Petersburg Verses


Ostroumova Lebedeva. ‘The Kryukov Canal, 1910’. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

Here is my translation of the two sections of ‘Petersburg Verses’, a poem written in 1913 by Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966). The St. Petersburg scene depicted above by Ostroumova Lebedeva (1871-1955) actually shows the bell tower of St. Nicholas of the Sea Cathedral, whereas the poem mentions the much grander St. Isaac’s. But the picture captures the spirit of the city and deserves to be better known, so I’ve included it here. 

Petersburg Verses


Once again, St. Isaac vested
In his bright and silvered dome,
Frozen, fierce, in bronze arrested,
Peter’s horse in monochrome.

From the chimneys, blackened ashes,
Winds that stifle, beat and moan,
Peter’s frowning gaze that flashes,
Sovereign city, monotone.


Now my heart beats, even, measured,
Years are nothing in the end.
There our shadows, held and treasured,
Fall forever, rise, extend.

Through my lowered eyes, unfolding,
Still I see us, woman, man
And your hand, forever holding
There my closed, forgotten fan.

The night was warm, mesmerizing,
Side by side we stood there then,
As the rosy moon was rising
In the summer sky again.

I could seek and not discover
Better love, a better fate.
I have had the finest lover,
Now I have no need to wait.

Freedom’s son and freedom’s daughter
Under Peter’s winter smile,
Morning comes in just awhile
By the Neva’s darkened water,
As the ages reconcile.


2 comments on “Petersburg Verses

  1. Love this! Thank you. I went to St Petersburg as a small child…in fact, it was still Leningrad then (a few years before the fall of the USSR.) I have wonderful and hallucinatory memories, but I want to go back – I’d appreciate the architecture much more now.

  2. leifhendrik says:

    St. Petersburg has always seemed to me a kind of surreal experience. A kind of homecoming, but you want to leave…and then you long to go back. It’s such a maritime city–the fragrance of the sea, the cries of sea birds, the damp air especially at evening as the lights are going on. The pastel buildings like so many festive cakes from long forgotten feasts–perhaps my alter ego lives there, along the English Embankment. I’m glad you love this poem too.

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