantoms,

where we shall all be soon,

rising up into the rarefied,

golden wartime air.

From there, it is ever harder to see

the shadow of what is below.

I think in me the world has lost

the composer of some new songs –

songs of Leningrad.


9 September, 1941


For the second day death hails down out of

that pure and golden air.

Yesterday they set the goods station and Badaev warehouses ablaze

(that must be treason: they clearly aimed their blows,

guided by rocketeers firing signals into the air

right there beside

the warehouses).


When the sun set,

they started dropping firebombs. A spine-chilling beauty;

flame-coloured glow, sugar flowing along streets,

the smell of burnt flour.

And they say that in the zoo

the elephant and monkeys were snuffed out in an instant.

A hundred-year-old elephant, they say,

(which is doubtful):

that means he saw Pushkin.

If so, that was the final link

with the brilliant world,

the shadow of which is now concealed

beneath the camouflage.


For “the two halves of the universe

yield to the fury of Indra,

and the earth itself quakes at thy frenzy,

oh master of the crushing stones”.


15 September


These days a swelter punctuated by raids.

Impossible to sleep – might as well lie down in the park.

Bomb and gas shelters almost useless; dug too shallow.

They don’t hit parks yet, though – the Germans have a good tipster.

Cloudy today. In the western sky,

flashes of fire (our flak cannon in Kronstadt) –

the decisive fighting is there, the fiercest onslaught –

flaring like sheet lightning in the windows of buildings and trams,

flickering on the screen of the air.

Strata of sounds inside my head.

Strange how long the silence lasted – then, take that!

– bursting through

in catastrophic counterpoint

before the amazement and horror.




Vera phoned.

This is madness:

she’s still in the city. She says Georgii,

not subject to any call-up,

at his own request

has donned a uniform – the Baltic Fleet

(thank God, not the home militia –

that’s certain death in the meat-grinder),

that any day now

he joins the barracks, a translator


radio communications.


But I’m a fine one too:

ashamed that I’m the cause of everything.


19 September


The balloons rose up

like viscera ripped open.

Sometimes it seems

the city, convulsed by its injuries

defends itself by saying to the enemy: “Come on now, choke

on what you have created –

this bloody slurry”.


Cold and windy, grey clouds skimming by.

Impossible to count how many times they’ve bombed us.

At least every two hours: at eight, at ten, at twelve.

The most dreadful raid was at four.

It only stopped after midnight.

Along 25 October Prospect –

corpses in the puddles

and above – a crushing grey sky.


Mark, back from the front,

told us

that when a small truck

took a hit in front of them

(there was a film crew in it)

and he saw the shattered bodies,

thighs and feet with white bones poking through the flesh,

he felt aroused.

Death, chow, concupiscence

are fused within us,

I would say, into an orgiastic rapture,

for which the dear, old, euphonic sounds,

linked in my brain with years of work

in the dear old Zubov Art Institute,

have no point. Here, now, this is Art invading!


I walked, looking at corpses in puddles,

and, like Mark,

ashamed no longer, felt immense arousal.

Sounds moved in two mighty lines,

concluding in assertive exclamations.

A singer and a choir?

Perhaps it is a singer and a choir.

I put Vera on the tram –

Just before the evening raid.

She got home, everything’s all right

Vera ! What will happen to Vera?




From the diary of Vera Beklemisheva (née Orlik).

“The decision is irreversible: to stay. And it’s not at all because Gleb has admitted that he will be here until the end, he won’t abandon the papers and the library – this is all a pretext. Who’s going to want those papers in a month or two, except maybe for kindling? If the horror isn’t over before the winter. So what if there are papers with signatures from Cavos and Verstovsky and even Savromatov (oho!) – several bundles of letters from him to Gleb, he showed them to me: arrogant, admiring, audacious. And it’s certainly not because Gleb has admitted that, although he is not subject to the draft, he wishes ‘to see from close-up the grappling with the pseudo-Aryan wolf, with the darkness that has shrouded the heart of Europe, which ...’ – here you repeated ‘it’s the end anyway’ several times, and something else out of the Rig Veda in a translation by some Müller or other (I haven’t read it, God has spared me that). It’s beautiful, of course. He said that the music is awakening in him more intensely than ever, with almost bestial strength, he wants to compose, when he sleeps he hears the harmonies. We walked along Nevsky Prospect – corpses, holes from the bombs, frightened militiamen, one completely bewildered on the corner of Ligovka, looking away like a child – and in my head, Gleb tells me, is the counterpoint of the variations. I’m not staying here because of any variations of yours.

