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 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.