Yevgeny Yevtushenko (18 July 1933 / Zima Junction, Siberia)
Picture of Childhood
Elbowing our way, we run.
Someone is being beaten up in the market.
You wouldn’t want to miss it!
We pick up speed, racing to the uproar,
scooping up water in our felt boots
and forgetting to wipe our sniffles.
And stood stock-still. In our little hearts something tightened,
when we saw how the ring of sheepskin coats,
fur coats, hooded coats, was contracting,
how he stood up near the green vegetable stall
with his head pulled into his shoulders from the hail
of jabs, kicks, spitting, slaps in the face.
Suddenly someone from the right by the handcart
pushed his teeth in,
Suddenly someone from the left bashed his forehead with a
chunk of ice.
Blood appeared-and then they started in, in earnest.
All piled up in a heap they began to scream together,
pounding with sticks, reins,
and linchpins out of wheels.
In vain he wheezed to them: 'Mates,
you’re my mates-what’s the matter? '
The mob wanted to settle accounts fully.
The mob was deaf with rage.
The mob grumbled at those who weren’t putting their boots in,
and they trampled something that looked like a body
into the spring snow that was turning into mud.
They beat him up with relish. With ingenuity. Juicy.
I saw how skillfully and precisely
one man kept putting the boots in,
boots with greasy flaps on them,
right under the belt of the man who was down,
smothered in mud and dungy water.
Their owner, a guy with an honest enough mug,
very proud of his high principles,
was saying with each kick: 'Don’t try your tricks with us! '
booting him deliberately, with the utmost conviction,
and, sweat pouring, with a red face, he jovially called to me:
'Come on, youngster, get in it! '
I can’t remember-how many there were, making a din,
beating him up.
It may have been a hundred, it may have been more,
but I, just a boy, wept for shame.
And if a hundred are beating somebody up,
howling in a frenzy-even if for a good cause-
I will never make one hundred and one!
Translated by Tina Tupikina-Glaessner, Geoffrey Dutton, and Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin (revised)
Comments about this poem (Picture of Childhood by Yevgeny Yevtushenko )
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