Dartmouth and Leonid Kannegiesser (1896-1918)

On October 27 I’ll be giving a talk at Dartmouth College, as part of their exciting 1917 Centennial Series: The Year that Shook the Arts.

One of the poems I plan to present appears in the latest issue of Cardinal Points, in an electrifying translation by James Manteith. Its author is Leonid Kannegiesser (or Kannegisser). James provides a succinct sketch of the poet’s tragically short life:

Leonid Kannegiesser (1896-1918) was a poet and military cadet, and an active participant in the literary and political bohemia of Silver Age St. Petersburg. An advocate of socialist democracy and an admirer of Alexander Kerensky, the head of the Provisional Government, he sided with anti-Bolsheviks after the October Revolution and carried out the revenge killing of the local head of the state security police, Moisei Uritsky (1873-1918), an act that helped unleash the Red Terror and Civil War. A decade after Kannegiesser’s execution, émigré writer Mark Aldanov published a collection of the poet’s surviving body of work (Paris, 1928).


The poem, titled “On Review,” manifests Kannegiesser’s naive, unshakable patriotism and faith in Kerensky’s leadership.

In sunlight, with bayonets gleaming —
foot-soldiers. Beyond, in the deep —
Don Cossacks. In front of the legions —
Kerensky upon a white steed.

His weary eyelids are lifted.
He’s making a speech. No one stirs.
O voice! To remember for ages:
Russia. Liberty. War.

Then hearts become fire and iron,
the spirit — an oak green with life,
and the Marseillaise eagle comes flying,
ascending from silvery pipes.

To battle! — we’ll beat back the devils,
and through the dark pall of the sky,
Archangels will gaze down,
jealous to see us rejoice as we die.

And if, staggering, aching,
I fall upon you, mother earth,
to lie in a field, forsaken,
with a bullet hole near my heart,

on the verge of the blessed gateway,
in my jubilant dying dream,
I’ll recall it — Russia, Liberty,
Kerensky upon a white steed.

June 27, 1917, Pavlovsk


На солнце, сверкая штыками —
Пехота. За ней, в глубине, —
Донцы-казаки. Пред полками —
Керенский на белом коне.

Он поднял усталые веки,
Он речь говорит. Тишина.
О, голос! Запомнить навеки:
Россия. Свобода. Война.

Сердца из огня и железа,
А дух — зеленеющий дуб,
И песня-орёл, Марсельеза,
Летит из серебряных труб.

На битву! — и бесы отпрянут,
И сквозь потемневшую твердь
Архангелы с завистью глянут
На нашу весёлую смерть.

И если, шатаясь от боли,
К тебе припаду я, о, мать,
И буду в покинутом поле
С простреленной грудью лежать —

Тогда у блаженного входа
В предсмертном и радостном сне,
Я вспомню — Россия, Свобода,
Керенский на белом коне.

27 июня 1917, Павловск

5 thoughts on “Dartmouth and Leonid Kannegiesser (1896-1918)

    1. You’re absolutely right, Kaggsy. The forces of entropy were too great, and the Provisional Government did make a number of serious blunders. Tsvetaeva wrote some remarkable poems about Kerensky…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Kerensky was a self-important, power-mad jerk, but such people often seem to have the power to inspire blind loyalty (I’m sure we can all think of more recent examples). I’ve lately thought the Provisional Government might have gone better with, say, Tsereteli at the head.

    It’s interesting that Kannegiesser stresses the second syllable of Kerensky; my impression is that the man himself stressed it on the first syllable, but I’m not sure what the source of that is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LH, the source is, in all likelihood, this very blog! Georgy Ivanov knew both Kannegiesser (in Petrograd) and Kerensky (in emigration). Here’s a wonderful anecdote from Vadim Kreid’s book: “Керенский […] нередко приходил с женой к Ивановым и спорил с Георгием Владимировичем, а уходя, крестил его на прощание. Однажды в горячности спора Керенский сказал ему; «С такими взглядами, как ваши, невозможно было бы управлять Россией». Георгий Иванов взглянул саркастически; «Поэтому я и не вмешивался, вы блестяще справились сами».”


      1. I should translate this: “The Keresnskys were frequent visitors at the Ivanovs’, where Kerensky would argue with Georgy Vladimirovich, and then, on parting, would make the sign of the cross over him. Once, in the heat of argument, Kerensky said to Ivanov: ‘With views such as yours, it would have been impossible to govern Russia.’ Georgy Ivanov gave him a sarcastic look: ‘That’s why I never got involved — you managed it splendidly on your own.'”

        Liked by 1 person

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