Monday, September 13, 2010

The Bronze Horseman


Bely draws on Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman as his inspiration for Petersburg, prefacing each part with pieces from the immortal poem.  In this poem we find a young man, who the narrator has chosen to call Yevgeny, driven mad by the destruction wrought from the flood of 1824, which destroyed his his love's home and cast about its inhabitants if after a battle.  Yevgeny wanders around for a year in a state of delirium eventually coming upon the bronze sculpture of Peter, at which he hurls his abuses, only for the menacing statue to come to life and chase him through the streets of Petershburg and to his doom.  With the popularity of the poem, Falconet's statue of Peter the Great became known as The Bronze Horseman.

The Neva figures heavily into the poem, like an untamed beast, whose waves plunge the city into chaos.  It took decades for the city to bring the waters under control with a series of locks and canals.  Pushkin appears to wrestle with the strengths and weaknesses of this great city that Peter built, protecting Russia from the North and exposing it to the West.

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 neightor;
'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."


By contrast, Bely seems to take an opposite view, seeing Petersburg as a decaying vision, personified by Apollon Apollonovich.  Here again the Neva figures heavily into his novel, as if on the verge of retaking the city.

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