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The Turkistan General

Туркестанские генералы

Beneath vague voices and the low din,
Strangely as if through a wall,
Through the bright dancers in a line
One sees the towering old general.

A welcoming voice, a direct look,
With eyebrows, grizzled and curved,
Of nothing in particular he spoke
And to us said no more than he should.

Among the officers and the dandies
Amid the day’s whirlwind,
It seems that they’d forgotten his
Grand odoriferous legend.

They forgot the day of anguish,
The night of cries: “To arms.”
The disheartening salt-marshes,
The camels’ hooves in lines;

Forgot the margins of shifting dirt
Where a bad-luck company dragged;
Forgot Ashgabad,** and Kizel Arvat,***
White Khiva**** fallen to the Russian flag.

Forgotten? — No! Each time it occurs
That some attention-grabbing incident
Dims the spark of his peaceful eyes,
Refreshing them with old events.

“What is with you?” — “My leg aches.” —
“Gout?” — “No, an old deep wound.”
Suddenly provoked, he awakes
And breaks the tedium of the Turkistan sun.

And he told me that none of those
Among all of the veterans,
In lines with up-raised lances
Or in rows of armchairs and divans,

Could force him out of the shabby bed,
Ceremonious and corpulent,
As his heart repeatedly agonized
Over memories of mishaps past.
* Alien Sky is in four sections, the second of which is dedicated to Anna Akhmatova and includes this poem.
** I have been unsuccessful in identifying the proper noun Уч-Кудук (transliterated as Ush-Kuduk).
I have substituted Ashgabad or Ashgabat which is the modern capital of Turkmenistan and was the site of a major battle during the Turkistan campaign.
*** I have been unsuccessful in identifying the proper noun Киндерли (transliterated as Kenderla). He substituted Kizyl Arvat which is in modern Turkmenistan. I have not been able to confirm that it was involved in the 19th century Turkistan campaigns.
**** Khiva is a city on the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border. It was the center of the Khanate of Khiva, also called Khwārezm, until Russia conquered it in 1873 under General Mikhail Dmitrievich Skobelev (1843-1882) who was known by his Turkistan opponents as “bloody eyes.” The conquest of Khiva effectively brought Turkistan under Russian control.

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