Borys Oliynyk

Rookie (1935, October 22 / Zachepylivka, Poltava region)

The Lesson (Excerpt From The Poem) - Poem by Borys Oliynyk


All around just as it should be:
evening falls, the distance fades.
The sun comes up. The sun is setting.
Then steal up the night-time shades.
Oh, how banal! Oh, how lovely!
All in a spiral round appears,
all harmonious:
as it has been
for a thousand thousand years.

Oh, well-balanced runs world-order
in its alternating way!
All so wisely made in nature:
day after night, and night after day.
Father, having done his duty,
for his inheritors makes way.
All is passing, all is parting:
day after night, and night after day.
Ideal is the rhythm of nature:
father's killed,
but I live yet.
Ah me, what a stern world order:
well, you weep - and you forget.
Oh, the cruel rhythm of nature:
dead ones
fall into the grass!
Oh, how serpent-wise the circle:
Well, you weep - and let it pass.
Why then do you stretch your fingers,
bitter memory, to my heart?
All has passed, and all has fallen,
all is overgrown with the grass!

"Maybe, son, it never happened? "
"Maybe so, it never happened.
But what so you mean, papa? "


"Well, I simply remembered. Wait a minute. What date is it today? "
"Ha! " I laughed roundly, "Don't be ironical, father. Tomorrow's your birthday… Ho, ho! " I echoed in his manner.
"All the same, you remember at least one date. Yet still you say: ‘What has history got to do with me? ' I like to see you like that, dad, in a good humour."
"Well, why not? Tomorrow I was born. As a matter of fact, before daybreak on 21 October,1935. See, such exactness. Well, then, let's glance at the calendar. At what time does the sun rise and set on that day? In the biographies of great people every little detail is weighed like gold." He stretched for the calendar, merrily and boldly young.
"That's not necessary…" I caught his hand.
Lazily he shrugged his shoulders.
"Why not? "
"Because there is blood on that page! "
"Wha-a-t! What do you mean? " He sprang back from me stunned.
"What kind of blood? Where? I don't understand… Now I shall get it clear, my son… documentally." He read: "Before daybreak on October 21,1941, a punitive brigade under the command of Major von König broke into the small town of Kragujevac, and rounded up and shot seven thousand people. Among them where three hundred pupils of the High School. They took them off to their death in classes, each one led by its teacher…"
"But where's that… Kragujevac? "
„In Serbia. About 40 kilometres from Belgrade, my son. Yet you say: ‘What good is geography to me? ' "
"But what has geography to do with this? We aren't talking about that at the moment… I simply want to say that it is a chance coincidence of dates. You were born some six years before that…"
"Ah, no, my son, there are no coincidences in this world - all is connected: the cause and the effect, day and night, birth and death, the bullet and the accusing index finger. My birthday, and that day of death in Kragujevac have entered the eternal circle of birth and death, and become cells in the universe. Nothing disappears in this world, my son. The law of the conservation of matter and… memory. Take a look here, more carefully. There is blood on my shirt! "
"Stop it, father! That's already… mysticism. I'm afraid, father! "


"Don't be scared! That is Memory, with candle alight.
There some kind of shadows move, far in the night.
And with terror the red haze of daybreak gasps.
And the jack-boots, like fate, from the darkness march.

No faces there. Only bared teeth in white strips.
And a twisted smile on those Aryan lips.
The circle grows tight with a jerk, like a noose! "
"Oh, father, the wind shakes the windows loose! "

"See, König has raised his right hand: ‘Ein Moment! '
And the compass-hand rings, like a rapier bent.
And trembled the map, like Oświęcim platz.
And his leaden eye falls on Kragujevac."

"Oh, father, that's only a dream which you see:
There is a bending sad autumn willow-tree."

With Aryan pedantry
(order beats high in his breast)
with Prussian precision
the pupils were marched from their desks.
And in columns of three were led off
(Lieber Kinder! Straight lines!)
keeping step,
class by class, to the graveyard
in sad autumn time.

"They go, as to school, with their satchels and books.
With lunch, after which loving mother looks.
And with exercise books for first lessons inside.
And the Teuton strictly keeps all in stride.
By the newly-dug ditch, which the red clay cleaves…"
"Oh, father, not that! They are just fallen leaves."

"Six thousand seven hundred lie dead in the ground.
Three hundred, by classes will now swell the mound.
The geography teacher, as if still in class,
Said: ‘We'll see Mount Triglav soon as we pass.'
The mountain just shrugged heavy shoulders on high:
‘Some people are killed,
but the folk does not die.'
The history master then said, clear and slow:
"And now through Kosovo Field we shall go.
Our forefathers here, with the East all red,
were mown down by curved swords of Sultan Bayazid'.
The mountain just shrugged heavy shoulders on high:
‘Some people are killed,
but the folk does not die.'
But three hundred through Serbia silent go by..."

"Oh, father, that's geese in the autumntide sky! "

"Tearing bridges, like bandages off from her breast,
The Tisza arose, and the murderers addressed:
‘Where are you taking the innocent ones?

