Vladimir Vysotsky «Ballad». Hymn of the Order of the Jerusalem Cross

Alongside of night prayers by flickering candles,
Among trophies of war and among peaceful camps,
There lived bookish kids, unaware of battles,
Giving way to despair out of trifling mishaps.

Flocked in gangs, always vexed with the status in life,
Up to scrapes, up to deadly insults did we fight.
Nonetheless, mothers patched up our garments on time,
Whereas we swallowed books, getting drunk on the line.

Sweaty forelocks adhered to perspiring brows,
Guts enjoyed sinking feeling from beautiful words,
Our heads would wheel round from the smell of a row,
Emanating from pages of old, yellowed scrolls.

And, unversed in warfare, to conceive did we try,
Still mistaking a howl for a bellicose cry,
The conundrum of order, the use of confines,
Fighting chariots clank and the gist of a fight.

And in cauldrons of slaughters and riots of yore,
There’s a great deal of food for our hungry young brains.
Roles of Judases, cowards, pretenders, informers
We intended for foes in our childish war games,

Whereas, quick in a chase on a villain’s hot trail,
Pledging ardor in love for most beautiful dames,
Showing care for our kin and appeasing our friends,
Roles of positive heroes we meant for ourselves.

In a dreamland for keeps, you cannot hide away.
Age of pranks is so short, there’s pain all around.
Do your best to unclench lifeless palms of the dead,
Taking over their steel from fight-weary arms.

Now assay, having wielded an as yet heated sword,
Having put armors on, what’s for what, what’s for what;
Put to test, if you’re a coward or a minion of fate,
And aspire to make out how a proper fight tastes.

And as soon as a brother-in-arms, struck, falls by,
And as soon as, deploring your first loss, you wail,
And as soon as you feel as if skinned, by surprise,
‘Cause a friend of yours rather than you has been slain,

You will know you have learnt, comprehended and sensed
By the sneer of a visor, a fierce grin of death,
Fraud and villainy – note how their faces are coarse,
And as usual, coffins and crows afterwards.

If you haven’t picked meat off a blade, not a bite,
If you’ve been watching haughtily, twiddling your thumbs,
If you haven’t engaged a vile boor in a fight,
Then you’ve been neither here nor there in this life.

But if, cutting your way with an ancestor’s sword,
You have taken good note of your tears’ bitter taste,
If you’ve learnt, in a vehement fight, what is what,
Then essential books, in your childhood, you read…