"Commander" (Polkovodets) by A.S. Pushkin
One of the Tsar's palatial halls is an apartment
With neither gold nor velvet rich; here no assortment
Of coronation gems, kept under glass, is found;
but up and down, throughout its length and all around,
An artist has embellished it from the floor ceiling,
His ranging brush instinct with free and generous feeling.
No maidenly madonnas, nymphs on sylvan lawns,
Full-blossomed beauties, goblet-waving fauns,
No dances, hunting scenes-instead, all cloaks and sabres
And the countenances marked by war resolve, war's labors.
In serried throng the painter magicked black to light
The high commanders of our nation's warlike might:
All laureates of that campaign of wondrous glory,
Heroes of eighteen-twelve's imperishable story.
At times, astroll amongst them, as my gaze was caught
By the familiar likenesses, I idly thought
That I could hear their warrior notes ring down those spaces.
Yet many are no longer, and the rest, whost faces
In bloom of youth still grace this canvas, lively-hued,
Grown old by now, incline in modest quietude
Their laureled heads...
But of this somber band of brothers
One always draws my mind more strongly than the others;
Bemused anew each time, I stop and cannot spare
A glance elsewhere, and then, the more I brood and stare,
The more I feel my heart in leaden sadness buried.
He is portrayed full-length. Bald like a skull's, his forehead
Gleams loftily and, you would say, betrays the blight
Of some great suffering. Deep gloom enshrouds the site;
The background shows a host encamped. Calm in dejection,
He seems abstracted in disdainful recollection.
The artist either drew no more than he had seen
In choosing to portray him with just such a mien,
Or by some insight not his own it was engendered;
No matter, it is this expression Dawe has rendered.
Luckless commander! Ah, your fate was bitter gall:
The alien soil in sacrifice you brought your all.
By gaze of savage ignorance unpenetrated,
You strode alone, your mind with lofty concepts freighted;
But, fastening on your name's outlandish sound for bait,
And letting loose on you its hue-and-cry of hate,
As it was being rescued by your craft, the nation
Reviled your venerable head with execration.
And He, whose mind was shrewd enough to be exempt,
Found it more politic to join them in contempt...
And long, your mighty heart upheld by strong conviction,
Undaunted, you outfaced the cretinous affliction;
Until, but half-way home, you were compelled at length
to yield without a word the laurel wreath, the strength
Of high command, and that design so deeply pondered-
To vanish in the lines and see your glory squandered.
There, lord of hosts no more, young ensign now instead,
Who never heard before the merry hiss of lead,
You charged the firing line and sought the death you craved-
Ah, men! A wretched tribe, both tears and laughter worth!
Priests of the monastery, the success of earth!
How often in his passing may a man be seen
At whom a blind and hectic age will vent its spleen,
But whose exalted face within a generation
Draws poets into rapt and loving contemplation!