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The Bronze Horseman:Bronze Horseman, flood, neva, petrograd

(A Tale of Petersburg) The occurrence related in this tale is based on fact. The details of the flood are taken from the journals of the day. The curious may consult the information collected by V. I. Berkh. - Pushkin. There, by the billows desolate, He stood, with mighty thoughts elate, And gazed, but in the distance only A sorry skiff on the broad spate Of Neva drifted seaward, lonely. The moss-grown miry bank with rare Hovels were dotted here and there Where wretched Finns for shelter crowded; The murmuring woodlands had no share Of sunshine, all in mist beshrouded. And thus He mused: "From here, indeed Shall we strike terror in the Swede? And here a city by our labor Founded, shall gall our haughty neighbor; "Here cut" - so Nature gives command - Your window through on Europe; stand Firm-footed by the sea, unchanging! Ay, ships of every flag shall come By waters they had never swum, And we shall revel, freely ranging." A century - and that city young, Gem of the Northern world, amazing, From gloomy wood and swamp upspring, Had risen, in pride and splendor blazing. Where once, by that low-lying shore, In waters never known before The Finnish fisherman, sole creature, And left forlorn by stepdame Nature, Cast ragged nets, - today, along Those shores, astir with life and motion, Vast shapely palaces in throng And towers are seen: from every ocean, From the world's end, the ships come fast, To reach the loaded quays at last. The Neva now is clad in granite With many a bridge to overspan it; The islands lie beneath a screen Of gardens deep in dusky green. To that young capital is drooping The crest of Moscow on the ground, A dowager in purple, stooping Before an empress newly crowned. I love thee; city of Peter's making; I love thy harmonies austere, And Neva's sovran waters breaking Along her banks of granite sheer; Thy tracery iron gates; thy sparkling, Yet moonless, meditative gloom And thy transparent twilight darkling; And when I write within my room Or, lampless, read, - then, sunk in slumber, The empty thoroughfares, past number, Are piled, stand clear upon the night; The Admiralty spire is bright; Nor may the darkness mount, to smother The golden cloudland of the light, For soon one dawn succeeds another With barely half-an-hour of night. I love thy ruthless winter, lowering With bitter frost and windless air; The sledges along Neva scouring; Girls' cheeks - no roses so bright and fair! The flash and noise of balls, the chatter; The bachelor's hour of feasting, too; The cups that foam and hiss and spatter, The punch that in the bowl burns blue. I love the warlike animation On playing-fields of Mars; to see The troops of foot and horse in station, And their superb monotony; Their ordered, undulating muster; Flags, tattered on the glorious day; Those brazen helmets in their luster Shot through and riddled in the fray. I love thee, city of soldiers, blowing Smoke from thy forts: thy booming gun; - A Northern empress is bestowing Upon the royal house a son! Or when, another battle won, Proud Russia holds her celebration; Or when the Neva breaking free Her dark blue ice bears out to sea And scents the spring, in exultation. Now, city of Peter, stand thou fast, Foursquare, like Russia, vaunt thy splendor! The very element shall surrender And make her peace with thee at last. Their ancient bondage and their rancorous The Finnish waves shall bury deep Now vex with idle spite that cankers Our Peter's everlasting sleep! There was a dreadful time, we keep Still freshly on our memories painted; And you, my friends, shall be acquainted By me, with all that history: A grievous record it will be. O'er darkened Petrograd there rolled November's breath of autumn cold, And Neva with her boisterous billow Splashed on her shapely bounding wall And tossed in restless rise and fall Like a sick man upon his pillow. Twas late, and dark had fallen; the rain Beat fiercely on the window-pane; A wind that howled and wailed was blowing. Twas then that young Evgeny came Home from a party - I am going To call our hero by that name, For it sounds pleasing, and moreover My pen once liked it; why discover The needless surname? - True, it may Have been illustrious in past ages, - Rung, through tradition, in the pages Of Karamzin; and yet, today That name is never recollected, By Rumour and the World rejected. Our hero - somewhere - served the State; He shunned the presence of the great; Lived in Kolomna; for the fate Cared not of forbears dead and rotten, Or antique matters long forgotten. So, home Evgeny came, and tossed His cloak aside; undressed; and sinking Sleepless upon his bed, was lost In sundry meditations - thinking Of what? - How poor he was; how pain And toil might some day hope to gain An honored, free, assured position; How God, it might be, in addition Would grant him better brains and pay. Such idle folk there were, and they, Lucky and lazy, not too brightly Gifted, lived easily and lightly; And he - was only in his second Year at the desk. He further reckoned Those still the ugly weather held; That still the river swelled and swelled; That almost now from Neva's eddy The bridges had been moved already; That from Parasha he must be Parted for some two days, or three. And all that night he lay, so dreaming, And wishing sadly that the gale Would bate its melancholy screaming And that the rain would not assail The glass so fiercely ... But sleep closes His eyes at last, and he reposes. But see, the mists of that rough night Thin out, and the pale day grows bright; That dreadful day! - For Neva, leaping Seaward all night against the blast Was beaten in the strife at