Unit 10: Absolutism / Peter the Great
"The Bronze Horseman"
From Alexander Pushkin. "The Bronze Horseman." As reproduced in The Portable Nineteenth-Century Russian Reader, trans. Walter Arndt, ed. George Gibian (New York: Penguin, 1993), 8-10, 19-21.

Upon a shore of desolate waves
Stood he, with lofty musings grave,
And gazed afar. Before him spreading
Rolled the broad river, empty save
For one lone skiff stream-downward heading.
Strewn on the marshy, moss-grown bank,
Rare huts, the Finn's poor shelter, shrank,
Black smudges from the fog protruding;
Beyond, dark forest ramparts drank
The shrouded sun's rays and stood brooding
And murmuring all about.
He thought;
"Here, Swede, beware–soon by our labor
Here a new city shall be wrought,
Defiance to the haughty neighbor.
Here we at Nature's own behest
Shall break a window to the West,
Stand planted on the ocean level;
Here flags of foreign nations all
By waters new to them will call,
And unencumbered we shall revel."

A century passed, and there shone forth
From swamps and gloomy forest prison,
Crown gem and marvel of the North,
The proud young city newly risen.
Where Finnish fisherman before,
Harsh Nature's wretched waif, was plying,
Forlorn upon that shallow shore,
His trade, with brittle net-gear trying
Unchartered tides–now bustling banks
Stand serried in well-ordered ranks
Of palaces and towers; converging
From the four corners of the earth,
Sails press to seek the opulent berth,
To anchorage in squadrons merging;
Neva is cased in granite clean,
Atop its waters bridges hover,
Between its channels, gardens cover
The river isles with darkling green.
Outshone, old Moscow had to render
The younger sister pride of place,
As by a new queen's fresh-blown splendor
In purple fades Her Dowager Grace.

  I love, thee, Peter's own creation,
I love thy stern and comely face,
Neva's majestic perfluctation,
Her bankments' granite carapace,
The patterns laced by iron railing,
And of thy meditative night
The lucent dusk, the moonless paling;
When in my room I read and write
Lampless, and street on street stand dreaming,
Vast luminous gulfs, and, slimly gleaming,
The Admiralty's needle bright;
And rather than let darkness smother
The lustrous heavens' golden light,
One twilight glow speeds on the other
To grant but half an hour to night. ...

Thrive, Peter's city, flaunt thy beauty,
Stand like unshaken Russia fast,
Till floods and storms from chafing duty
May turn to peace with thee at last;
The very tides of Finland's deep
Their long-pent rancor then may bury,
And cease with feckless spite to harry
Czar Peter's everlasting sleep.


Yevgeny's heart shrank. His mind unclouding
In dread, he knew the place again
Where the great flood had sported then,
Where those rapacious waves were crowding
And round about him raged and spun–
That square, the lions, and him–the one
Who, bronzen countenance upslanted
Into the dusk aloft, sat still,
The one by whose portentous will
The city by the sea was planted ...
How awesome in the gloom he rides!
What thought upon his brow resides!
His charger with what fiery mettle,
His form with what dark strength endowed!
Where will you gallop, charger proud,
Where next your plunging hoofbeats settle?
Oh, Destiny's great potentate!
Was it not thus, a towering idol
Hard by the chasm, with iron bridle
You reared up Russia to her fate?

The piteous madman fell to prowling
About the statue's granite berth,
And furtively with savage scowling
He eyed the lord of half the earth.
His breath congealed in him, he pressed
His brow against the chilly railing,
A blur of darkness overveiling
His eyes; a flame shot through his breast
And made his blood seethe. Grimly lowering,
He faced the haughty image towering
On high, and fingers clawed, teeth clenched,
As if by some black spirit wrenched,
He hissed, spite shaking him: "Up there,
Great wonder-worker you, beware! ..."
And then abruptly wheeled to race
Away full tilt. The dread czar's face,
With instantaneous fury burning,
It seemed to him, was slowly turning ...
Across these empty spaces bound,
Behind his back he heard resound,
Like thunderclouds in rumbling anger,
The deep reverberating clangor
Of pounding hoofs that shook the ground.
And in the moonlight's pallid glamour
Rides high upon his charging brute,
One hand stretched out, ‘mid echoing clamor
The Bronze Horseman in pursuit.
And all through that long night, no matter
What road the frantic wretch might take,
There still would pound with ponderous clatter
The Bronze Horseman in his wake.

And ever since, when in his erring
He chanced upon that square again,
They saw a sick confusion blurring
His features. One hand swiftly then
Flew to his breast, as if containing
The anguished heart's affrighted straining;
His worn-out cap he then would raise,
Cast to the ground a troubled gaze
And slink aside.

Used by permission of Walter Arndt.

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