Home > Uncategorized > Mikhail Artsybashev: Don’t talk to me about the beauty of war. No, no, your war is ugly.

Mikhail Artsybashev: Don’t talk to me about the beauty of war. No, no, your war is ugly.

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

Russian writers on war

Mikhail Artsybashev: The death of a single soldier

Mikhail Artsybashev: A mother’s simple prescription against war

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Mikhail Artsybashev
From War
Translated by Thomas Seltzer

OLGA. There was a letter from Vladimir yesterday, but nothing from Volodya for a whole week. He used to write every day. Then the letters suddenly stopped. Asya is beginning to worry fearfully, and I am terribly worried too. Something might happen, God forbid. It doesn’t take long to catch cold. Piotr Ivanovich reads the papers every day, but I am afraid to. When I look at a newspaper and see all the killed and wounded and lost – lost with no trace of them left behind – I feel as if I had been knocked in the head with a club.

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PRINCE. I have a piece of sad news. Dane’s body arrived at the station today.

At this remark all raise their heads. Olga Petrovna wipes her eyes with her handkerchief. Piotr Ivanovich frowns and buries his face in the newspaper. There is silence.

NINA. Poor Dane! An end to all his music now. You remember how he had set his heart on going to Petrograd to study, and how he had made all his plans for giving up the army and following his great ambition?

PRINCE. Fate decreed differently, it seems.

SEMYONOV. [with heat]. What Fate? A monstrous insane outrage, not Fate!

PRINCE. Yes – of course.

Silence.

OLGA. You remember, Asya, how he came back and wanted to take a last look at his violin? “If I get killed,” he said, “the violin won’t play by itself.” [Sobbing.] God! God! What is happening in the world!

SEMYONOV. A lot of stupidity and wickedness is happening.

Silence.

NINA. We knew a week ago that Dane had been killed. But what does it mean – “Killed?” It’s so hard to grasp the significance of it. Only now I seem to realize what it implies when I know that he has been brought here, that somewhere at the station there is a car and that in a coffin Dane is lying – that he is lying there and doesn’t know we are talking about him. It’s so heart-rending! How terrible war is!

PRINCE. Yes, it is terrible. And yet there is a great deal of tragic beauty in it. I don’t know how it is, but I feel drawn to the war myself; something pulls me to it.

SEMYONOV [in an undertone]. It seems to be a very mild form of attraction.

ASYA [reprovingly]. Senya!

PRINCE [who has not caught Semyonov’s remark]. What’s that, Semyon Nikolayevich?

SEMYONOV. Nothing, nothing.

PRINCE. What is life here? It is not even a game; it is just a long-drawn-out agony. We don’t live here; we just exist. All our interests, our little troubles and preoccupations, are so trivial, so insignificant. Our actions are commonplace. But there, face to face with death, the everyday shell drops off, and man becomes that which he ought always to be – the tragic bearer of heroic ideas.

SEMYONOV [to himself]. He’s going it hard.

Asya shakes her head at him reproachfully.

PRINCE [contemplatively]. It may seem strange, perhaps, but I honestly envy those who are in the thick of it. There is movement, fight, real life out there.

NINA. You say you envy them, but my heart bleeds for them. Hungry, cold, always facing death and pain and misery; what sort of life can it be! It is one continuous agony, not life. How many killed, how many maimed, how many widows and orphans, how much wretchedness and suffering! And all this on account of one man’s whim. What an injustice! What an atrocity! No, my whole being revolts against this butchery.

Silence.

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ASYA. Say goodby now, children, and come.

Sonya and Kolya walk up to each one in turn, Sonya making a pretty courtesy, and Kolya awkwardly scraping his feet. Olga Petrovna kisses them. Then Asya takes them into the anteroom, puts on their hats and coats, and they go out, followed by Semyonov.

OLGA. Poor children. They are orphans now – and with no means of support, either. His salary was all they had to live on. She’ll get a pension. But it’s not like having a father.

PRINCE. Why does Aleksandra Ivanovna look after them?

OLGA. Out of pity. She has a good heart, that’s why. The mother is still crazy with grief. She does
nothing but cry the whole day long. If Asya hadn’t looked out for the children, they would have had to go to bed without supper, I suppose. No, Prince, don’t talk to me about the beauty of war. Maybe I don’t understand, but I cannot see anything beautiful in it. No, no, your war is ugly.

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