David Samoylov’s “The Bandit Woman” on the WLT Blog

This morning the wonderful World Literature Today Blog posted my translation of a poem by David Samoylov. (Many thanks to WLT’s tireless Editor-in-Chief, the poet Daniel Simon!) Since the poem appears to be behind a (very affordable!) paywall, I’ll repost the material here, along with the original Russian and a handful of links. You can also find a Ukrainian translation at Olena Bilozerska’s blog.


David Samoylov in the Red Army in the 1940s.

In June 1944, David Samoylov (1920-1990), an important Russian-language poet who was then a soldier in the Red Army, was sent to Ukraine to help suppress the nationalist insurgents fighting against both Nazi and Soviet occupation. The poem below, written in 1946, is, on the surface, a loyal Soviet soldier’s account of eliminating a hostile element — in this case, a woman who has ambushed and killed one of his comrades. Still, the reader cannot but admire the dignity of this “bandit,” a follower of Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) and Taras Bulba-Borovets (1908-1981). Writing in the 1980s, Samoylov recalled this period in his life: “It seemed self-evident that anyone who didn’t fight on the side of the Red Army, whatever their reasons may have been, was our enemy, abetting the fascists. That was also my point of view. Yet my poem ‘Bandit Woman,’ which was written after the war, shows that my feelings were always truer and more honest than my thoughts.” The poem reflects, in bold terms, the complexity of Russian-Ukrainian relations then and now, as well as a commitment to understanding — or trying to understand — the other side of any conflict.

The Bandit Woman

I led a bandit out, to shoot her.
She didn’t beg, she didn’t plead —
Just glared at me with pride and anger.
Her pain was bad. She clenched her teeth.

And then she said: “Now listen, fella,
You’re gonna shoot me anyway.
Before you lay me down forever,
Just let me look at my Ukraine.

Across Ukraine our horses gallop
Under the banner of Bandera.
Across Ukraine we’re stashing weapons,
Searching for a faith to honor.

Green moonshine boils in whitewashed huts
Around Berezne, in the woods —
We grin and press our sawed-off guns
Against the Russkies’ drunken heads.

Time for the Pechenegs to raid!
High time that Russian women sobbed!
There’ll be no more Ukrainian bread
For the damned Russkies and the Swabs!

Don’t want them gorging on our lard,
Drinking our vodka, getting merry!
Your scribes, however hard they try,
Cannot co-opt our nation’s story!

Bulba’s men ride across the fields,
Their bridles jangling loud, like coins!
Let Commies realize their ideals
The way they want to back at home…

It’s them that came up with the kolkhoz
Where any bum can eat for free.
For us Ukrainians, what’s the difference —
Gestapo or NKVD?”

And then I said: “Come on, you fiend,
It’s time you got what you deserved.
Wasn’t it you who killed my friend,
Who knifed him dead without a word?

The world is full of scum like you.
There aren’t enough like him around.
No sense in waiting for tribunals —
You’ll soon be rotting in the ground.”

And on we went. The land was brutal.
A bird was crying in the trees.
I led a bandit out, to shoot her.
She didn’t beg, she didn’t plead.



Я вел расстреливать бандитку.
Она пощады не просила.
Смотрела гордо и сердито.
Платок от боли закусила.

Потом сказала: «Слушай, хлопец,
Я все равно от пули сгину.
Дай перед тем, как будешь хлопать,
Дай поглядеть на Украину.

На Украине кони скачут
Под стягом с именем Бандеры.
На Украине ружья прячут,
На Украине ищут веры.

Кипит зеленая горилка
В белёных хатах под Березно,
И пьяным москалям с ухмылкой
В затылки тычутся обрезы.

Пора пограбить печенегам!
Пора поплакать русским бабам!
Довольно украинским хлебом
Кормиться москалям и швабам!

Им не жиреть на нашем сале
И нашей водкой не обпиться!
Еще не начисто вписали
Хохлов в Россию летописцы!

Пускай уздечкой, как монистом,
Позвякает бульбаш по полю!
Нехай як хочут коммунисты
В своей Руси будуют волю…

Придуманы колхозы ими
Для ротозея и растяпы.
Нам все равно на Украине,
НКВД или гестапо».

И я сказал: «Пошли, гадюка,
Получишь то, что заслужила.
Не ты ль вчера ножом без звука
Дружка навеки уложила.

Таких, как ты, полно по свету,
Таких, как он, на свете мало.
Так помирать тебе в кювете,
Не ожидая трибунала».

Мы шли. А поле было дико.
В дубраве птица голосила.
Я вел расстреливать бандитку.
Она пощады не просила.



5 thoughts on “David Samoylov’s “The Bandit Woman” on the WLT Blog

    1. Kaggsy, yes, powerful is the word! Samoylov belongs to the generation of Soviet poets who came of age during the Second World War. It’s fair to say that their collective body of work is as strong as that of the British poets who suffered in the trenches of the First World War. My friend Maria Bloshteyn is working on an anthology of Russian WWII verse.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. There is no other medium which can so intimately depict the emotions of war as poetry. There are subtleties within this translation which work deeply in the reader. Samoylov is not immune to his observations and what true poet could be. Thank you Boris. Lois


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s