“Last Year’s Night”

“Last Year’s Night”
By Emil Kubek

It’s strange to be joyful,
At a funeral service,
But the grave ‘s already open,
And the crowd knows its purpose.
At the mouth of the tomb,
Were gathered together,
All different nations,
To bury forever
This wretched past year,
There they stood without fear.

Twelve months,
Those twelve brothers,
Have passed, day by day,
They’ve seen every hour.
The moments of summer,
Are like leaves in the breeze,
They’ve sunk now forever
In the past of the sea,
In the strong raging stream
Of the fugitive year.
But then fate betrayed us.
How much faith and ambition,
Love, hope, and conviction,
Good will, happiness,
Like an albatross,
In the sea waves,
Or in tears, has been lost?
How much misery, anguish,
Sadness, and gloom,
Are now over for good?
In the very short time
Of this past wretched year,
Oh how many people,
With downtrodden voices,
How many wishes were lost,
And innocent pleasures,
How much loyalty, passion,
And imagination,
How much of our trust,
How many good wishes,
Have now found their graves?
And oh how much shame
Of all sorts,
How much want,
Have burdened our people
This past dreadful year?
And how many hardships
We’ve been forced to endure?
How much suffering and torment,
Sadness, ennui, and grief,
We’ve had to withstand?
But yet we’re still standing,
With joy in our hearts,
Above the fresh grave
Of this old wretched year!

All the nations have gathered
From around the whole world:
Under the roar of the Pharaoh
From the Egypt of Moses,
From the ice of the north,
From the sands of the east,
From the Palestine’s steppes,
From the mills of the West,
From the north, from the south; …
From the wealthiest palace,
From the lowliest huts,
From the Tsar’s brilliant throne,
From the poor soldiers’ trench,…
The richest and the powerful,
And the poor working people,
Those in velvet and silk,
And the children in tatters;
The always carousing,
And those dying from hunger,
Happy and healthy,
The sick in the clinics,
The dumb and the wise,
The mothers and fathers,
The young and the old,
The orphans and children…
They all want to witness
Their fates turn
For the better.

The earth turns from the light.
The hour hand now
Approaches midnight
The old year will be finished.
Under one cloudy sky,
In small huts,
In bright cities,
Above the palms of the desert
In the blazes of war,
Near the fires of shepherds…
The sorrows will start,
In mournful whispers,
All will present their laments
To this year:

–This year
My wife left me,
And now she rests,
Blessed, in her grave;
The children are orphans,
I’m an orphan myself,
And now our old house
Is wrecked by misfortune.

—What a terrible fate,
I’ve lost my son,
He was my oldest,
I’m now all alone.
I spent every last penny
On him. It’s all gone.

Oh what will I do,
How will I live on?

—I’ve lost my breadwinner,
My husband is dead,
He left me the children,
Who now have no dad.

—And my house has lost
Its beauty,
My only daughter has died
Too early.

—My fiancée,
He was killed in the war,
I’m crushed, broken-hearted,
heartsick, and heartsore.

—And I lost my health,
Then I lost my job,
There’s no savings for food,
And we’ve lost the whole crop.

—I’m broke, I’m a cripple,
I just lay in bed,
There’s no one to earn money
So the kids have no bread.

—And I’m here in the ward;
I’ve suffered all through my life,
My heart breaks from pity,
For my kids and my wife.

—I’ve become blind
I can’t see the light,
In my world of darkness,
It’s eternally night.

—I’m an innocent man,
Just let me explain,
My enemies lied to a judge,
Who put me in chains.

—What’s most dear to me,
My honor, was taken,
As a woman, they slandered,
And shamed my good reputation.

—My life’s work
Has been burned to the ground,
What a terror! Over there
Is my family, in their burial mound.

—A storm came through my village,
And destroyed all my land,
And now we’re suffering
From sickness and famine.

—And all of my riches,
Were lost in the ocean,
I’m now a poor beggar,
Despondent and broken.

—All of my family
Were killed by some robbers.
When I came home, I found that my wife
And my children were slaughtered.

—And my poor husband
Was attacked far from home.
When I found him, the wolves only left
Bloody clothes and his bones.

—They robbed me.

—Deceived me.

—The rains washed out our fields,
Which now all are empty,
And will be forever.

—A drought ruined our family,
There’s no lightning or thunder,
From the barn all our cattle
Now cry out from hunger.

—It’s unsafe at our house
We caught the disease,
We’re all dead, in the graveyard,
Which is covered in leaves.

—The earth violently shook,
The town was destroyed,
And along with the ruins
We were buried alive.

—And our town was burned
When a mountain caught fire,
And it poured smoking dust
And lava upon us.

—For us ‘t was the waves
That ruined our town,
Like living mountains,
Upon us, struck down.
Not a trace was left
Of our great civilization,
To the depths of the sea,
All the people were taken.

—When we were enslaved,
They forbade us to speak
In our native tongue,
And they stopped us from praying;
We fought, but they won.
Against foreign armies,…
In long, bloody fights,
Our husbands and children,
Lost their freedom and lives.

—In our native country,
A civil war raged,
Almost all of our best
Were sent to their graves.

—Oh we are beat down,
We have nothing left
From the fog of the war,
We’ve emerged sad and depressed.
Where we ploughed in the past
And planted our seeds:
Thousands of corpses
Lie under the weeds.
The forests are emptied,
They’ve burned down our huts,
Our fields are ripped up
By trenches and ruts.
They’ve shot through the churches
They’ve taken our cows, …
We’ve lost all our possessions,
We have nothing now.
We don’t have a house
There’s nowhere to sleep,
Our children are starving
Because there’s nothing to eat.
Oh where are our brothers,
Husbands, sons, fathers,
And long-lost lovers?
We have no idea.
Maybe they’re dead,
Or dying somewhere
In lands far abroad.
But we will remember
Through tears those we love,
Wherever they are.
Or are they now crippled,
And crawling home from afar?
We’ve lost everything,
Only heartbreak and tears
Are what we’ve preserved.
They’ve stolen our joy,
We’ve lost all our things,
But what’s hardest of all,
Is that we lost our country!

Your laments will soon cease,
Your tears will be dried;
For no one can lose
More than you already have!

The hour hand shows
That it’s already twelve.
And with this last blow
Of midnight’s new hour
Last year has been buried
And placed in its grave. . . .
With joy the new year
Comes to greet us with pleasure:
What will you bring us,
You young newborn child?
Will your present
Be a new, happy life?
Can you right all the wrongs
That took place this last year,
Those evils your father
Forced us to endure?
Do you have the strength
To dry all our tears,
And fill up the plates
Of those we hold dear?
Could you comfort somehow
The broken hearts of the widows,
And return all the lost soldiers
To their poor grieving mothers?
Do you have in your power
To heal all of our wounds,
To calm this harsh sea
Of sadness and gloom,
To put an end to the bloodshed
And depravation,
Which have broken the hearts
Of our desperate nation?
Can you put to an end
Our pain from last year?
Oh what will you do
To us, child my dear?

Merciful God
Bring peace this new year,
Raise up your people,
Help us persevere!

Translated by Nick Kupensky.


  • o. Emilijan A. Kubek, “Noč Staraho Hoda,” Amerikanskii Russkii Miesiatsoslov na Hod 1917, ed. Michael J. Hanchin (Homestead, PA: Amerikansky Russky Viestnik, 1920): 33-36.