In a Moscow prostrate at the feet of Napoleon, Tolstoy’s Pierre also wanted to put an end to the misery of all Europe. In the final analysis, this is all the private business of Professor G.P. Alfa – what a pretentious seminarian’s name that is – but he told me: it’s from Alfani! – some academic in some institute or other. Put an end to whatever you wish with the power of your understanding, Gleb Vladimirovich. Or with the music that sounds for you, which all your life you have felt too timid to write. Well, there’s a war on now, it’s shameful to feel timid.

Gleb, you should know, the reason I stay here is not at all that I want to share your insanity and the general insanity – war is a joy to your male heart too, for me it is only horror – and not even because I feel infinitely bad about Georgii, who wept when he saw the raw triangle on my back, the scar from our clumsy lovemaking on the floor of your old, tattered apartment, between the piano and the wardrobe, and I babbled something about a hole burned in a blouse – said it was the candle at a girlfriend’s place (what candle, when everyone’s had electricity for ages now!) – and before I arrived home I even burnt a blouse with a candle specially. At the back, close to the os sacrum. Do you remember that favourite black blouse of mine that I burned a hole in? Gleb, darling, the reason I stay is not shame or love, but this –

Even before everything collapsed and we kissed to the accompaniment of late trolleybuses’ fireworks at the beginning of summer in the incredibly bright night on Horse Guard Prospect, lined with its vigilant lime trees, and you told me it was your first time with such a big girl – Gleb, in our Ukrainian family, everyone is broad and strapping, loud, but I’m really the thin one – and you asked me to take off my best shoes with the high heels to level us up (you still haven’t got used to it, and you won’t, the fact that I’m almost the same height as you) and then you put your head on my shoulder – I remember it all as if it was today – and said calmly: “And you’ll have my child too”. – “Better two.” – “All right. A boy and a girl.” – that was before we were intimate. Well then: now I’m pregnant. You have the right to think whatever you like, but I know the child is yours. Or the twins. If something happens to me and Georgii reads everything I’m writing, he’ll survive. Yes, it sounds cruel, but he’ll survive – I know it. And as for you, you won’t give a sign to anyone. You’ll bury me in yourself. It would be better if you howled.

Gleb, I’m staying because, if you die, I won’t be able to keep the child. And why should I? But this way, there is hope.

I’m not going to tell you anything yet.”




The occupation newspaper Pravda, September 1941 (editorial office: 9 Freedom Prospect, Riga):




The city is packed with refugees from various regions of Russia who have been caught in the zone of military operations.

Petersburg is so congested that large numbers of newcomers spend the night in the open air – in parks, gardens and squares.

The food situation in the city is very grave.

Petersburg has the appearance of an armed camp.

Even women and children have been mobilised.

Weapons have been distributed to people, even if they have never carried one before.

The city is under bombardment by

long-range guns,

German heavy artillery,

brought on railway platforms

along the Reval-Petersburg line.

The only railway line

that, until recently, connected Petersburg with the rest of Russia

was the Vologda line, smashed by German air power and littered

with wrecked trains. The rumble of artillery

fire, of German guns aimed exclusively at military

targets, can be heard clearly in the city.

Many inhabitants attempt to get out of Petersburg,

but unsuccessfully. On the outskirts of the city

a group of children and adults

were captured by German forces

as they tried to break out of the city.

The Germans fed the refugees,

released both children and adults,

and they returned to Petersburg

and spoke of the warm, open-hearted reception

the Germans gave them,

and their stories contributed

to the rising anti-Soviet mood

of the people of Petersburg ...


Trapped in the steel-grey ring of German forces,

Soviet Leningrad will fall and, casting off the final fetters

of 24 years of communist tyranny,

will be reborn to a bright,

happy and peaceful life

under its glorious historical name –

St. Petersburg.


Workers of the world, unite

for the struggle against communism!”




Gleb’s diary (continued)


9-14 October 1941. Days of incessant air-raids and the beginning of the Feast of the Intercession.

It is essential for me to write this down, while my conception and perceptions are still clear – at least as the skeleton of what I can hear, a sketch in words, listing everything that later, if circumstances permit, will take on acoustic flesh, without allowing the yawning gaps to delay me.

