“The Twelve”

by Alexander Blok

1

Darkness—and white

Snow hurled

By the wind. The wind!

You cannot stand upright

For the wind: the wind

Scouring God’s world.

The wind ruffles

The white snow, pulls

That treacherous

Wool over the wicked ice.

Everyone out walking

Slips. Look—poor thing!

From building to building over

The street a rope skips nimble,

A banner on the rope:

ALL POWER TO THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY.

This old weeping woman is worried to death,

She doesn’t know what it’s all about:

That banner—for God’s sake—

So many yards of cloth!

How many children’s leggings it would make—

And they without shirts—without boots…

The old girl like a puffed hen picks

Her way between drifts of snow.

“Mother of God, these Bolsheviks

Will be the death of us, I know!”

Will the frost never lose its grip

Or the wind lay its whips aside?

The bourgeois where the roads divide

Stands chin on chest, his collar up.

But who’s this with the mane

Of hair, saying in a whisper:

“They’ve sold us down the river.

“Russia’s down and out!”

A pen-pusher, no doubt,

A word-spinner…

There’s someone in a long coat, sidling

Over there where the snow’s less thick.

“What’s happened to your joyful tidings,

Comrade cleric?”

Do you remember the old days:

Waddling belly-first to prayer,

When the cross on your belly would blaze

On the faithful there?…

A lady in a fur

Is turning to a friend:

“We cried our eyes out, dear…”

She slips up—

Smack!—on her beam end.

Heave ho

And up she rises—so!

The wind rejoices,

Mischievous and spry,

Ballooning dresses

And skittling passersby.

It buffets with a shower

Of snow the banner cloth:

ALL POWER TO THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY,

And carries voices.

…”Us girls had a session…

…In there on the right…

…Had a discussion—

Carried a motion:

Ten for a time, twenty-five for the night…

…And not a ruble less from anybody…

…Coming to bed…?”

Evening ebbs out.

The crowds decamp.

Only a tramp

Potters about.

And the wind screams…

Hey you! Hey

Chum,

Give us a kiss…?

A crust!

What will become

Of us? Get lost!

Black sky grows blacker.

Anger, sorrowful anger

Seethes in the breast…

Black anger, holy anger…

Friend! Keep

Your eyes skinned!

2

The wind plays up: snow flutters down.

Twelve men are marching through the town.

Their rifle butts on black slings sway.

Lights left, right, left, wink all the way…

Cap tilted, fag drooping, every one

Looks like a jailbird on the run!

Freedom, freedom,

Down with the cross!

Rat-a-tat-tat!

It’s cold, boys, and I’m numb!

“Johnny and Kate are living it up…”

“She’s bank notes in her stocking top!”

“John’s in the money, too, and how!”

“He was one of us; he’s gone over now!”

“Well, Mister John, you son of a whore,

Just you kiss my girl once more!”

Freedom, freedom,

Down with the cross!

Rat-a-tat-tat!

It’s cold, boys, and I’m numb

“Johnny and Kate are living it up…”

“She’s bank notes in her stocking top!”

“John’s in the money, too, and how!”

“He was one of us; he’s gone over now!”

“Well, Mister John, you son of a whore,

Just you kiss my girl once more!”

Freedom, freedom

Down with the cross!

Johnny right now is busy with Kate.

What do you think they’re busy at?

Rat-a-tat-tat!

Lights left, right, left, lights all the way…

Rifles on their shoulders sway…

Keep a Revolutionary Step!

The Relentless Enemy Will Not Stop!

Grip your gun like a man, brother!

Let’s have a crack at Holy Russia—

Mother

Russia

With her big, fat arse!

Down with the cross!

3

The lads have all gone to the wars

To serve in the Red Guard—

To serve in the Red Guard—

And risk their hot heads for the cause!

Hell and damnation,

Life is such fun

With a ragged greatcoat

And a Jerry gun!

To smoke the nobs out of their holes

We’ll light a fire through all the world,

A bloody fire through all the world—

Lord, bless our souls!

4

The blizzard whirls; a cabby shouts;

Away fly Johnny and Kate with a ‘lectric lamp

Between the shafts…

Hey there, look out!

He’s in an army overcoat,

A silly grin upon his snout.

He’s twirling a mustachio,

Twirling it about,

Joking as they go…

Young Johnny’s a mighty lover

With a gift of gab that charms!

He takes silly Kate in his arms,

He’s talking her over…

She throws her head back as they hug

And her teeth are white as pearl…

Ah, Kate, my Katey girl,

With your little round mug…

5

Across your collarbone, my Kate,

A knife has scarred the flesh;

And there below your bosom, Kate,

That little scratch is fresh!

Hey there, honey, honey, what

A lovely pair of legs you’ve got!

You carried on in lace and furs—

Carry on, dear, while you can!

You frisked about with officers—

Frisk about, dear, while you can!

Honey, honey, swing your skirt!

My heart is knocking at my shirt!

Do you remember that officer—

The knife put an end to him…

Do you remember that, you whore,

Or does your memory dim?

Honey, honey, let him be!

You’ve got room in bed for me!

Once upon a time you wore gray spats,

Scoffed chocolates in gold foil,

Went out with officer-cadets—

Now it’s the rank and file!

Honey, honey, don’t be cruel!

Roll with me to ease your soul!

6

…Carriage again and cabby’s shout

Come storming past: “Look out! Look out…”

Stop, you, stop! Help, Andy—here!

