Thursday, January 7, 2016

Alicja Kuberska writes

City of my Childhood
The Bronze Horseman (St. Petersburg, Russia).jpg
Far in the North, where the dark-eyed Neva River
Spills its cold waters, and a June day has no end, 
The city of my childhood sprang up on the marsh.

In a dream-like longing, I return to the granite boulevards, 
I marvel at the white-and-green facades of the palaces, 
And the golden domes of the churches, 
Glistening against the cool sky.

I hear clatter of horses’ hooves, and see a bronze horseman, 
Traversing each night the broad prospects, and vast plazas. 
With one leap, overcoming the chasm under the drawbridge.

I pass by elegant, French-style houses and gardens. 
The riches of the age of the tsars added to their brilliance, their proud beauty. 
The old capital of the empire never surrendered, never knelt down.

I believe that I will return here once more, 
When fate reveals a magnanimous face. 
I shall see the Maple, planted with a childish hand, reach the clouds. 
I shall timidly peer into the windows of the house on Toreza Street.



  1. Saint Petersburg was founded on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland by Peter I the Great in 1703. The area used to be known as Ingermanland, inhabited by Finnic tribe of Ingrians, but Swedes built a fortress, Nyenskans, at the site in 1611, and a small town, Nyen, grew up around it. The Russians captured the fortress during the Great Northern War and established the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first brick and stone building of the new city, closer to the estuary. Peter the Great needed a better seaport than Arkhangelsk on the White Sea, which was closed to shipping for months during the winter. Peasants from all over Russia, and some Swedish prisoners of war, built the city; tens of thousands of them died. Peter moved the capital there from Moscow in 1712, 9 years before the Treaty of Nystad ended the war (In 1728, Peter II briefly moved back to Moscow, but in 1732 the Romanovs returned to St. Petersburg, and it remained their seat of government until the end of the dynasty.) In 1716, Peter I appointed Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond as the city's chief architect, and he adopted the "Petrine Baroque" style developed by Domenico Trezzini and other architects. In 1736–1737 the city suffered from catastrophic fires, causing Burkhard Christoph von Münnich to develop a new city plan that shifted the city center away from the Peter and Paul Fortress area to the east bank of the Neva. Intil the 1760s Baroque architecture continued to dominate the skyline, including the Winter Palace designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, and the Commission of Stone Buildings insisted that no structure in the city could be higher than the Winter Palace. During the reign of Catherine the Great, the banks of the Neva were lined with granite embankments. But it was not until 1850 that the first permanent bridge across the Neva was allowed to open. With the emancipation of the peasants undertaken by Alexander II in 1861, and an industrial revolution, the influx of former peasants into the capital increased, and poor boroughs emerged on the outskirts; Saint Petersburg surpassed Moscow in population and became one of the largest industrial cities in Europe, with a major naval base (in Kronstadt). With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the city was renamed Petrograd ("Peter's City") to remove the German words Sankt and Burg, and in casual usage the city is often still called just "Peter." After the Bolshevik takeover in the fall of 1917, German troops invaded the West Estonian archipelago and threatened Petrograd, causing the transfer of the government back to Moscow. On January 26, 1924, five days after the death of the Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad. In the 1920s and 1930s, the poor outskirts were reconstructed into regularly planned boroughs, and housing became a government-provided amenity; 68% of the population lived in kommunalkas ("communal" apartments that housed numerous families). From September 1941 to January 1944 the city was besieged by the German army, one of the longest, most destructive, and most lethal sieges of a major city in modern history. More than one million civilians died, mainly from starvation, and many others fled or were evacuated, so the city became largely depopulated, but after the war the main city and many of its suburbs were rebuilt and some territories along the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland (which had been taken from Finland in 1940) were annexed.With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Leningrad chabged its name back to St. Petersburg in 1991.

  2. Étienne Maurice Falconet arrived in Russia in 1766 on the recommendation of Denis Diderot, to accept a commission from Catherine the Great. He was accompanied by his 18-year-old student, Marie-Anne Collot, then only 18 years old, whom Diderot called "Mademoiselle Victoire" (Miss Victory). She composed the tsar's face, based on his death mask and numerous portraits she found in Saint Petersburg.
    The granite Thunder Stone (named after a legend that a piece of it had been split off by thunder) was discovered at Lakhta, 6 km from the Gulf of Finland, 1n 1768, embedded to half its depth in a marshy terrain. When it was chosen as the statue's pedestal, Falconet wanted to shape it at its original location but Catherine ordered it be moved before being cut. Lt. Col. Marinos Carburis, a Greek engineer who had studied in Vienna, was put in charge and had to develop new methods to dig up and transport the largest stone ever moved by humans. It originally measured 7 × 14 × 9 m and weighed some 1500 tons, but Falconet cut away some if it when he shaped it into a base, so the finished pedestal weighs only 1250 tons. Carburis developed a metallic sledge that slid on a track over 6-inch bronze spheres, waited for winter, when the ground was frozen, and then dragged the stone over the frozen ground to the sea for shipment. No animals or machines were used. It took 400 men nine months to move it, while master stonecutters continuously shaped it; it took 32 men to turn the larger capstans, and the 100 feet of track had to be constantly which had to be constantly disassembled and relaid. A special barge was constructed exclusively to move the Thunder Stone to St. Petrsnurg and had to be supported on both sides by a warship. The stone reached its destination in 1770, and work in the statue lasted until 1782. In 1775 the casting of the statue began, supervised by Emelyan Khailov, who risked his own life to salvage the casting after the mold broke, releasing molten bronze that started several fires. Four years before the project was completed Falconet was forced to leave Russia, but the finished statue was formally unveiled fourteen years after excavation of the pedestal began. The pedestal alone is about 7 meters (25 feet) tall; while the statue itself is only another 6 meters (20 feet) high. A 19th-century legend claimed that as long as the equestrian statue stands in the middle of Saint Petersburg the city cannot be taken by enemy forces.

  3. Eventually it acquired the popular name, "The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale" (actually "copper horseman" in Russian) after the 1833 poem by Aleksander Pushkin, delineating the conflict between the needs of the state and the needs of ordinary citizens. The 90-line introduction opens with a mythologized history of the establishment of St. Petersburg, then moves to a first-person ode to the city and its "stern, muscular appearance," its architectural landmarks, and its harsh winters and long summer evenings. The narrator urges it to stand firm against the waves of the Neva. Part I (164 lines) opens with the river "tossing and turning like a sick man in his troubled bed." Then the Neva floods and destroys much of the city. A poor youth, Evgenii, wakes up, frightened and desperate, sitting alone on top of two marble lions on Peter's Square, surrounded by water and with the giant statue of Peter the Great looking down. In the long Part II (222 lines), Evgenii makes his way to the destroyed home of his beloved, Parasha, In despair, he spends the next year wandering through the city like a madman. Finally, in a fit of rage, he curses Peter for founding the city in such an unsuitable location and indirectly causing the death of Parasha, The statue comes to life and pursuies Evgenii. The poem closes with the discovery of the young man's corpse in a ruined hut floating at the edge of the river. The poem has a varied rhyme scheme and stanzas of varying length but, metrically. is composed in four-foot iambs, a versatile form which is able to adapt to the changing moods of the poem. It employs an unusual mix of genres: the sections dealing with Tsar Peter are written in a solemn, odic, 18th-century style, while the Evgenii sections are prosaic, playful and, in the latter stages, filled with pathos. Even the title and subtitle suggest a grandiose ode combined with an unheroic protagonist.


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