last, Against the frantic tempest sweeping; And on her banks at break of day The people swarmed and crowded, curious, And reveled in the towering spray That spattered where the waves were furious. But the wind driving from the bay Dammed Neva back, and she receding Came up, in wrath and riot speeding; And soon the islands flooded lay. Madder the weather grew, and ever Higher upswelled the roaring river And bubbled like a kettle, and whirled And like a maddened beast was hurled Swift on the city. And things routed Fled from its path, and all about it A sudden space was cleared; the flow Dashed in the cellars down below; Canals above their borders spouted. Behold Petropol floating lie Like Triton in the deep, waist-high! A siege! The wicked waves, attacking Climb thief-like through the windows; backing, The boats sternforemost smite the glass; Trays with their soaking wrappage pass; And timbers, roofs, and huts all shattered, The wares of thrifty traders scattered, And the pale beggar's chattels small, Coffins from sodden graveyards - all Swim in the streets! ...And contemplating God's wrath, the folk their doom are waiting. All will be lost; ah, where shall they Find food and shelter for today? The glorious emperor, now departed, In that grim year was sovereign Of Russia still. He came, sick-hearted, Out on his balcony, and in pain He said: "No Tsar, with God, is master Over God's elements!" In thought He sat, and gazed on the disaster Sad-eyed, and on the evil wrought; For now the squares with lakes were studded, Their torrents broad the streets had flooded, And now forlorn and islander The palace seemed. The emperor said One word: and see, along the highways His generals hurrying, through the byways! From city's end to end they sped Through storm and peril, bent on saving The people, now in panic raving And drowning in their houses there. New-built, high up in Peter's Square A corner mansion then ascended; And where its lofty perron ended Two sentry lions stood at guard Like living things, and kept their ward With paw uplifted. Here, bare-headed, Pale, rigid, arms across his breast, Upon the creature's marble crest Sat poor Evgeny. But he dreaded Nought for himself; he did not hear The hungry rollers rising near And on his very footsoles plashing, Feel on his face the rainstorm lashing, Or how the riotous, moaning blast Had snatched his hat. His eyes were fast Fixt on one spot in desperation Where from the deeps in agitation The wicked waves like mountains rose, Where the storm howled, and round were driven Fragments of wreck... There, God in Heaven! Hard by the bay should stand, and close, Alas, too close to the wild water, A painless fence, a willow-tree, And there a frail old house should be Where dwelt a widow, with a daughter Parasha - and his dream was she! His dream - or was it but a vision, All that he saw? Was life also An idle dream which in derision Fate sends to mock us here below? And he, as though a man enchanted And on the marble pinned and planted Cannot descend, and round him lie Only the waters. There, on high, With Neva still beneath him churning, Unshaken, on Evgeny turning His back, and with an arm flung wide, Behold the Image sit, and ride Upon his brazen horse astride! But now, with rack and ruin sated And weary of her insolence And uproar, Neva, still elated With her rebellious turbulence, Stole back, and left her booty stranded And unregarded. So a bandit Bursts with his horde upon a village To smash an slay, destroy and pillage; Whence yells, and violence, and alarms, Gritting of teeth, and grievous harms And wailing's; then the evildoers Rush home; but dreading the pursuers And sagging with the stolen load They drop their plunder on the road. Meanwhile the water had abated And pavements now uncovered lay; And our Evgeny, by dismay And hope and longing agitated, Sore-hearted to the river sped. But still it lay disquieted And still the wicked waves were seething In pride of victory, as though A flame was smoldering below; And heavily was Neva breathing Like to a horse besprent with foam Who gallops from the battle home. Evgeny watches, and descrying By happy chance a boat, goes bluing To hail the ferryman; and he, Unhired and idle, willingly Convoys him for a threepence, plying Through that intimidating sea. The old tried oarsman long contended With the wild waters, hour by hour, Sunk in the trough, the skiff descended Mid rollers, ready to devour Rash crew and all - at last contriving To make the farther shore. Arriving, Evgeny - evil is his lot! - Runs to the old street, - and knows it not. All, to his horror, is demolished, Leveled or ruined or abolished. Houses are twisted all awry, And some are altogether shattered, Some shifted by the seas; and scattered Are bodies, flung as bodies lie On battlefields. Unthinkingly, Half-fainting, and excruciated, Evgeny rushes on, awaited By destiny with unrevealed Tidings, as in a letter sealed. He scours the suburb; and discerning The bay, he knows the house is near; And then stops short, ah, what is here? Retreating, and again returning, He looks an -advances - look again. 