"The Twelve" 

Ė Alexander Blok


Black evening. White snow. Wind, wind! 
A man cannot keep his feet. 
Wind, wind - over all God's earth!

The wind ripples the white snow. 
Under the snow - ice. It's slippery, hard going. 
Everyone in the street slithers. Oh, poor thing!

From building to building a rope is stretched. 
On the rope a banner: 
'All Power to the Constituent Assembly!' 
The old woman is worried to death. 
She weeps, she just can't make out what it means. 
What is it for, a banner like that, such a huge rag? 
How many footcloths for the children you could get out of it, 
yet they all go ragged, barefoot...

Like a hen, the old woman has somehow scuttled fluttering over the drift.  
'Oh, Holy Mother of Intercession! 
Oh, these Bolsheviks will drive us all into our graves!'

A cutting wind! 
And the frost keeps pace. 
And the bourgeois at the crossroads has buried his nose in his collar. 

And who's that? 
Long hair and muttering sotto voce:  
Traitors!  Russia has perished!  
A writer, most probably - the windbag.

And look over there, in the long robe, 
edging past behind that drift...  
why not so cheerful these days, 
comrade padre?

Do you remember how you used 
to trundle your stomach on before you 
and how the stomach with the cross 
beamed out on the people?

And there - a lady in Persian lamb has turned to another like her:  
'We cried and cried...' 
Slipped and - whoops! she's flat on her back!

Dear, dear! Pull! Help her up!

The wind is merry and spiteful and glad. 
It whirls hems, mows down passers-by, rips, 
crumples and carries off the great banner:  
'All Power to the Constituent Assembly..." 
And bears words:

ĎWe had a meeting too...'   'in  this building'  '... held a discussion'  '
...reached a decision: ten for a short one, twenty five a night ...' 
'... And not to take less from anyone '  
... 'Let's get to bed...í

Late evening. 
The street grows empty. 
A lone tramp hunches his shoulders 
and the wind whistles

Hey, dearie! 
Come close, let's have a kiss...


What's ahead?

Pass on!

Black, black sky.

Anger, sad anger boils in the breast ... 
Black anger, holy anger

Comrade! Watch out!


The wind is on the rampage, 
the snow flutters. 
Twelve men advance on foot.

Black rifle-straps 
and all about them -flame, flame, flame.

Between the teeth a cigarette, a crumpled cap, 
all that's missing is the ace of diamonds on the back!

Liberty, liberty, 
Ekh-ekh, without the cross!

It's cold, comrades, it's cold!
But Van'ka and Kat'ka are in the pub...

She's got Kerensky notes stashed in her stocking!  
Old Vanya's in the money himself these days!
Used to be one of us, 
Van'ka, till he went for a soldier!  
Hey, there, Van'ka, son of a bitch, burzhui!
Just try kissing my girl!

Liberty, liberty, 
Ekh-ekh, without the cross!


Katíka's up to something there with Van'ka? 
What's she up to, what? 

All about them 
- flame, flame, flame ...
rifle straps across their shoulders...

Keep in step with the revolution! 
Tireless, the enemy is on the watch!

Comrade, keep a hold on that rifle, don't be afraid! 
Let's put a bullet into Holy Russia
- into gnarled old peasant Russia 
with her wooden houses and her great fat arse!

Ekh-ekh, without the cross!

And so our lads went off to war  
They went to serve in the Red Guard  
They went to serve in the Red Guard  
To lose their stormy heads.

Ekh, life, you're bitter and sad,  
Life, you 're sweet!  
Tattered trench coat  
Austrian gun!

To the woe of all the bourgeois  
We'll set the world aflame and blow it high
We'll set the world aflame in blood -

So help us God!


The snow whirls up, the sleigh-driver yells, 
Van'ka and Katíka are flying by,
 electric lights on the shafts . . . 
Hey . . . make way!

With his soldier's trench coat and his fool's physog 
he's twiddling and twiddling that black moustache, 
twirling away at it, cracking jokes...

That's the way Van'ka is - broad in the shoulder! 
That's the way Van'ka is - never at a loss for words!  
Cuddling that fool Katíka, chatting her up . . .

And she's holding up her face, little teeth gloaming like pearls  ...  
Ah Kat'ya, my Kat'ya, with your sweet fat mug.


On your neck, Kat'ya, that knife scar hasn't healed. 
Under your breast, Katíya, that scratch is still fresh!

Ekh, ekh, give us a dance! 
Those legs are a bit of ail right'

Lacy underwear 
- that what you used to walk out in - 
walk out now, keep walking!
 It was with officers you did your whoring - 
keep it up then, keep whoring.

Ekh, ekh! Keep it up! 
The heart's skipped a beat in the chest.

That officer - Kat'ya - do you remember him?  
He got what was coming to him - the knife.  
Or don't you remember, you dirty bitch? 
Or is the memory not so fresh?

Ekh, ekh, let's freshen it up! Take me to bed!

Grey gaiters you used to wear, 
stuffed ĎChocolat Mignoní 
and walked out with the officer-cadets - 
but its other ranks you go with now, ain't it?

Ekh, ekh! Sin - now!
It'll ease the soul!


Again the sleigh-driverís flying straight for them at the gallop, 
yelling and shouting...

Halt, halt! Andryukha, help! 
Petrukha, run round the back there! ...

