The action takes place in revolutionary Petrograd in the winter of 1917-18. Petrograd, however, acts as a concrete city, and as the center of the universe, the place of cosmic cataclysms.
The first of the twelve chapters of the poem describes the cold, snow-covered streets of Petrograd, tormented by wars and revolutions. People make their way along slippery paths, examining slogans, cursing the Bolsheviks. At spontaneous rallies, someone – “must be, a writer – vitya” – talks about the sold to Russia. Among the passers-by is a “cheerless comrade pop,” a bourgeois, a lady in scribble, scared old women. Scattered screams from some neighboring meetings are heard. It gets dark, the wind intensifies. Is the state of the poet? someone from passers-by? – described as “malice”, “sad anger,” “black anger, holy malice.”
The second chapter: the night city is a squad of twelve people. Coldness is accompanied
by a feeling of complete freedom; people are ready to do everything to protect the new world from the old one – “by a gun-throw bullet into Holy Russia – into the condom, into the battered, into the fat-blowing.” On the way the soldiers discuss their friend – Vanka, who came down with the “rich” girl Katya, scolded him “bourgeois”: instead of defending the revolution, Vanka spends time in taverns.
Chapter three is a dashing song, apparently performed by a detachment of twelve. The song about how after the war, in tattered coats and with Austrian guns, the “guys” serve in the Red Guard. The last verse of the song is the promise of a world fire, in which all the “bourgeois” will perish. The blessing for the fire is also asked, however, from God.
The fourth chapter describes the same Vanka: with Katya on the dash they rush through Petrograd. A handsome soldier hugs his girlfriend, says something to her; she, happy, laughs cheerfully.
The next chapter is Vanka’s words addressed to Katka. He reminds her of her past
– a prostitute, who passed from officers and cadets to soldiers. Batman’s riotous life reflected on her beautiful body – scars and scratches from knife strikes of abandoned lovers. In rather crude terms, a soldier reminds a walking lady of the murder of an officer to whom she obviously had something to do with. Now the soldier demands his own – “dance!”, “Stumble!”, “Sleep with you!”, “Sin!”
The sixth chapter: the driver, carrying lovers, collides with a detachment of twelve. Armed people attack a sleigh, shoot at those sitting there, threatening Vanka with reprisals for misappropriating a “strange girl”. Likhach cab, however, takes out Vanka from the shots; Katka with a bullet head remains lying on the snow.
A detachment of twelve men goes farther, just as cheerfully as before a skirmish with a cabman, a “revolutionary step.” Only the murderer – Petrukha – is sad for Katya, who was once his mistress. Comrades condemn him – “it’s not such a time now to nurse you.” Petrukha, really cheered up, is ready to go further. The mood in the detachment is the most militant: “Lock the floors, now there will be robberies.” Open the cellar – now the gollyba is walking! “
The eighth chapter is the confused thoughts of Petrukhi, who is very sad about the shot girlfriend; he prays for the repose of her soul; he is going to disperse his anguish with new murders – “you fly, bourgeois, sparrow! I’ll drink a little blood for a feast, for a black brow…”.
Chapter Nine – a romance dedicated to the destruction of the old world. Instead of a policeman at the crossroads, there is a burdensome bourgeois, behind him – a very lousy dog, very well combined with this hunched figure.
Twelve go further – through a blizzard night. Petka remembers the Lord, marveling at the power of the blizzard. Comrades blame him for unconsciousness, remind that Petka is already smeared with Kat’kina’s blood, which means that there will be no help from God.
So, “without the name of a saint,” twelve people under the red flag firmly move on, ready at any time to respond to the enemy’s blow. Their procession becomes eternal – “and the blizzard puffs them in the eyes day and night…”.
Chapter twelve, the last. Behind the detachment coherent dog – the old world. The soldiers threaten him with bayonets, trying to drive him away. Ahead, in the darkness, they see someone; trying to figure out, people are starting to shoot. The figure nevertheless does not disappear, it stubbornly goes ahead. “So they go by a powerful step – behind – a hungry dog, in front – with a bloody flag Jesus Christ”.