Bloody Sunday: Peter Yakubovich (1860-1911) and “Red Snow”


On January 9, 1905 (according to the “Old Style” Julian Calendar), soldiers of the Russian Imperial Guard opened fire on peaceful demonstrators marching toward the Winder Palace in St. Petersburg. Led by Father Georgy Gapon, the protestors — striking workers and their families — intended to present a petition demanding an eight-hour workday, higher wages, and better working conditions. Some 1,000 people were killed or injured — either shot or trampled by the terrified crowd. The events of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” sparked Russia’s first mass uprising of the twentieth century, the Revolution of 1905, and inspired a number of fervent poetic responses. Among these is Peter Yakubovich’s “Red Snow.” Yakubovich (1860-1911) was a lifelong revolutionary who had spent three years imprisoned at the Peter and Paul Fortress and another twelve years in Siberian exile, an experience he chronicled in a roman à clef titled In the World of the Outcasts, published under the name “L. Melshin.” In 1899, Chekhov wrote to Lydia Avilova: “Melshin […] is a major, unappreciated writer — an intelligent, powerful writer.” And in 1911, in a letter addressed to a group of prisoners, Maxim Gorky offered the following words of encouragement: “I only wish to remind you that they throw plain people into the penal camps in Siberia, but what they get back are Dostoyevskys, Korolenkos, Melshins — dozens, hundreds of beautifully tempered souls!” In the World of the Outcasts is indeed a classic work of prison prose, and while Yakubovich’s poetry doesn’t rise to the same standard, it did succeed in stirring passions and strengthening revolutionary commitments. Here, then, is “Red Snow.”

Like a mighty torrent,
The people came in waves —
Forward, forward, forward,
With a child’s pure faith.

To beat the foe of freedom
In a noblе fight,
Their one and only weapon
Was simply being right…

Snow lay all about them,
White and undefiled;
The chilly air of winter
Was windless, almost mild.

Suddenly… a volley!
Oh, they had aimed well;
Like leaves caught in a flurry,
Piles of bodies fell!

Staring, stupefied,
At the carmine snow,
We stood without a word…
How long? It’s hard to know.

‘Cain, what have you wrought?!
How can you believe
That you’ll conceal your mark,
Hiding like a thief?

Know this: till the last drop
Of blood spills from our veins,
Vengeance — holy vengeance —
Is our only aim!

At the throne of God,
In blissful paradise,
Red snow — bloody red —
Will stand before our eyes!’


Красный снег

Как прилив могучий,
Шел и шел народ,
С детски ясной верой,
Все вперед, вперед.

Чтоб врага свободы
Поразить в бою,
Нес одно оружье —
Правоту свою…

Белый, непорочный
Снег кругом лежал;
Воздух, чуть морозный,
Еле трепетал…

Вдруг… ряд залпов грянул!
Меток был прицел;
Как под бурей листья,
Пали груды тел!

Тупо взор уставя
В обагренный снег,
Мы стояли молча…
Миг один, иль век?

— Каин, что ты сделал?!
Прячась, словно тать,
Божьего проклятья
Скроешь ли печать?

Знай: покамест в жилах
Капля крови есть,
Мысль одну мы держим —
Про святую месть!

У престола бога,
В утро райских нег,
Все мы видеть станем
Красный, красный снег!



3 thoughts on “Bloody Sunday: Peter Yakubovich (1860-1911) and “Red Snow”

    1. Kaggsy, yes, a good comparison indeed! The English translation by Andrew A. Gentes, published in two volumes by Anthem Press (2014, 2015), is clearly a labor of love. As Gentes writes in his introduction, the publication “marks the book’s first appearance in English. It is also the first new edition of this book in any language in nearly half a century.”

      Liked by 1 person

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