Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov — The Railway
Vanya (in a coachman’s overcoat):
Papasha! Who has built this railway?
Papasha (in an overcoat with a red lining):
Count Pyotr Andreyevitch Kleinmichel, my dear!
Conversation in a railway carriage

Splendid autumn! Fresh, clear
Air renews the tired powers;
First ice lies thinly on the river
Like sugar melting;

Close to the forest, as in soft beds,
One could sleep — stillness and expanse!
Leaves, not yet withered,
Lie yellow and fresh like a cover.

Splendid autumn! Frosty nights,
Bright, quiet days…
Nothing ugly in nature! And moss
And bogs and tree stumps —

All is well under the moonshine,
Everywhere I recognize my Russian home…
I am flying fast over the cast-iron rails,
Engrossed in my thoughts…


Good Papasha! What leave
Bright Vanya in an illusion for?
Allow me by the moonshine
To show him the truth.

This labour, Vanya, was dreadful and vast, —
Not on the shoulder of one!
The world has a tsar: this tsar is merciless,
Hunger is his name.

He leads the army, he rules the sea;
He drives people into the Artels,
He walks behind the plough, he stands behind
The shoulders of stone cutters and weavers.

He then drove the masses here.
Many — in an awful fight,
This barren wasteland begged for life,
And gave them here their grave.

Straight track: narrow embankment,
Poles, rails, bridges.
To both sides all those Russian bones…
How many of them? Vanyetchka, do you know?

Shhh! I hear threatening shouts!
Stamping and grinding teeth;
Shadows running across the frosty glass…
What is there? Crowd of the dead!

They are following the cast-iron track,
They are walking on both sides.
Do you hear them singing?… «In this moonlit night
We love to see our work!

We toiled in the heat, in the cold,
With our backs always bent,
Lived in dugout huts, fought with hunger,
Froze and soaked through, suffered from scurvy.

Ransacked by the scribes of our superiors,
Flogged by foremen, the pressing need…
We suffered all, warriors of God,
Peaceful children of labour!

Brothers! You reap our fruits!
We are destined to rot in the ground…
Do you remember well us poor folk
Or have you long forgotten us?…»

Do not be frightened of his wild song!
From the Volkhov, from mother Volga, from the Oka,
From many ends of the great empire —
They all are your brothers — peasants!

A shame for you to be afraid, gloves over your ears.
You are no longer little!… With blond hair,
Look, stands there, haggard with fever,
A tall, ill White Russian:

His lips bloodless, eyelids sunken,
His skinny arms sore,
Always kneeling in the water,
His legs swollen; Polish plait in his hair;

A dent in his breast, because day by day
He stemmed against the spade for all of his life…
Look at him, Vanya, attentively:
This man worked hard to earn his bread!

His hunched back he straightens up
No more now: in silence
And the mechanical rusty spade
Is hitting into the frozen ground!

This habit of noble work
Would not be amiss for us to adopt…
Blessed be the work of the people
And learn to respect the peasant.

Yes, do not fear for the beloved homeland…
Enough the Russian people has endured,
And has endured it also for this railway —
Shall endure all the Lord sends!

Shall endure all — and its great, clear
Chest shall make its way.
Only alas — live in that beautiful era
I shall no more, and neither shall you.


In this moment, the ear-splitting whistle sounded —
Gone the crowd of the dead!
«I had, Papasha, a strange dream, —
Vanya said, — five thousand peasants,

Members of Russian tribes
Suddenly appeared — and I was told
There they are — the builders of our track!…»
The general laughed!

— Recently I was within the walls of the Vatican,
Wandered for two nights through the Colosseum,
I saw in Vienna St. Stephen’s Cathedral,
And… all that the people created?

Excuse my overbearing laughter,
Your logic is a little wild.
Or is for you Apollo Belvedere
Nothing more than an earthen pot?

Here is your people — these thermae and baths,
Wonders of art — it ruined them all! —
«I do not speak to you, but to Vanya…»
But the general met no opposition:

— Your Slavs, Anglo-Saxons and Teutons
Create nothing — masters of destruction,
Barbarians! A gang of drunk savages!…
But it is time to re-engage with Vanyusha;

You know, to sadden with the sight of death
The heart of a child is sinful.
You’d better show him now
The brighter sides… —


‎‎«I’m glad to show!
Listen, my dear, the dire work
Is over — the German is now laying the rails.
The dead are buried; the ill
Hidden in dugouts; the working people

Gather in in droves at the office…
Hard they are scratching the backs of their necks:
Each builder remains in debt,
They are paying in kopeks their days without work!

The foremen have written everything into their books —
Who took a bath, who lay ill:
Maybe there is something left,
Yes, here you see!… Wave of the hand…

In the blue caftan — the honourable contractor,
Plump, well-fed, red like copper,
There is a celebration along the track,
He has come to inspect the work.

The celebrating people step apart with respect…
The merchant wipes sweat off his forehead,
Stands with his hands on his hips and says:
Good… Not bad… young lads!… young lads!…

With God, let us go home now, — I congratulate!
(Hats off — when I speak!)
I treat the workers to a barrel of wine
And — waive their debts!…

Someone cries hurray. Others join in
Louder and longer… Look:
With the song the foremen are rolling the barrel…
Even the most sluggish can no longer resist!

They unhitch the horses — and pull
The merchant with hurray along the track…
It seems difficult to draw
A more pleasant picture, general?…»


Nikolay Nekrasov: The Railway

Post navigation