The snow dust whirls up towards the sky! ...

The driver's heading off - and Van'ka too ... 
Once more! Cock the gun!

Trakh-tararakh!  Youíll soon find out...
what you get for playing around with another man's lass!

He's away, the bastard! 
Wait then, it won't be long, 
I'll deal with you tomorrow.

But where's Katíka? 
Dead, dead! 
Shot through the head!

So - Katíka happy now? 
- Not a squeak out of her ... 
then lie there, carrion, in the snow.

Keep in step with the Revolution!  
Tireless, the enemy is on the watch.


And once more the twelve are on their way, 
guns slung over their shoulders. 
Only the face of the poor murderer is not to be seen...

Quicker and quicker he speeds up his pace.  
He's muffled his neck with his scarf, round and around 
- just can't get over it...

Not feeling so good, comrade? 
Knocked you sideways, has it, lad? 
Come now, Pet'ya, why let it get you down? 
... or are you feeling sorry for Katíka all of a sudden?

Ah, comrades, brothers, I loved that girl ... 
The black nights, the drunken nights Iíve spent with that girl . . .

All for the crazy daring in her hot eyes, 
all for the crimson birthmark on her right shoulder  
...  I killed her, fool that I am, 
I killed her in the heat of the moment ... Ah!

Listen to that, the beggar turned on the barrel organ!  
Whatís wrong with you, Petíka, you're not a woman, are you? 
Going to lay bare your soul, are you? 
We're listening!  
Keep your chin up! 
Keep yourself under control!

This is no time to be molly-coddling you! 
Things are going to get a lot worse before we're through, dear comrade'

And Petíka slows down his hurried steps...
He throws back his head, heís cheered up again...

Ekh, ekh! It's no sin to have a bit of fun!
Lock up on all floors, there'll be robberies today!
Open up the cellars. Today the have-nots are on the rampage '


Ekh, life - youíre bitter and sad!  
Dull misery, dull as death!

How I'll spend the time though, 
how I'll spend it . . .

How I'll scratch my scalp though, 
how I'll scratch it . . .

How Iíll chew and spit out those seeds though, 
chew 'em and spit 'em out...

How I'll slash with that knife of mine, 
slash and slash! ...

Fly off, burzhui, like a sparrow!  
I will drink blood to my love, my black-browed love...

Give rest, oh Lord, to the soul of Thine handmaiden...



The murmur of the town cannot be heard,
Over the Nevsky tower silence reigns,
And there's not a single policeman left -

Celebrate then, lads, without the wine!

The Bourgeois stands at the- 
crossroads and has hidden his nose in his collar. 
And alongside a mangy dog is rubbing 
its rough coat up against him, its tail between its legs.

The Bourgeois stands as hungry as the dog, 
stands as silent as a question mark. 
And the old world, kinless as the dog, 
stands behind him, its tail between its legs.


The snowstorm seems to have started up again; 
Oy, the storm, oy, the storm' 
There's no seeing one another at four paces!

The snow has gone whirling up in a funnel, 
the snow has risen into a great pillar.

Ah, what a blizzard, Saviour!  
-  Pet'ka!  Don't let your tongue run away with you man! 
What has the golden icon-screen ever saved you from? 
Mindless, you are, just think, use your common sense - 
or don't you have blood on your hands for love of Kat'ka?

Keep in step with the revolution!  
The tireless enemy is near!

Forward, forward, forward,
The working people!


And they march on without one holy name, 
all twelve - into the distance. Ready for anything.  Regretting nothing . . .

Their steel rifles trained on an enemy they cannot see, 
down desolate side streets where only the blizzard blows like sand  
...  and into downy drifts - there's no freeing your boot...

In their eyes flutters the red flag.
Their measured step rings out.
Soon, soon the fierce enemy will awake...

And the snowstorm blows like sand in their eyes, 
day after day, night after night, all day,
all night . . .

Forward, forward,
The working people!


Into the distance they march with sovereign tread ... 
- Who else is there? Come out! 
That is the wind, playing wildly with the red flag out there ahead . . .

Ahead - a cold snowdrift. 
- Whoever's there in that drift 
- Come out!  
...  Only the stray, starving dog hobbles along behind...

- Get lost, you scabby brute, 
I'll tickle you with my bayonet! 
Old world, mangy as the dog, scat 
- or I'll run you through!

... It bares its teeth 
- a hungry wolf with tail between its legs, keeping pace behind. 
Cold dog - kinless dog ... 
Hey there, answer, who goes there?

Who's waving that red flag out there? 
Did you ever see it so dark? 
Who is it moving like a fugitive out there, 
taking cover behind every house?

I'll get you anyway, better give yourself up alive! 
Hey, comrade, it'll be the worse for you! 
Come out, we're going to shoot!

Only the echo resounds among the houses ... 
Only the storm laughs long amid the snows . . .

Trakh-takh-takh! Trakh-takh-takh!

... So they march on with sovereign tread.  
Behind is the hungry dog.  
Ahead  - with the bloodstained flag 
and invisible beyond the snowstorm 
and invulnerable to any bullet, 
with tender step above the storm, 
in a pearly scattering of snow, 
in a white crown of roses 
- ahead is Jesus Christ.

January 1918


Translation © Avril Pyman 1989