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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352

Pushkin's masterpiece of narrative verse was inspired by the 1824 flood of the Neva River, on whose banks the city of St. Petersburg had been built. It commences with a forward which tells of the decision of Peter the Great to erect the great city to "Cut through a window...

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Pushkin's masterpiece of narrative verse was inspired by the 1824 flood of the Neva River, on whose banks the city of St. Petersburg had been built. It commences with a forward which tells of the decision of Peter the Great to erect the great city to "Cut through a window to the West, and guard our seaboard with conviction." The narrator jumps ahead to describe the splendor, vitality, and military might of the existing city, while foreshadowing the tragic tale about to unfold.

It is now November of 1824. As dark clouds and harsh rains begin to pelt St. Petersburg and its inhabitants, the poem's point-of-view shifts to that of a simple clerk named Yevgeny. Alone in his shabby abode, he contemplates his future and dreams of a better life with his fiance, Parasha. He is anxious that the fierce storm may separate them for days.

The rains lead to a flood of epic scale, which obliterates most of the city's structures, leaving thousands dead in its wake. Yevegeny, somewhat bizarrely, awakens to find himself seated on the marble statues of a pair of sentry lions. Surrounded by the still-cresting waters of the Neva, he is unable to move.

As the waters begin to recede, Yevgeny takes a ferry across the river to the home of Parasha, terrified by her possible plight. Once there, he finds her home badly damaged, and no sign of her or her family. The narrator's voice comments, "Is all our lives devoid of sense, a dream: Fate's jest at man's expense?"

Grief-stricken, Yevgeny loses his mind. He never returns to his room or job, but wanders the streets of the now-ruined metropolis aimlessly, his clothes falling to rags. In his madness, he threatens the statue of the Bronze Horseman, from which he then flees in terror, imagining the statue in vengeful pursuit.

The poem ends in almost filmic style, as the narrator visually relates the discovery of Yevgeny's final resting place:

A battered hut....It was bare and almost wrecked. Outside, unwitting, they stumbled upon Yevgeny near the threshold. His remains were here interred with simple rites, as fitting.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 793

The Bronze Horseman is regarded as one of Pushkin’s masterpieces. Pushkin created the poem out of a complex web of personal, literary, and political themes, so that it is not surprising that interpretations of the poem have differed widely.

The poem consists of an introductory section and two parts. The title is taken from the statue of Peter the Great that stands in St. Petersburg on the banks of the Neva. Pushkin based the poem on a historical incident, namely the devastating flood that hit St. Petersburg in 1824. The introduction, however, begins many years before the flood. Peter the Great is depicted as standing on the site that was to become St. Petersburg, looking out over the desolate waters of the Baltic. He sees only swampy marshlands and dark woods but fatefully declares the founding of a great city that will “open a window onto Europe.” One hundred years have passed since Peter’s vision, and there is a prosperous city in place of the marshland. The thoughts and impressions of the narrator become enmeshed with the description of the city. He speaks of his love for the austere harmony of the city, praising Peter’s creation.

In part 1 of the poem, there is an abrupt change in tone. It is a cold, windy day in St. Petersburg as a young man named Eugene makes his way home. Once safely home, he tries to go to sleep but is kept awake by his own worries. He wants to gain his share of financial independence, even though he will have to work hard to do so. He is also kept awake by thoughts of the rising river. If the bridges are flooded, he will be separated from his betrothed, who lives on one of the islands in the Neva.

The next morning the city is flooded. Pushkin’s description of the flood is one of the most famous passages of Russian literature. The scene is one of chaos and destruction, such that even the czar is powerless. Eugene sits astride a marble lion near the statue of Peter the Great to escape the rising water. As he worries about his beloved, Parasha, he is contrasted with the statue. The Bronze Horseman, namely Peter the Great, is oblivious to the destruction.

The floodwaters subside at the opening of part 2, revealing the death and destruction caused by the storm. Eugene hires a boatman to take him to Parasha’s house. Nothing remains where her home once stood, and Eugene begins to show signs of madness. Life quickly returns to normal in the city, except for Eugene. He wanders the streets aimlessly, until one day when he comes upon the statue of the Bronze Horseman. His mind grows clear, and he recognizes the man who founded the city. He confronts the statue of the czar and threatens him. In response, the face of the statue changes expression to one of intense anger. Eugene flees and hears the gallop of the Bronze Horseman after him. The poem concludes with the depiction of a small island, where a dilapidated house was washed ashore by the flood. Eugene was found lying dead on the threshold.

Pushkin’s style in the poem varies according to different moods, situations, and personalities. The majestic sonority of the lines about Peter the Great is contrasted with the abrupt, jerky rhythms of the lines about Eugene. The poem also contains a wealth of images intensifying the sensation of constant movement and restlessness, which pervades much of the poem, and personifying the river and the city itself.

The destiny of Russia is contrasted with the destiny of one man. There is, on one hand, the affirmation of Peter’s achievements and the promise of fulfillment of Russia’s destiny as a great power. Yet, on the other hand, these accomplishments are questioned by the destiny of one poor, insignificant man. The city was founded in defiance of nature by building it upon hostile marshland. It is only through the iron will of the czar, who acts as the embodiment of Russia’s destiny, that St. Petersburg was built and had prospered. It is also through the sacrifice of the individual that the city endures. It becomes apparent that one important theme in the poem is in challenging the notion that the individual must be sacrificed for historical necessity.

Eugene is the prototype of a series of characters in Russian literature who were rendered mad by the oppressive atmosphere of this unnatural city. Eugene is the victim of Peter’s city, of an indifferent metropolis. Pushkin’s acute powers of social observation, combined with his personal feelings about the callousness of the city, rendered a portrait of St. Petersburg that has become emblematic in Russian literature.

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