Seventeen Moments in Soviet History notes that “the full-scale mobilization of men to the front [during World War II] placed women in leading roles in kolkhozes and factories, in families and communities.” Gregory L. Freeze, in his book, Russia: A History, adds that by the end of the summer of 1941 “women comprised 70 per cent of the industrial labour force in Moscow” (386). The “heightened atmosphere of wartime, when couples met with the very real knowledge that they might never see each other again, threw people into each other’s arms with a sweetness and sadness [that was] rare in less dangerous times.” The war raised the stakes for marital courtship as healthy men were in greater deficit due to being moved to the war front while many women of marriageable age were back home. Those in relationships had to wait for their loved ones to return. However, art, in its various forms, was one way Russian civilians used to cope, make sense of the war and its uncertainties, and provide hope for the troops and their loved ones to prevail in the war.
Konstantin Simonov, originally Kirill, served as a correspondent for the military paper, Red Star, along with other prominent writers. His most famous piece of literature was “Wait For Me,” a personal love poem he wrote in 1941 for his crush, Valentina Serova (a rising star in the film industry), during the war. Little did he know his poem would become an instant classic and win over the hearts of the Russian troops. His poem was “recited by millions as though it were a prayer, repeated by women as tears streamed down their faces, and adopted by men as their own expression of the mystical power of a woman’s love.” His poem was also produced for stage and film and set to various melodies.
Here is an english translation of “Wait For Me” by Mike Munford:
A common theme within Simonov’s work was the “idea of the soldier’s need for the support and love of the woman who [was] waiting for him, who [was] faithful to him in his absence in war.” The poem is very hopeful and gives reassurance to many in desperate need of something to hold on to; something to make the war bearable. Freeze notes that “the greatest credit for victory in the war surely belongs to the Soviet population itself” (390). Without the contribution of the Soviet people, many believe that “victory would not have been achieved at all” (Freeze, 388). This poem unified many soldiers and citizens under the umbrellas of hope and resilience. The soldiers, specifically Simonov himself, gained a certain confidence to try and persevere through the war and return home to his loved ones. “Wait For Me” is very romantic and vulnerable; Simonov puts his heart on his sleeve as he asks the woman he’s in love with to wait for him, that he WILL return to her, ONLY if she has the faith and patience to wait for him. “Wait For Me” is very universal and resonated with many soldiers who sent the poem home to their loved ones as a plea for their hope and support.
For more information about Konstantin Simonov’s life and accomplishments, click here.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.