Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The prologue of The Bronze Horseman begins with Pushkin describing Peter the Great standing on the banks of the River Neva, imagining the great city that will become Saint Petersburg.
Here a great city will be wrought
To spite our neighbourhood conceited
From here by nature we're destined
To cut a door to Europe wide,
To step with a strong foot by waters.
Here, by the new for them sea-paths,
Ships of all flags will come to us—
And on all seas our great feast opens.
The remainder of the prologue reads like an ode to the city.
City of Peter, just you shine
And stand unshakeable as Russia!
May make a peace with beauty, thine,
The conquered nature's casual rushes;
And let the Finnish waves forget
Their ancient bondage and malice
And not disturb with their hate senseless
The endless sleep of Peter, great!
In the first section, the main character, Evgeny, in emotional turmoil over his poverty and his relationship with his girlfriend, Parasha, falls into a fitful sleep while the River Neva rages around him.
But by the force of airy breathing
Blocked from the Gulf, the wide Neva
Came back—the wrathful one and seething—
And flooded islands, near and far . . .
And then, as a wild creature seemed,
Jumped on the city.
And before it,
All ran away from its strait path,
And all got emptied there, at once.
The river eventually floods the whole city.
Siege and assault! The evil waters
Thrust into windows, like slaughters . . .
The wrecks of huts, the logs, roofs' pieces . . .
The coffins from the graveyards—float,
Along the streets!
And Evgeny wakes up washed up on St. Peter's Square, facing the bronze statue of St. Peter sat on his horse.
And he, like under conjuration,
Like in jail irons' limitation,
Cannot come down.
Only black waters could be found!
And turned to him with his back, proudest,
On height that never might be tossed,
Over Neva's unending wildness
Stands, with his arm, stretched to skies, lightless
The idol on his brazen horse.
Evgeny goes looking for his girlfriend, but she has disappeared along with her property, and he ends up wandering the streets in a mad fever.
What's of Evgeny, our poor hero? . . .
With awful thoughts, he was a-roaming,
Being quite tortured by some dream.
Eventually he sees St. Peter again and reminded of his loss,
His blood seethed. Gloomy he became
Before the idol, looking over,
And having clenched his teeth and fist,
As if possessed by evil powers,
"Well, builder-maker of the marves,"
He whispered, trembling in a fit,
"You only wait!"
After he curses the statue, St. Peter comes to life and chases him down the city's streets. The story ends with someone finding and burying Evgeny's body.
Last spring, by a small barging rover,
It was conveyed to the shore, back—
Destroyed and empty. But its entry,
They'd found the poor madman of mine
And, for a sake of the Divine
Buried his corpse in that soil, scanty.