'Tis there they dwelt, the marks are plain; There is the willow. Surely yonder The gate was standing, in the past; Now, washt away! No house! - O'ercast With care, behold Evgeny wander Forever rounds and rounds the place, And talk aloud, and strike his face With his bare hand. A moment after, He breaks into a roar of laughter. The vapors of the night came down Upon the terror-stricken town, But all the people long debated The doings of the day, and waited And could not sleep. The morning light From pale and weary clouds gleamed bright On the still capital; no traces Now of the woes of yesternight! With royal purple it effaces The mischief; all things are proceeding In form and order as of old; The people are already treading, Impassive, in their fashion, cold, Through the cleared thoroughfares, inheeding; And now official folk forsake Their last night's refuge, as they make Their way to duty. Greatly daring, The huckster now takes heart, unbarring His cellar, late the prey and sack Of Neva, - hoping to get back His heavy loss and wasted labor Out of the pockets of his neighbor. The drifted boats from each courtyard Are carried. To a certain bard, A count, a favorite of heaven To one Khvostov, the theme was given To chant in his immortal song How Neva's shores had suffered wrong. But my Evgeny, poor, sick fellow! - Alas, the tumult in his brain Had left him powerless to sustain Those shocks of terror. For the bellow Of riotous winds and Neva near Resounded always in his ear; A host of hideous thoughts attacked him, A kind of nightmare rent and racked him, And on he wandered silently; And as the week, the month, went by, Never came home. His habitation, As time ran out, the landlord took, And leased the now deserted nook For a poor poet's occupation. Nor ever came Evgeny home For his belongings; he would roam, A stranger to the world; his ration A morsel tendered in compassion Out of a window; he would tramp All day, and on the quay would camp To sleep; his garments, old and fraying, Were all in tatters and decaying. And the malicious boys would pelt The man with stones; and of the felt The cabman's whiplash on him flicking; For he had lost the skill of picking His footsteps, - deafened, it may be, By fears that clamored inwardly. So, dragging out his days, ill-fated, He seemed like something mistreated, No beast, nor yet of human birth, Neither a denizen of earth Nor phantom of the dead. Belated One night, on Neva wharf he slept. Now summer days toward autumn crept; A wet and stormy wind was blowing, And Neva's sullen waters flowing Plashed on the wharf and muttered there Complaining - beat the slippery stair As suitors beat in supplication Unheeded at a judge's door. In gloom and rain, amid the roar Of winds, - a sound of desolation With cries of watchmen interchanged Afar, who through the darkness ranged, - Our poor Evgeny woke; and dounted, By well-remembered terrors haunted, He started sharply, rose in haste, And forth upon his wanderings paced; - And halted on a sudden, staring About him silently, and wearing A look of wild alarm and awe. Where had he come? For now he saw The pillars of that lofty dwelling Where, on the perron sentinelling, Two lion-figures stand at guard Like living things, keep watch and ward With lifted paw. Upright and glooming, Above the stony barrier looming, The Image, with arm flung wide, Sat on his brazen horse astride. And now Evgeny, with a shiver Of terror, felt his reason clear. He knew the place, for it was here The flood had gamboled, here the river Had surged; here, rioting in their wrath, The wicked waves had swept a path And with their tumult had surrounded Evgeny, lions, square, - and Him Who, moveless and aloft and dim, Our city by the sea had founded, Whose will was Fate. Appalling there He sat begirt with and air. What thoughts engrave his blow! What hidden Power and authority he claims! What fire in yonder charger flames! Proud charger, whither art thou ridden, Where leanest thou? And where, on whom, Wilt plants thy hoof? - Ah, lord of doom And potentate, 'twas thus, appearing Above the void, and in thy hold A curb of iron, thou sat'st of old O'er Russian, on her haunches rearing! About the Image, at its base, Poor mad Evgeny circled, straining His wild gaze upward at the face That once o'er half the world was reigning. His eye was dimmed, cramped was his breast, His brow on the cold grill was pressed, While through his heart a flame was creeping And in his veins the blood was leaping. He halted sullenly beneath The haughty Image, clenched his teeth And clasped his hands, as though some devil Possessed him, some dark, power of evil, And shuddered, whispering angrily, "Ay, architect, with thy creation Of marvels... Ah, beware of me!" And then, in wild precipitation He fled. For now he seemed to see The awful Emperor, quietly, With momentary anger burning, His visage to Evgeny turning! And rushing through the empty square, He hears behind him as it were Thunders that rattle in a chorus, A gallop ponderous, sonorous, That shakes the pavement. At full height, Illumined by the pale moonlight, With arm outflung, behind him riding See, the bronze horseman comes, bestriding The charger, clanging in his flight. All night the madman flees; no matter Where he may wander at his will, Hard on his track with heavy clatter There the bronze horseman gallops still. Thereafter, whensoever straying Across that square Evgeny went By chance, his face was still betraying Disturbance and bewilderment. As though to ease a heart tormented His hand upon it he would clap In haste, put off his shabby cap, And never raise his eyes demented, And seek some byway unfrequented. A little island lies in view Along the shore; and here, belated, Sometimes with nets a fisher-crew Will moor and cook their long awaited And meagre supper. Hither too Some civil servant, idly floating, Will come upon a Sunday, boating. That isle is desolate and bare; No blade of grass springs anywhere. Once the great flood has sported, driving The frail hut thither. Long surviving, It floated on the water there Like some black bush. A vessel plying Bore it, last spring, upon her deck. They found it empty, all the wreck; And also, cold and dead and lying Upon the threshold, they had found My crazy hero. In the ground His poor cold body there they hurried, And left it to God's mercy, buried. Translation by Oliver Elton