In the world of burnt candles, full moons and, of course, Noble knights, their deeds and the battles they had - There lived bookworm-children who fought in no wars, And whose real existence was boring and dead. As a rule kids are bothered With their life and their age; And we beat one another, Letting out our rage. Moms were darning and needling Shabby jackets and boots, While we never stopped reading, Getting drunk from the books. Foreheads, covered with curls, sweating late in the night, And a spinning sensation of a joyful, sweet dread... We got dizzy from that scent of fabulous fight, Which was pouring on us from the pages we read. And we tried to perceive - We, who knew no wars - What an ambush could give, What a chariot was; Why frontiers were set, What it means to obey When an order you get And there’s nothing to say. And our growing brains fed on tumults and wars, On rebellions, revolts and uprisings of slaves. And we cast in the games only our foes For the roles of cowards, traitors and knaves. And we killed in these games Rogues without regret; And most beautiful dames We were promised to get. Soothing pains in the souls Of our parents and pals, For the hero roles We would cast ourselves. But you can’t in this fiction forever exist, Fun is brief and the world’s full of tears and pain. Now try to unclench that immovable fist And take over arms from the arms of the slain. Having got someone’s sword And his armor you go - Test yourself and the world, See what’s high and what’s low. Prove yourself - what are you? But a dog or a knight? Come to learn this one too: What’s the taste of a fight! When your friend hits the earth, shedding blood on the plain, When you wail over this most terrible loss, When you feel as if scalped, since your buddy was slain And not you - and this will be forever your cross - Then you’ll know from a true, Flashing, piercing guess: Visors, grinning at you - It’s a sneer of Death! Look at Evil and Lie - Their faces are coarse, And they’re followed by Crows and coffins, of course! If you cut your way through with your father’s old sword, Gulping tears and sweat on and on you’d proceed; If the battles you fought you got as a reward - Then the right books you read in your childhood - you did! If you never ate meat From the blade of your knife; If you stayed in your seat, Taking part in no strife; If your hand had been lent To nobody in need - Then your life you misspent, Spoiled and squandered - you did!
© George Tokarev. Translation, 2001
Edited by Robert Titterton