The Heroes of Our Times

Our time has its own heroes,
Not twenty, not thirty years old.
Such could not bear this burden,
We’re the heroes, born with the century,
Walking in step with the years;
We are victims, we’re prophets and heralds,
Allies and enemies.
We cast spells with Blok the magician,
We fought the noble fight,
We treasured one blond curl as keepsake,
And slunk to brothels at night.
We struck off our chains with “the people,”
And proclaimed ourselves in their debt;
Like Gorky, we wandered with beggars;
Like Tolstoy, we wore peasant shirts.
The troops of Old Belief Cossacks
Bruised our backs with their flails,
And we gnawed at the meager portions
Served to us in Bolshevik jails.
We shook when we saw diamond emblems
or collars of raspberry hue:
We sheltered from German bombardment
And answered our inquisitors, “No!”
We’ve seen everything, and survived it,
We were shot, beaten, tempered like steel;
The embittered sons, angry daughters,
Of a country embittered, brought low.

— Anna Barkova, 1952
(Translated by Catriona Kelly)

In December 1934, Anna Alexandrovna Barkova was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for criticizing the Soviet state. After her release in 1939, she was sent into internal exile. In 1947, she was re-arrested and sentenced to 10 years in a hard labor camp. She was released in 1956, but arrested again the next year, accused of slandering the Soviet press. She was given another 10-year sentence. Most of her poetry has been lost.

[Research note: Vilensky, Simeon. Till my Tale is Told: Women’s Memoirs of the Gulag. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999): 212-218.]