“Splendid city, beggared city” (“Город пышный, город бедный”), Alexander Pushkin

splendid city

Pushkin wrote this in 1828. I took a liberty in deciding he was not in St Petersburg at the time. Although his exile had ended, following the Decembrist uprising in 1825 he was kept under constant surveillance and his opportunities to travel were restricted. With a precision that I fear is unattainable in English, Pushkin expresses his ambivalence towards a city that he saw as both oppressive and enticing.

Splendid city, beggared city,
Home of slaves, with views untold,
Pale-green vault of heavens pretty,
Boredom lined with granite’s cold –
Yet, when absent, it’s vexatious:
There betimes you’d chance to see
Step of little foot vivacious,
Sweep of curls beside the sea.


Город пышный, город бедный,
Дух неволи, стройный вид,
Свод небес зелено-бледный,
Скука, холод и гранит –
Всё же мне вас жаль немножко,
Потому что здесь порой
Ходит маленькая ножка,
Вьется локон золотой.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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