Cut them off, Peter, from the rear!…

Crack—crack—reload—crack—crack!

The snow whirls skyward off the road!…

Young Johnny and the cabman run

Like the wind. Take aim. Give them one!…

For the road. Crack—crack! Now learn

To leave another man’s girl alone!…

Running away, you bastard? Do.

Tomorrow I’ll settle accounts with you!

But where is Kate? She’s dead! She’s dead!

A bullet hold clean through her head!

Kate, are you satisfied? Lost your tongue?

Lie in the snowdrift then, like dung!

Keep a Revolutionary Step!

The Relentless Enemy Will Not Stop!

7

Onward the twelve advance,

Their butts swinging together,

But the poor killer looks

At the end of his tether…

Fast, faster, he steps out.

Knotting a handkerchief

Clumsily round his throat

His hand shakes like a leaf…

“What’s eating you, my friend?”

“Why so downhearted, mate?”

“Come, Pete, what’s on your mind?

Still sorry for Kate?”

“Oh, brother, brother, brother,

I loved that girl…

Such nights we had together,

Me and that girl…”

“For the wicked come-hither

Her eyes would shoot at me,

And for the crimson mole

In the crook of her arm,

I shot her in my fury—

Like the fool I am…”

“Hey, Percy, shut your trap!

Are you a woman?”

“Are you a man, to pour

Your heart out like a tap?”

“Hold your head up!”

“And take a grip!”

“This isn’t the time now

For me to be your nurse!

Brother, tomorrow

Will be ten times worse!”

And shortening his stride,

Percy slows his step…

Lifts his head

And brightens up…

What the hell!

It’s not a sin to have some fun!

Put your shutters up, I say—

There’ll be broken locks today!

Open your cellars: quick, run down…!

The scum of the earth are hitting the town!

8

God, what a life!

I’ve had enough!

I’m bored!

I’ll scratch my head

And dream a dream…

I’ll chew my cud

To pass the time…

I’ll swig enough

To kill my drought…

I’ll get my knife

And slit your throat!

Fly away, mister, like a sparrow,

Before I drink your blue veins dry

For the sake of my poor darling

With her dark and roving eye…

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…

I’m bored!

9

Out of the city spills no noise,

The prison tower reigns in peace.

“We’ve got no booze but cheer up, boys,

We’ve seen the last of the police!”

The bourgeois where the roads divide,

Stands chin on chest, his collar up:

Mangy and flea-bitten at his side

Shivers a coarse-haired mongrel pup.

The bourgeois with a hangdog air

Stands speechless, like a question mark,

And the old world behind him there

Stands with its tail down in the dark.

10

Still the storm rages gust upon gust.

What weather! What a storm!

At arm’s length you can only just

Make out your neighbor’s form.

Snow twists into a funnel,

A towering tunnel…

“Oh, what a blizzard!…Jesus Christ!”

“Watch it, Pete, cut out the rot!

You fool, what did Christ and his cross

Ever do to the likes of us?

Look at your hands. Aren’t they hot

With the blood of the girl you shot?

Keep a Revolutionary Step?

The Enemy is Near and Won’t Let Up!”

Forward, and forward again

The working men!

11

…Abusing God’s name as they go,

All twelve march onward into the snow,

Prepared for anything,

Regretting nothing…

Their rifles at the ready

For the unseen enemy…

In back streets, side roads

Where only snow explodes

Its shrapnel, and through quag—

Mire drifts where the boots drag…

Before their eyes

Throbs a red flag.

Left, right,

The echo replies.

Keep your eyes skinned

Lest the enemy strike!

Into their faces day and night

Bellows the wind

Without a break…

Forward, and forward again

The working men!

12

…They march far on with sovereign tread…

“Who else goes there? Come out! I said

Come out!” It is the wind and the red

Flag plunging gaily at their head.

The frozen snowdrift looms in front.

“Who’s in the drift? Come out! Come here!”

There’s only the homeless mongrel runt

Limping wretchedly in the rear…

“You mangy beast, out of the way

Before you taste my bayonet.

Old mongrel world, clear off I say!

I’ll have your hide to sole my boot!”

…The shivering cur, the mongrel cur

bares his teeth like a hungry wolf,

droops his tail, but does not stir…

“Hey, answer, you there, show yourself.”

“Who’s that waving the red flag?”

“Try and see! It’s as dark as the tomb!”

“Who’s that moving at a jog

Trot, keeping to the back-street gloom?”

“Don’t you worry—I’ll catch you yet,

Better surrender to me alive!”

“Come out, comrade, or you’ll regret

It—we’ll fire when I’ve counted five!”

Crack—crack—crack! But only the echo

Answers from among the eaves…

The blizzard splits his seams, the snow

Laughs wildly up the whirlwind’s sleeve…

Crack—crack—crack!

Crack—crack—crack!

…So on they go with sovereign tread—

Behind them limps the hungry mongrel,

And wrapped in wild snow at their head

Carrying the flag blood-red—

Soft-footed in the blizzard’s swirl,

Invulnerable where bullets sliced—

Crowned with a crown of snowflake pearl,

In a wreath of white rose,

Ahead of them Christ Jesus goes.

[I typed this by hand from a copied version given to me by a professor from Trotsky’s book ‘Literature and Revolution’. I by no means own this text, nor reproduce it in any means that provide means to stipulate ownership.”]

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