...Innocent children, beloved sons? '

The commandant of the Yaniv prison-camp (that is not far away, in Lviv, my son) Sturmführer Gustav Wilhaus, as a game of sporting chance, shot with his automatic from the balcony of his office at the prisoners who were toiling in the workshops, and afterwards handed over the automatic to his wife, and she also shot at them. Sometimes, just to amuse his nine-year-old daughter, Wilhaus ordered them to throw two- to four-year old children up into the air, and he then shot at them. His daughter clapped her hands (my God, what innocence!) and cried ‘More, papa, more, papa! ' and he went on shooting.
From that time on, my son, when I see white-winged cherubs in the frescoes of Sophia Cathedral, I want to ask them: You don't come, by chance, from the Yaniv prison-camp? "

"Tearing bridges, like bandages off from her breast,
The Tisza cried: ‘Where go these innocents blessed? '

...To its fatal brink the finale drew.
On steel helmets the mist was lying like dew.
And in that finale the first letter ‘f'
began with the blood-red stroke of death.

Strict order, for König, came first thing of all:
‘Straighten lines, you Serbs! ' he began to bawl.
‘In classes, you Slavs, and learn, you swine,
even now to keep order, and not waste time! '

And the first column stood on the edge, and froze..."
"Oh, father, I hear now, the circle grows close! "

"The High School's director death's hand could not curb:
‘Let me through to the children. I too am a Serb! "

König laughed: ‘And were are you going? Weg!
We aim at the future, but you are Plusquamperfekt! '

The director cut in: "Keep your trigger-finger stiff!
Jedem das Seine. I've a lesson to give…

My children, we've but a few minutes to run.
Out of all the lessons, I've chosen just one.
Let the grave-yard serve as a classroom, say.
H i s t o r y, children, we're making today.
Today raise no hands for the questions they pose…'
"Oh, father, I hear now, the circle grows close! "
‘There is one assessment for me and for you,
Time makes it for us, and objectively, too.

First of all, beneath the cold eye of the war
you are no longer children. Remember! What's more,
you're no longer family supports, firm as oak,
But f i g h t e r s, my lads. Behind you stands the folk.
Your names on the banner of saints will repose…'
"Oh, father, I hear now, the circle grows close! "

‘Are you cold, then, my lads? It was always so
when loneliness froze on the victim's brow,
and with leaden eye poised the carrion crows…'
"Oh, father, I hear now, the circle grows close! "

‘I am weighing the truth now of every word:
To a l l it was frightening to leave this dear earth.
And even the heroes of highest flight
were sorry to leave behind them the light.
Oh, how they wished danger would pass, those men!
So why, you may ask, call them heroes, then?

I am weighing the truth now of every word:
those heroes felt in themselves all the world.
That feeling protected them, just like a shield:
though they might fall, still the world would not yield!

So on Kosovo Field, reddened by Bayazid,
not only the Serbs, but the whole world bled.
And each of the Serbs came to realize:
Though he might fall, the whole world never dies.

No need for the Slavs now to fall at their feet…'
"Oh, father, I hear now, the circle's c o m p l e t e! "
"Now König stood up in his column-like boots.
In his sights eternity, the moment he shoots.
He thought to himself for the trigger he'd reach,
with a bullet would put a full stop to his speech.
‘Unhappy wretch, does he not realize
that though we may die, the whole world will rise? '

But König just laughed: ‘No more words, that's your last!
For words before bullets, old man, are but grass.
I'll just raise my pistol, my first finger curled,
And into the pit go your words and your world!
Six thousand seven hundred that truth can't revoke,
While you jaw away about honour and folk! '

The teacher looked thoughtfully up overhead,
But the whole world heard, when he quietly said:
‘If kinsmen and Homeland are mere words, say,
What do Belgrade and Moscow tell you today?
Major König, in which rank does memory stand? '
König's face went purple, he threw up his hand:

‘Old idiot, now you have gone too far!
Your hatred pours out of your boot-soles. Ah!
You have cleverly played on my tender spot,
but it's not for to decide our lot!
To me, and my trigger, must history bow.
You s t a r t e d the lesson, I'll f i n i s h it now! '
And his screwed up his eyes, like a carrion crow."

"Oh, father, you see, in that circle I go! "

"The director sighed: ‘Our Time's sailing past.
So as the first word, let there stand the last:
Brothers! for us sound the closing bell.
I taught you to take your f i r s t steps well.

But remember:
the l a s t you're going to make
is no less important than the first that you take,
because your life's spiral it crowns, like a spire,
and from there our s u c c e s s o r s would step on higher,
to the truth of all truths, which won't die in the land:
A man may fall, but the whole world will stand!

Slav brothers, and sons! .. Take courage! .. Heads high!
We are mortals. Remember: The folk does not die! '
The ominous soldiers like stiff corpses stood,
from König's red face drained away all the blood.
The peaks of Mount Triglav support the sky
with a powerful truth: ‘The folk does not die! '
And above the years,
like fate, the bell rings:
so son, having finished,
the lesson begins."

Poet's Notes about The Poem

Translated by Walter May

Comments about The Lesson (Excerpt From The Poem) by Borys Oliynyk

  • Margaret O Driscoll (4/20/2016 4:14:00 AM)

    A masterpiece, glad I came across this wonderful work (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, August 9, 2012

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