Home > Uncategorized > Mikhail Artsybashev: The death of a single soldier

Mikhail Artsybashev: The death of a single soldier

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

Russian writers on war

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

Mikhail Artsybashev: A mother’s simple prescription against war

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Mikhail Artsybashev
From War
Translated by Thomas Seltzer

PRINCE [after rapidly glancing over the telegram, and looking at Semyonov with an expression of horror]. Good God! What’s to be done now? What does it mean?

SEMYONOV [He remains standing in the same position with his back to the Prince. He speaks hoarsely]. What? Killed! That’s all! – They’ve killed him. [He turns around swiftly, snatches the telegram from the Prince’s hands and sticks it in his pocket]. My! How stupid! Why are you standing there like that? Go tell Nina Petrovna. She’ll know how to manage it better than we – and I’ll try to break it to Asya. – Well? Why aren’t you going? Go, please.

The Prince obediently crosses over to the door and goes out.

SEMYONOV. There! Volodya, too! The devil!

He bites his moustache, and remains standing in the middle of the room, sunk in thought. – A shrill, piercing cry is heard from a distance inside the house. Semyonov trembles, lets his moustache drop out of his mouth, and listens. The cry is repeated. Hurried steps are heard and the Prince runs in.

PRINCE. She heard me tell her. Do you hear? How terrible!

SEMYONOV. Who? Olga Petrovna?

PRINCE. Yes – I told Nina – she heard me. I think we must call a doctor.

SEMYONOV. What’s the good of a doctor? The devil! – And Asya will be here any minute, too.

The wild shriek draws nearer; the door opens noisily and Olga Petrovna rushes in with her gray hair undone, looking pitiful and terrible. Nina comes running after her, weeping, distracted and trying to quiet her.

NINA. Mamma! Dear Mamma! For Heaven’s sake!

OLGA. Where is it? Where? It is not true – not true! – Killed! – It’s not true! – Volodya killed! – Who said it?

She reels and falls. Nina and the Prince catch her and put her in a chair. Nina puts her arms around her neck, kisses her, strokes her head and cries.

NINA. Mamma! My dear little mother! Mamma! You mustn’t. – My darling mother.

PIOTR [entering, and with quick, firm steps crossing directly over to Olga. His face is gravely solemn and seems as though turned into stone]. Olga!

OLGA [flinging herself at him and clutching his hands]. Piotr – they are lying, aren’t they? Volodya killed! – Piotr! [She seizes him with her hands, but instantly pushes him back and tears herself away from Nina’s embrace.] It isn’t true. – It cannot be. – Leave me alone! – [She breaks away from her seat, runs into a corner, goes down on her knees and, as in a fit of madness, begins to bow her head rapidly to the ground.] Lord, Lord, Lord! – Lord!

Piotr Ivanovich drops heavily on a chair near the table and covers his face with his hands. Asya appears at the door, in a hat and jacket, pale and frightened. At sight of Olga Petrovna kneeling and bowing she stops as though anchored to the spot and her hands drop limply to her sides.

OLGA [bowing her head]. They have killed Volodya! Volodya! – Oh, Lord, Lord, help! – Help, Lord!

Piotr Ivanovich drops heavily on a chair near the table and covers his face with his hands. Asya appears at the door, in a hat and jacket, pale and frightened. At sight of Olga Petrovna kneeling and bowing she stops as though anchored to the spot and her hands drop limply to her sides.

OLGA [bowing her head]. They have killed Volodya! Volodya! – Oh, Lord, Lord, help! – Help, Lord!- [Seeing Asya.] Asya! – Asya darling! Our Volodya is no more. They have killed our Volodya! [Crawling to her on her knees, she takes both Asya’s hands and kisses them again and again.] Killed! Asya! – Asya darling! – No more Volodya. – Lord, Lord, Lord!

Asya stands absolutely rigid, wide-eyed, and staring blankly before her. Nina sits with her head on the table, sobbing. The Prince and Semyonov stand aside with bowed heads. Piotr Ivanovich sits at the table, his face buried in his hands, but dry-eyed.

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NINA [quietly]. You must pardon my father, Prince. Volodya’s terrible death has made a perfect baby of him. He is only the wreck of his former self.

PRINCE [deferentially and sadly]. I understand, Nina Petrovna.

NINA [sitting down on the balustrade where her father had been sitting]. Papa cannot endure to hear anything about Volodya. You know, he never wept a tear. He just keeps quiet. And his silence is more horrible than the worst crying and sobbing. It is so awfully hard to look at him, so hard! Good God, when will this war end? When will it end? And will those who caused it never be brought to account for all the tears, all the misery?

PRINCE. I think they will.

NINA. Is it possible that after all these horrors there will again be wars and people will again die and be killed? Is it possible that the people will never come to their senses, never understand what they are doing?

PRINCE. I don’t think they ever will.

There is silence.

NINA [musingly]. Semyonov said that war can never be done away with because war is not opposed to human nature, but on the contrary is quite in keeping with human nature. Can that be true?

PRINCE. Oh, well, there may be a difference of opinion as to that.

NINA. I don’t see how there can be any difference of opinion. [With heat] If it were as Semyonov says, then I think the human race ought simply be wiped off the face of the earth. It would have no right to exist.

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