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International Socialism, Autumn 1961


Alexander Blok

The Scythians



From International Socialism (1st series), No.6, Autumn 1961, pp.24-25.
Translated by Kurt Dowson. [1]
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Panmongolism – fierce the word may seem, yet how I love its sound’

Vladimir Solovyev


Millions are you – and hosts, yea hosts, are we,
And we shall fight if war you want, take heed.
Yes, we are Scythians – leafs of the Asian tree,
Our slanted eyes are bright aglow with greed.

Ages for you, for us the briefest space,
We raised the shield up as your humble lieges
To shelter you, the European race
From the Mongolians’ savage raid and sieges.

Ages, yea ages, did your forges’ thunder
Drown even avalanches’ roar.
Quakes rent Messina and Lisbon asunder –
To you this was a distant tale – no more.

Eastwards you cast your eyes for many hundred years,
Greedy for our precious stones and ore,
And longing for the time when with a leer
You’d yell an order and the guns would roar.

This time is now. Woe beats its wings
And every adds more humiliation
Until the day arrives which brings
An end to placid life in utter spoliation.

You, the old world, now rushing to perdition,
Yet strolling languidly to lethal brinks,
Yours is the ancient Oedipean mission
To seek to solve the riddles of a sphinx.

The sphinx is Russia, sad and yet elated,
Stained with dark blood, with grief prostrate,
For you with longing she has looked and waited,
Replete with ardent love and ardent hate.

Yet how will ever you perceive
That, as we love, as lovingly we yearn,
Our love is neither comfort nor relief
But like a fire will destroy and burn.

We love cold figures’ hot illumination,
The gift of supernatural vision,
We like the Gallic wit’s mordant sensation
And dark Teutonic indecision.

We know it all: in Paris hell’s dark street,
In Venice bright and sunlit colonnades,
The lemon blossoms’ scent so heavy, yet so sweet,
And in Cologne a shadowy arcade.


We love the flavour and the smell of meat,
The slaughterhouses’ pungent reek.
Why blame us then if in the heat
Of our embrace your bones begin to creak.

We saddle horses wild and shy,
As in the fields so playfully they swerve.
Though they be stubborn, yet we press their thigh
Until they willingly and meekly serve.

Join us! From horror and from strife
Turn to the peace of our embrace.
There is still time. Keep in its sheath your knife.
Comrades, we will be brothers to your race.

Say no – and we are none the worse.
We, too, can utter pledges that are vain.
But ages, ages will you bear the curse
Of our sons’ distant offspring racked with pain.

Our forests’ dark depths shall we open wide
To you, the men of Europe’s comely race,
And unmoved shall we stand aside,
An ugly grin on our Asian face.

Advance, advance to Ural’s crest,
We offer you a battleground so neat
Where your machines of steel in serried ranks abreast
With the Mongolian savage horde will meet.

But we shall keep aloof from strife,
No longer be your shield from hostile arrow,
We shall just watch the mortal strife
With our slanting eyes so cold and narrow.

Unmoved shall we remain when Hunnish forces
The corpses’ pockets rake for plunder,
Set town afire, to altars tie their horses,
Burn our white brothers’ bodies torn asunder.

To the old world goes out our last appeal:
To work and peace invite our warming fires.
Come to our hearth, join our festive meal.
Called by the strings of our Barbarian lyres.

30 January 1918


1. Kurt Dowson, who translated Blok’s famous poem writes: ‘The October Revolution inspired three great poets: Alexander Blok, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergey Yessenin. Possibly, Yessenin was less in need of stimulation than the two others – his roots were firmly in the soil and in popular tradition. Mayakovsky, the expressionist, lived and wrote by the Revolution and burnt out when the revolution had lost its impetus. Alexander Blok, the Russian intellectual in the Dostoyevskian tradition, believed in the Messianic mission of the Russian revolution. His poem The Scythians is perhaps the clearest expression of this dichotomy inherent in the Russian revolution: internationalism as well as nationalism. To this day this conflict remains unresolved. Many books have been written on it – learned studies by Socialists and Non-Socialists but Alexander Blok’s The Scythians, possibly, contributes more to the understanding of the Russian outlook than long essays by the cream of Sovietologists.’

Describing himself, Kurt Dowson adds: ‘an uncommitted Socialist who for some years belonged to G.D.H. Cole’s circle and within the context of Socialist controversies takes his stand by issues and not by wings, has always felt attracted by Slavonic poetry. As he is of Central European extraction, this may not be surprising. In his professional activities he is a financial and economic journalist (Fleet Street) who by translating occasionally a poem hopes to atone for the aid he renders by his professional activities to tycoons, investors and speculators.’

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