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Leonid Leonov: All the blood that has been shed has turned the air bad


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Leonid Leonov: Tell me, is it right to kill – in war or anyhow?


Leonid Leonov
From The Thief (1927)
Translated by Hubert Butler


“…Things are going badly with everyone nowadays. You’d think that all the blood that has been shed has turned the air bad. And you’ll have to go on breathing it a long time yet, till a breeze comes. The armies were too keen by half…”

“The sun is passing through a terrible phase. Mitka is plague and anarchy and ignorance and even ruin. He is the lump of wood from which the progenitors of the future man will be carved. But humanity will not go to the dogs all the same. I’m a melancholy fellow, but I maintain that the organ of laughter, the spleen, will scent the danger in time and save the world. If I skip the last few years, I’m forced to admit that man is somehow beautiful and his creation somewhat wise. Himself warm and living, he seeks out and creates each moment new idols for himself, and cannot realize that he himself is better than all his creations. Man is alive, but an idol is dead, even when it is obeyed.”

In a cage in the right-hand corner lay a bear. His great head rested on one of his paws, for he had made his peace with the iron bars. Mitka stepped closer, and though someone was walking behind him, he did not turn around. In the dark eye of the beast there was indulgence, and even forgiveness toward men, who from time immemorial have robbed the weakest of their freedom. We can all of us read our own sufferings in a beast’s eye.

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