World War Two was a tall task for the Soviets to overcome. After years of domestic turmoil with cultural, political, and economic change, the “New Russia” was put to test. This war (and Russia’s subsequent victory) meant a lot to Soviet Russia because it meant not only a victory for the country but for its system in place. It was a victory for communization and communism–even if the cost was 8 million lives.
Some ask, why would the Russian peasants fight? They had their land taken for the cause of communization and had their old identity (specifically religion) stripped from them, why would they fight? They fought for a couple of reasons. One being because the Germans had invaded Russia and had been fighting on these commoners’ yards–it was their land that they were defending. Second, though the Communists had originally stripped the old identity (or attempted to) of Russia, they–to an extent–granted some of that religious identity back. On September 8th, 1943, Joseph Stalin appointed Metropolitan Sergii Stragorodskii as the Orthodox Patriarch of Russia. This was incredibly important because it was a connection that the government made with the commoners of Russia. Even though the Soviet’s attempted to disconnect the peasants from the Church since the reign of the communists, a change of heart during World War Two was meant to bring all of Russia together.
Religion was still important amongst the Russian commoners; thus allowing the Church back into Soviet Russia was a political move meant to create a united front against the enemy (Germany). This rebirth of religion through culture and society was exemplified in the poem “Smolensk Roads” written by Konstantin Simonov.
This poem exudes patriotism while referencing religion numerous times throughout the poem.
The patriotic aspect of the poem is exemplified in a number of different places. For example, in the fifth stanza the poem reads: “I see my country–I think you know it, Alyosha–/Not in the townhouses where time idled by,/But in the hamlets with their simple crosses/On Russian graves, where our forefathers lie.” This call to fight for Russia is aimed at the common, everyday people by using words such as “simple” and “townhouses”. It arouses patriotism because it connotes Russia with their forefathers, assimilating family with country which ultimately creates a strong sense of patriotism. Another call to patriotism is made in the tenth stanza, which reads: “And so, as the Russian custom ordered, grimly/The homes were burned and the heavy winds were grey;Before our very eyes, our comrades, dying/Tore their shirts down the front, the Russian way.” This stanza evokes strong patriotism by using the attack of their home front as fuel to the fire. Simonov looks to rouse support (patriotism) for the war by using the invasion of Russian land as motivation.
There are also numerous religious references in the poem as well. One of these references includes the second stanza: “How they quietly wiped their tears and whispered to God/”Lord, save them,” praying, as well rolled,/And again described themselves as the wives of soldiers/As the custom was in great Russia of old.” The reference of asking the Lord to pray for the soldiers who were fighting against the Germans. The fact that the first thing that these women do in a time of turmoil is turn to God, shows the importance of faith in their lives. It shows the importance of faith in the commoners’ lives in general and the role that religion played in Russia. In the fourth stanza, Simonov makes a reference to the “cross of their hands”–which is presumably the sign of the cross that is commonly done by Orthodox Christians. He writes: “Protecting the village with the cross of their hands”. By doing the sign of the cross, the people are asking God for protection and, ultimately, praying to him.
The resurgence of Orthodoxy in Soviet Russia was important to the war effort and getting the common people of Russia to unite against a foreign invader. It is truly a beautiful poem with great usage of imagery and emotion to capture the readers attention. I also learned a little bit about the Russian Orthodox Church through this poem as I did a little more research on the history of the Church–though, unfortunately, nothing that I could really connect to my post.