The Pillar of Fire: Selected Poems

Daniel Soar writes:

In 1916, Private Nikolai Gumilev and two of his superiors came under fire on the bank of the River Dvina north of St Petersburg; the two officers jumped into the nearest trench. Gumilev wouldn’t be rushed: still in range of the battery on the other side of the river, he lit a cigarette and smoked it. Only then did he join the others. He was reprimanded for ‘unnecessary bravery’. Perhaps the original phrasing was stronger – ‘stupidity’ is a word you could imagine using – but the colonel who recorded the incident preferred the more flattering accusation for the regiment’s poet.

(LRB 27 April 2000)