The form is variations – actually double ones: pro and contra, blinding light and deceptive twilight, Alpha and Omega, if you wish (no allusion intended).

Two themes.

A solo kettledrum, with a prelude to a paean of praise. Theme one: on a piano, or even on two pianos, with their lids yawning wide open, displaying the inner strings and ribs of a corporeal soul (for the soul of music is precisely corporeal, although it strives for elemental numericality), its bleeding body. The theme rises in a steady crescendo, in counterpoint with a line of bells. Like a stanza of verse, if you write it down in words, you get this:


City flooded with sunlight                and crowned with flak-cannon explosions

early blanket of snowfall                              and a dazzlingly bright spitting rain

river breathing, a stream                             through itself ever flowing on

we can nevermore still                                 pulsing rhythms in pounding hearts

(_ᴗ_ᴗᴗ_ᴗ     ᴗ_ᴗᴗ_ᴗᴗ_ᴗ

_ᴗ_ᴗᴗ_ᴗ      ᴗ_ᴗᴗ_ᴗᴗ_

_ᴗ_ᴗᴗ_         ᴗᴗ_ᴗᴗ_ᴗ_

ᴗᴗ_ᴗᴗ_        _ᴗ_ᴗ_ᴗᴗ_


the words are only approximate, but I’m sure of the rhythm.)


And the second theme is an anti-theme, with the rhythm on a rich cello, in dialogue with a viola, over pale under-painting on a double-bass – again I turn it into words


and gliding like a snake slithering airborne into its strike

a tree of flame seeking with its roots to drink

the breath of life of hopes the wafting gust

clearing in a moment the view through the atmosphere’s onrush


(and so:


ᴗ_ᴗᴗᴗ_ /_ᴗᴗ_ᴗ_ᴗᴗ_

ᴗ_ᴗ_ / _ᴗᴗᴗ_ᴗ_





And now the first variation on the first theme, if I continue filling out the rhythm with words, it sounds approximately like this:


flooded with bright sunlight              in ragged tattered holes

blossoming through the vapours                   roofs, steepletops

with both the river’s lungs                free of icy restraint

breathing, smoothly whistling                       to kettledrum explosions


(this time we’ll make do without the schematic – that’s all clear anyway – and quickly rough in the variation on the second theme):


in the trembling of leaves

and outline of smoky vines

entwining the breath

that blows stronger in the last struggle

under the squall of fiery hail

you are a tree or blaze


Variation II (first and second themes) is:


as this sunshine of day                     glinting so brightly

liquefies the snow                            vaporises drizzle

or sweat on foreheads                     with its ardour

you prepare to stand                       in his shade, he who

stands enduringly

like a revivified blood-bearing tree

whose bronze hand stretches above the cold river

the breath of life, the breath of death in his huge eyes

that have devoured the thundery atmospheric glint.



Variation III (on the first theme) is:


infused in life’s effulgence

no, more like a grapevine,

a shoot of the mortal windstorm

curved into withies

twining the brows of

the horseman

towering up mountainlike – –


A dithyramb! It makes an absolutely genuine dithyramb!”



Chapter II. VERA



“... Amo, et cupio, et te solium diligo, et sine te jam vivere nequeo: et caetera quis mulieres et alios inducunt, et suas testantur affectionaes,” [1] [1. “... I love and desire you, you alone are dear to me, without you I cannot live – and the various ways in which women express their feelings and arouse passion in others.”] For some reason this ironic phrase from Apuleius’s Golden Ass had stuck firmly in Gleb’s mind. It wasn’t so much that at certain moments in his life he had felt like Lucius, transformed into an ass (although that had happened), just that the strength of Vera’s love, expressed in actions and in words, overflooded the bounds of understanding, making him doubt the reality of what he experienced here, where their happiness intertwined with the general misery.

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen,” many would have said in his place. “It’s undeserved,” Gleb told himself. It was as if he had forgotten that what was happening had been earned by years of mistakes and failures, by a host of false moves.

Gleb, like any truly happy man, did not realise how extreme was the condition in which he now found himself, or how rarely it was experienced in such plenitude. All around there was destruction and war, with the future growing increasingly uncertain. Within, there was the intensity of life and its meanings. The former seemed like a shadow that had suddenly fallen away and now, as if recovered from an illness, Gleb walked in a shadowless, sunny space that was not of the autumn or of the city, but chirping and whistling and flooded with light, encircled by trees that were swayed, not by the blasts of bombs and artillery shells, but the keen Baltic wind, and the October wind sang with the full-chested breath of the springtime swirling up the best in him.

