Nikolay Turoverov’s “Crimea”

Each of the four Tolstoy stories I’ve included in Lives and Deaths features vivid, affecting scenes of humans and animals losing their grip on life, but none of these scenes haunts me more than the death of the titular horse in the story I’ve called “Pace-setter” (“Kholstomer”). A few days ago, my colleague Maria Polinsky sent me a poem that called this scene to mind yet again. Its author is Nikolay Turoverov (1899-1972), a Don Cossack and career soldier who fought against the Bolsheviks as a staff captain in the Don Army until 1920, when he and some 150,000 White Russians were forced to escape by sea from Crimea.

Nikolay Turoverov.jpg

The poem, written in 1940 — when Turoverov was fighting against the Germans in defense of France, where he spent the last fifty years of his life — recalls his violent parting with his beloved stallion, whom he could not take with him.

White Army Crimea 1920.jpg

Crimea

We were fleeing from Crimea
through the gunfire and smoke.
I was shooting at my stallion —
kept on missing — from the deck.

And the horse swam on, exhausted,
following the ship’s tall stern,
not believing, not accepting
that we’d never meet again.

Countless times we’d fought together,
thought we’d die a single death…
Now the horse swam on, still faithful
in my love, losing its strength.

Then my batman hit our target
and the water turned light red…
I’ll remember how Crimea
faded, slowly, till I’m dead.

1940


Крым

Уходили мы из Крыма
Среди дыма и огня.
Я с кормы, всё время мимо,
В своего стрелял коня.

А он плыл, изнемогая,
За высокою кормой,
Всё не веря, всё не зная,
Что прощается со мной.

Сколько раз одной могилы
Ожидали мы в бою…
Конь всё плыл, теряя силы,
Веря в преданность мою.

Мой денщик стрелял не мимо.
Покраснела чуть вода…
Уходящий берег Крыма
Я запомнил навсегда.

1940

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7 thoughts on “Nikolay Turoverov’s “Crimea”

  1. Hi Boris, This is heartbreaking. Was heartbreaking. I have seen films of these warhorses swimming after their masters… Beautifully captured without sentimentality. Janet

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    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Kaggsy! And yes, of course, I’m sorry I didn’t mention Kuznetsova’s story, which Bryan Karetnyk included in his excellent Penguin anthology Russian Émigré Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky. The scene is also dramatized at the end of Yevgeny Karelov’s film Two Comrades Were Serving (1968), which you can watch, with English subtitles, here.

      Liked by 1 person

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