Flowers & Bullets, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
(English translation by Anthony Kahn)
Of course:
Bullets don't like people
    who love flowers,
They're jealous ladies, bullets, 
    short on kindness.
Allison Krause, nineteen years old, 
    you're dead
for loving flowers.

When, thin and open as the pulse
    of conscience,
you put a flower in a rifle's mouth
    and said,
"Flowers are better than bullets,"
was pure hope speaking.

Give no flowers to a state
    that outlaws truth;
such states reciprocate
    with cynical, cruel gifts,
and your gift, Allison Krause,
was the bullet
    that blasted the flower.

Let every apple orchard blossom black,
    black in mourning.
Ah, how the lilac smells!
    You're without feeling.
Nothing, Nixon said it:
    "You're a bum."
All the dead are bums.
    It's not their crime.
You lie in the grass,
    a melting candy in your mouth,
done with dressing in new clothes,
    done with books.

You used to be a student.
      You studied fine arts.
But other arts exist,
      of blood and terror,
and headsmen with a genuius for the axe.

Who was Hitler?
      A cubist of gas chambers.
In the name of all flowers
      I curse your works,
you architect of lies,
      maestros of murder!
Mothers of the world whisper
      "O God, God!"
and seers are afraid
      to look ahead.
Death dances rock-and-roll upon the bones
      of Vietnam, Cambodia -
On what stage is it booked to dance tomorrow?

Rise up, Tokyo girls,
       Roman boys,
take up your flowers
       against the common foe.
Blow the world's dandelions up
       into a blizzard!
Flowers, to war!
       Punish the punishers!
Tulip after tulip,
       carnation after carnation
rip out of your tidy beds in anger,
choke every lying throat
       with earth and root!
You, jasmine, clog
       the spinning blades of mine-layers.

   block the cross-hair sights,
   drive your sting into the lenses,
Rise up, lily of the Ganges,
       lotus of the Nile,
stop the roaring props
   of planes pregnant
       with the death of chidren!
Roses, don't be proud
    to find yourselves sold
        at higher prices.
Nice as it is to touch a tender cheek,
thrust a sharper thorn a little deeper
    into the fuel tanks of bombers.

Of course:
    Bullets are stronger than flowers.
Flowers aren't enough to overwhelm them.
    Stems are too fragile,
    petals are poor armor.
But a Vietnam girl of Allison's age,
    taking a gun in her hands
is the armed flower
    of the people's wrath!
If even flowers rise,
    then we've had enough
    of playing games with history.

Young America,
    tie up the killer's hands.
Let there be an escalation of truth
to overwhelm the escalating lie
    crushing people's lives!
Flowers, make war!
    Defend what's beautiful!
Drown the city streets and country roads
    like the flood of an army advancing
and in the ranks of people and flowers
    arise, murdered Allison Krause,
Immortal of the age,
    Thorn-Flower of protest!

About this work

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Image appeared in Columbia University
Record Vol. 25, No. 25
Bullets & Flowers was originally published
in May, 1970 in the communist party's Pravda
newspaper. This poem is dedicated to Allison
Krause, one of the four slain on May 4th, who
had reportedly placed a flower in the barrel
of a National Guardsman's rifle on the previous
day and said, "Flowers are better than bullets." 

In December, 1970, Yevgeny Yevtushenko donated
the manuscript of this poem to the Kent State
University Libraries' Department of Special
Collections & Archives. This translation of
the poem by Anthony Kahn was published by City
Lights Books in 1970. 

The image above is also courtesy of the Kent
State University Library. The seated woman
is Betty Kirschner, and the occasion is the
dismantling of the tent city of protestors
that grew on the practice football field when,
in April, 1977, Kent State University
administrators decided that the school had 
"grieved long enough" and started construction
of a gymnasium annex over a large part of the
site of the May 4th "confrontation." 192
protestors were arrested.

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  My brother, Tom, (Aquinas) said, "I could hear the devil laughing on that day, as we all danced to his music."
Tim <> - Friday, January 28, 2005 at 15:30:33 (EST)

This work is great. It expresses so much feeling.I love it.
Heath Pierce - Monday, October 25, 2004 at 11:40:22 (EDT)
I'm looking for one of Mr. yvtushenko's poems that i couldnt find on the net! FREEDOM TO KILL.
please could u send me a copy of it if you have it.?.!

karim <> - Thursday, September 30, 2004 at 09:21:29 (EDT)
Thank you so much for printing the text of this poem. I was in a youth hostel near Nagasaki when we heard the news about Kent State over the loudspeaker. Our Japanese friends had to confirm the horrible news was really true. I was looking for this poem to put in a piece that I am writing about that era, and could not find it in print. It was published by City Lights, but is not in an existing volume, I don't think.
Elaine <eelinson@tosft.,net> - Saturday, February 07, 2004 at 12:58:25 (EST)
I first read this poem in my 8th grade English class. I have looked for it for a long time. Thank you! It touched me then and again now.
Mary Ellen <> - Sunday, September 28, 2003 at 16:37:58 (EDT)
I was wondering if anyone can find the poem "Freedom to Kill". It is about Robert Kennedy's (Brother to JFK) assasination. I have searched the web for it but have not come across it. I heard about this poem in the book SHADOW PLAY by William Klaber and Philip H. Melauson. It starts of "The color of the Statue of Liberty grows even more deathly pale..." Email me if you find it.

P.S. Support our troops if you still want poetry.

Mark Smith <>
- Friday, June 06, 2003 at 03:27:11 (EDT)
I am a junior in high school and I am doing a report on the Kent State Riot right now. Reading this poem, I found more information to go with Allison Krause. I thought that this poem was very good and that I said a little about what the 70s were like.

Samantha <>
- Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 20:08:55 (EDT)
Thank you for bringing this to the net. I met Yevtushenko in Berkeley in oh.. 67-68?
He still makes me cry..

Justus Drake <>
- Tuesday, April 15, 2003 at 21:16:13 (EDT)
This angry poem may have been written thirty years ago - but the bitch that bred the subject of the poets wrath is dangerous - and on heat again!
Martin Hallam <>
- Thursday, February 13, 2003 at 05:29:59 (EST)
I am a junior in highschool, never having learned about the Kent State shootings in school, I wanted to learn of it on my own. This is the first time I read this poem, and never had heard about it before. I only wish that all could read this and understand its message, which is so touchingly related by its author.
Marissa <>
- Friday, January 10, 2003 at 21:00:03 (EST)
A bit preachy, but that, I suppose, is the spirit of the seventies.
- Monday, November 25, 2002 at 17:04:03 (EST)
Thirty years have gone by since this poem was written - will the problem ever be solved - flowers or bullets? A great tribute.

cecile <>
- Tuesday, May 21, 2002 at 19:13:38 (EDT)
Remembering the changes reminds of who I am.
Seventeen at the time, unconscious, being formed
by the environment in which my spirit grew.
Thanks for the poem.

- Thursday, May 16, 2002 at 18:55:22 (EDT)
The Magnificient Wordphoole <>
- Friday, May 10, 2002 at 08:49:09 (EDT)
I remember Kent State, hearing the news reports, standing in disbelief too shocked to respond.
Patrica Cresswell <>
- Sunday, May 05, 2002 at 22:05:02 (EDT)

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