“But, when all is said and done, if we are to quote the Romans, then Martial is also right when he asserts that ‘wild beasts do not know how to lie’, for now that all the divisions have been removed, we have become precisely wild beasts, left to our own devices, released from the bombed zoo to roam the city at will.”

If only I could express in music or, as a last resort, in words, what he was experiencing. But the music that was singing within responded only to the ecstatic rapture of the inevitable destruction of this feeling that had suddenly opened up to fill the complete sweep of the horizon and the entire vertical scope of visible space, and my words are too precise, too dry, sifting, not in a sunny wind, but in a dry rustle through the fingers seeking to catch them. For Gleb could only match what he was feeling with what others had expressed, and the concordance with his own mood of all those others, whose verbal magic he had admired for so long, especially in the days of his youth, only convinced him of the vanity of any attempts to express himself in an individual idiom.

Take Arsenii Tatishchev – where was he now, having abandoned our Petrograd, in what distant parts was he wandering? Was he still alive? The almost square little volume of “Lightsound”, published in 1922 on bad paper, with print that rubbed off at the first careless touch, contained chafing, sunny lines like this – despite the circumstances in which Tatishchev composed them:


Better you should see me thus:

In angelic essence, in radiance open to sunlight

Lowering a foot into water, unclenching into air a hand,

On which there shall be traced a sign,

Disclosing vision

Through the earth-stems of breathing, through the lyre-stringed external.

Stay somewhere close to me, where we can fold

Elbow in elbow and if shadows, then shadows

Of light-scissors, gentle rays of an eye, sounds of a face...

[faces of sound ? – I’m not sure if it makes any sense; it’s a slightly surreal poem anyway. My other concern is it is not blank verse in the original, and I understand how hard it is to create a rhymed version.]


Gleb knew that he could never have written anything like that.

He remembered very clearly how, at a reading in a Petropolis that was half-starving – as it was now – given to a crowd muffled in filthy cast-offs, who listened with rapt admiration, a certain Iosif Krik and Rodion Narodov, publishers of the bombastic little journal “Impact”, who resembled most of all a pair of back-row grammar-school pupils giving cheek to the district inspector, had been sadistically stubborn in accusing Tatishchev of handling verse too formally, of allegedly bourgeois plaster moulding, of an antirevolutionary domination of the free line by rhyme and metre. Their wretched “Impact” was filled with syrupy, high-flown, rhetorical “free reflections”, from among which Gleb could remember something about a dead crow being kicked by an extremely jolly sailor. What could Tatishchev, distinguished by the fine military bearing of his figure, wrapped in a greatcoat that gave no warmth against his inward chill, with his forehead bisected by a lightning-bolt scar, possibly have conveyed to this audience?

But Krik and Narodov would have seemed the very model of integrity in comparison with those who came after them.

The Young Communists conscripted into literature, music and other areas –

where had they been swept away to afterwards by the sombre-black storm of the thirties, which they themselves had invoked?

Now that a new hurricane had blown in, now that even those who had previously swept away such fanatical devotees of radical rhetoric, had themselves been swept away, a time of genuine, not merely verbal, renewal had returned, Gleb tried to convince himself. And Vera was the personified elemental spirit of the authenticity for which Gleb had yearned for so long in the stiflingly Hoffmanesque atmosphere of the half-Petropolis-half-Leningrad of the pre-war decade.

True, they didn’t see each other as often as he would have liked. They were constrained by the life of a city under siege, with mechanically regular artillery bombardments, air raids and imminent starvation, when simply spending rationing coupons required an intense daily effort. But public transport was still running, there was still a supply of electric power, the telephone worked. And even genuinely cold weather was still a long way off.

Gleb also knew that once in a while Georgii Beklemishev was allowed home on leave but strangely, he did not feel jealous at all.

Once Vera had mentioned a long delay with her period, but Gleb had heard from friends that this had already happened to their wives and girlfriends – owing to the nervous stress of the first weeks of the siege. Every attempt to clarify their feelings only culminated in flinging them together even more intensely. And now, after the intimacy that had swept away all divisions, Gleb once again asked Vera the question that was tormenting him.

