Shall I Compare Thee to a Russian Winter?

Soviet culture before Stalin’s cultural revolution during the 1930s was effective in watering down love and romance, calling it a “bourgeois nonsense.” Though, the return of more traditional family values and more conservative concepts allowed the return of courting and romance right before the beginnings of The Great Patriotic War. And so emerges the story that we all know very well, between a girl and boy that are separated by the conscripts of war. In their fight, the men were made to defend the motherland and for their lovers, and the women in return kept busy playing their part in the war effort as factory and community leaders, and were even placed at the front. Rampant romance throughout war-time Russia led to a rise in illegitimate births, widows, and an absence of healthy young men to procreate the next generation of soldiers and workers. Though, what did remain from the generation of lovers were the words and sentiments of couples during the Great Patriotic War, which fully conveyed the anxieties and also hopes of one day being reunited.

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1943: Lover Boy poet, Konstantin Simonov, near the city of Ponyri at the Battle of Kursk; a victory for the Soviets

One such writer, Konstantin Simonov, was heavily influenced by the military, both his late father and his stepfather served in the Russian military, the latter would be arrested. After his stepfather’s arrest he began to study literature and showed an interest in poetry; though, his interests in the arts were in vain during Stalin’s Great Purges. In 1939 he was sent to Mongolia in support of the motherland during the Soviet-Japanese campaign, a while after was when he fell in love with actress Valentina Serova, the muse of his most famous poem, “Wait for Me.” When Hitler’s June 1941 invasion occurred, Simonov turned his attention towards his duty as a Soviet citizen by exhibiting patriotism through his pen. A good amount of his poems were dedicated to his lover Valentina, what troubled him was his conflicting devotions and motivations between loving Valentina and his duty as a soldier. As the war went on, Simonov’s work took a turn to a more pessimistic tone, from asking Valentina to wait for him and for their reunion, to his acceptance of Valentina’s eventual affair due to his absence and the real possibility of him being killed in action. While it seems pessimistic, the poet actually saw his acceptance of these truths as “part of the fortunes of war,” and rather exemplified the femininity of women and the comradeship of war. After Russia’s victory, Simonov actually ended up going home to Valentina, but the marriage was ultimately a failure. In 1957 the soldier turned war correspondent left the actress and remarried.

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The infamous Valentina Serova, Ukrainian-Russian actress; rumoured to have an affair with a patient while a hospital volunteer during her marriage with Konstantin Simonov

Unfortunately, the troubles of a romance during wartime is memory that is very familiar to current, whether it be from stories from older family members (of the millions of soldiers who fought during World War II) or from popular renditions of wartime romances. While these romances might be entertaining for audiences that enjoy a dramatic romance and a thrill for anticipating whether the soldier will come home to the beautiful girl or not, it is easy to forget that these events actually happened and not only on the big screen. Simonov’s “Wait for Me” expresses the real anxieties of being forced to become separated from one’s lover, and being unable to fully trust the loyalties of one’s “Valentina.”

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“Wait for me and I’ll come back,
Dodging every fate!
“What a bit of luck!” they’ll say,
Those that would not  wait.
They will never understand
How amidst the strife,
By your waiting for me, dear,
You had saved my life.
Only you and I will know
How you got me through.
Simply – you knew how to wait –
No one else but you.”
Konstantin Simonov, 1941;
(featuring a screencap from the 1957 “Cranes are Flying” about a timeless and ill-fated wartime romance between a Russian woman and her soldier beau)

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