Discover St. Petersburg Through the Eyes of Five Russian Writers
Perhaps one of the world’s best cultural destinations, St. Petersburg has inspired a great number of artists through the ages. Many poets have been drawn to “the most abstract and intentional city of the entire globe”, amongst them Pushkin, Gogol and Dostoevsky to name just a few. So why not discover this beautiful and charming city following the footsteps of its most famous writers?
Here’s a selection of five famous Russian poets who wrote about St. Petersburg in their works at various times and with different feelings. Get ready for this literary journey through St. Petersburg!
- Alexander Pushkin
Considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature, Pushkin tied his fate to the city of St. Petersburg, despite being born in Moscow. Indeed, the poet spent the most of his life in the northern capital, where he moved very young for studying at the prestigious Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo. Among all Pushkin’s work, “The Bronze Horseman” (Медный всадник) is considered one of the most influential poems in Russian Literature. Taking inspiration from the equestrian statue of Peter the Great in Senatskaia Ploshchad, the poet managed to depict St. Petersburg in all its glory through the verses of the poem introduction. “I love you, Peter’s great creation, I love your view of stern and grace…”: just few verses, but I bet you already want to read more. Take the time to enjoy the beauty of this poem and next time you see the statue you will immediately think about it!
- Nikolai Gogol
From the everlasting praise of a magnificent city to the description of a city both attractive and mysterious: in Gogol’s “Petersburg Tales” (Петербургские повести) the world of St. Petersburg is immerged in the present – both in space and time – but also in a fantastic and distorted reality. In each novel, from “The nose” to “The Overcoat”, characters are often isolated individuals, living in a city environment in which they feel themselves insecure and threatened by false dreams and grotesque visions. Despite the dark atmosphere and the constant feeling of absurdity, these novels will enable you to feel the reality of the 19th century St. Petersburg, with all its paradoxes and mysteries.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
How can we talk about St. Petersburg literature without mentioning Fyodor Dostoevsky? His works, which are considered a milestone for Russian literature, are most of the time set in the city of Neva, where Dostoevsky spent the greater part of his life and where his fictional characters lived. The same city became a character in his novels: from “White Nights” (Белые ночи) to “Crime and Punishment” (Преступление и наказание), from “Poor Folk” (Бедные люди) to “The Idiot” (Идиот), many are the works in which Petersburg itself became the real hero of the story. That’s why I really recommend you read one of these masterpieces during your stay in St. Petersburg: walking in the footsteps of some famous characters like Rodion Raskolnikov (the main hero of Crime and Punishment) will be a perfect way to explore “the underbelly of St. Petersburg,” as Dostoevsky described it.
- Osip Mandelstam
One of the most outspoken critics of Soviet Union, Osip Mandelstam was a leading figure in St. Petersburg’s literary circles in the early 1900’s. Together with other young Russian poets such as Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gumilev, he was one of the foremost members of the literary movement known as “Acmeism” or the “Guild of Poets”. For many years, his opposition to Stalin’s regime forced him to constantly move from one place to another, living in Moscow for a while, then Saint Petersburg and so on. The imperial capital had a special place in Mandelstam’s heart: in his poem “Leningrad” (Ленинград), the city becomes itself the metaphor of poet’s soul and body, with which Mandelstam can share his feelings. It’s no wonder that these touching verses have inspired the great Russian singer Alla Pugacheva, who rearranged the poem and sang it several years later!
- Anna Akhmatova
Reaching the end of our literary journey, I couldn’t help adding to our list one the greatest female Russian poets: Anna Akhmatova. Even though she was born in Ukraine, the poet spent almost all her life in St. Petersburg. In all her poems, the city isn’t a simple background, but it becomes itself a real character, with whom all Akhmatova’s experiences are bound. From her happy childhood spent in Tsarskoe Selo to the hard period during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, Akhmatova witnessed all the all changes of St. Petersburg. The poem “To my city” (Моему городу), written in 1942, while the poet was forced to evacuate to Tashkent, is a moving dedication to St. Petersburg which will enable you to really feel her emotions and her poetical talent.
Are there other poets who made you fall in love with Piter? Write it in the comments below and don’t forget to check the Liden and Denz blog for more posts concerning Russian literature!