He didn’t understand that Vera had already made her choice – that she had no right to refuse her husband sympathy and comfort, but that meant absolutely nothing. On every visit home Georgii Beklemishev sensed a greater inward alienation. For him, the dying of the relationship was muted by his impressions of a life restricted entirely to the barracks, and for Vera it was overlaid by an unrestrained impulse that filled her being entirely.

An inauthentic life was making way for an authentic, earnest one. But Georgii and Vera Beklemishev were entering that life along different roads.

Had not Gleb himself wanted, twenty years ago, to start over again with a clean sheet? Had he not renounced the name of a glorious line of poets and priests – Alfani – one branch of which had even flourished on Baltic shores, in favour of the post-futuristically shrill and, to certain austere tastes, too aggressively uncompromising name of Alfa? Was not he himself a creation of the great rift between the old, which was already past, and the new, which was pressing its advance?  Gleb used these, or similar, exalted and rhetorical terms to explain his own feelings to himself, as if he were seeking a justification for them, as if something still required clarification and justification. In actual fact, he was simply borne along by the current, and did not fully understand its power and direction.




From Gleb’s notebook


“Mark came. Knowing my fondness for antiquity, he showed me some photographs taken in September on the roof of the Hermitage on one of the rare cloudless days – while a women’s voluntary fire brigade was on duty up there.

Absolutely unpremeditated, like everything in our city, but for all that no less reminiscent of an antique cameo, this conjunction of fire helmets, battered and scratched as a consequence of the bombings and rubble-clearing, but still vibrant and gleaming in the sun, locks of hair curling out from under the helmets and the firewomen’s clothing – tight fitting tarpaulin overalls with wide belts – and their gazes, straining out through the smoky air, over Palace Square and its proud column, over the vases and sculptures round the perimeter of the roof, past the tram creeping towards St. Isaac’s, over the horses of the General HQ building, towards the west with its constant threat of an air raid.


Dressed as if for a Syracusan coin:

a firewoman in a helmet, ringed with dolphins,

columns and sculptures, planes and sunshine,

in a drifting crown of flak cannon bursts.


Vera’s profiles are simply superb: I didn’t even know she was in that team. “You can keep them, I think you rather like that Beklemesheva, don’t you?” I declined, being discreet. This was already more than I should hear in the context of our outwardly restrained friendship.

He says they probably won’t take them for the newspaper – they’re more by way of photos for the historian, who will “gaze and envy”.


But I think this: the sinking-heart moment

just before the final and most terrible blow –

the sun not yet willing to darken

in the face of the day-locusts’ rustling wings.”






According to data from the civil registration department, the number of people living in the city of Leningrad and the districts administratively subordinate to it (including Kronstadt) was as follows:



in September 1941 – 2,450, 639

in October 1941                 – 2,915,169

in November  1941            – 2,485,947



According to centralised data, the number of food rationing cards issued to the population was:


in September 1941             – 2,377,600, including 35.1% of the total to workers and engineering and technical personnel, 18.4% to office workers, 28.3% to dependents, 18.2 to children;

in October 1941                 – 2,371,300, including 34.5% to workers and E and T personnel, 16.7%  to office workers, 30.2% to dependants, 18.6% to children;

in November 1941             – 3,384,400, including 34.5% to workers and  E and T personnel, 15.6% to office workers, 31.1% to dependants, 18.9% to children.


The daily ration allowance of bread was:

from 2 to 12 September 1941 – 600 grams for workers and E and T personnel, 400 grams for office workers, 300 grams for dependants, 330 grams for children below the age of 12;

from 13 September to 13 October – 400 grams for workers and E and T personnel, 200 grams for office workers, 200 grams for dependants, 20 grams for children under the age of 12;

from 13 October to 20 November – 300 grams for workers and E and T personnel, 150 grams for office workers, 150 grams for dependants, 150 grams for children under the age of 12;

from 20 November to 25 December – 250 grams for workers and E and T personnel, 125 grams for office workers, 125 grams for dependants, 125 grams for children under the age of 12.





Fyodor Chetvertinsky to Julius Pokorny:


“Esteemed colleague,

A strange business, when even the post to Vasilievsky Island and the Petrograd Side takes an eternity to arrive, that I should get the idea of writing to you. War and Fire (‘Ogon’ in Russian – that same mighty Agni who holds sway in the nether regions of the earth) do not separate us, but unite us, who are on opposite sides of the blazing storm. And since you and I, dear colleague, are not Kshatriyas, but sages, our work, our spell possesses, so to speak, a supreme all-comprehending power. Exceptional circumstances set aside all superfluities. Therefore, permit me, in writing from here, in this city closed tight with a lock of iron, to Belgium, with its lilies-and-lace decorations, to address you not as ‘Herr Doktor Professor’, but ‘Julius’. I hope this familiarity will not make you angry.

You must agree that the invention of the wheel – which, according to your classification, is victoriously proclaimed by the proto-root *kʷékʷlo-/*kʷol-o-  – has not been of any great benefit to the Indo-Europeans.


On this same wheel

several of the tribes that have deviated from the general meaning,

having trundled and rattled across Belgium with their motorised divisions,

have reached the outskirts of the most wonderful of all cities

created by Russians, the name of which the Romanovs,

anticipating the forthcoming skirmish,

were quick, from their Germanophile viewpoint,

to translate as ‘Petrograd’.

I categorically object: you were born in Prague,

there is no need to explain to you that burg(h) derives, not from a word for “city”,

but from a fortified, exalted, radiant –

*bhereg̑h-, bherg̑hos- –

place. And we shall be that Rocky Shore

on which they will shatter.

To the west is the ocean, and we are an embankment, land.

After all, we are not lakhs (“lokh” in Russian), spawning salmon,

– a fish of the common Indo-European proto-homeland –

splashing in their rivers

or beeches (“buk” in Russian – could that be where it’s from?),

rustling around their Prussian Königsberg,

They will yet be humbled by our

stout oaks.


But if you and I are right, the third thing,

after the salmon and the beech,

that language preserves from the maternal landscape is

the Proto-Indo-European *sneigu̯h-,

which, to some, is memory,

but to us – as snow – a shield and comrade,

he it is who will be our main armour.

And, arrayed in this snow’s freezing cold,

armed with the power of thunderbolts,

seated, like our steppeland forebears,

on fleet steeds (*ek̑u̯o-s)

we shall fuck

(*i̯ebh- – now there is a most ancient root,

and clearer than ever to us now!)

our foes

until we ram them back

up into the maternal vulva,

into the womb of their fear (*pīzdā-, as you write it)

Yes, yes. All the way up the cunt.

So there! Such shall be the fate

of all degenerates.

And our foe still dares speak

of your and our “inferiority”!


I should also like to observe that, having found ourselves

in the Finno-Ugrian marshes,

in the swamps of a neighbouring world, amid its overflooding rivers,

not only have we stood firm,

but with a “wave of the hand” from our leader, immortalised as a bronze idol,

whose equestrian monument –

as is only seemly for tribesmen of the Eurasian plain –

we have ritually covered with earth (dry, sandy)

and even shielded with planks,

and round him raised up the stone citadel of ‘Piter Burkh’,

with a royal burial-mound (now!) at its centre,

but also, despite the siege, we still gaze proudly round

at the boundless, flat, amicable east,

at the free and open north,

and at the south, from whence we came,

and, of course, at the presently hostile west and northwest.

Now –

precisely because

we, our language, our power, our memory

must hold out –

the fate of a continent and the fundamentals common to the Indo-Europeans

of its expanses is being decided. We shall definitely last out,

because we are closer to the roots, we are freer, we are healthier.

We simply cannot perish.

Our neighbours, the Finns

are already playing safe – taking the city by storm is not for them.

But even the Germans, when they are pounded

by the thousand thousand hooves

of the Russian avalanches that they have called down on themselves,

after all the storms that will sweep over them,

will be needed – yes, yes, they will be needed! –

not as enemies trampled into the dust,

but – and do not be surprised, Julius –

as allies. Only first

let them string up on the trees they revere –

beeches? very well, let it be beeches! –

and Prussia also, our kindred, Baltic Prussia –

all their buffoons.

Let them scrape off themselves

all that poisonous stuff, all the cultural corruption,

and stand shoulder to shoulder

in the common cause of establishing

a common Lebensraum,

but that will be later, Julius,

much later. First – the disgrace of defeat.


For after all, a language is predictive, it is all there.

including our inevitable



I remain yours etc.

Fyodor Svyatopolk-Chetvertinsky.”


Not having previously been inclined to versification, and being given to a rather ponderous and stubborn mode of thought, Fyodor Stanislavovich felt pleased: the letter had turned out nothing at all like an article on linguistics and sounded like a perfectly genuine poem.

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