Leningrad is burning in the sunlight.
Yellow plaster-and-stone walls
yearn for their town-right –
the people’s right to live
or staving off foreign invasion.
Go to Decembrists’ Square.
Peter the Great is pointing towards Europe.
The ideas of the first revolutionaries wheel in the sun,
wither the snow.
Leningrad is standing in the snow.
In the terrible winter of 1941
starvation like a plague
made chairs and beds useless,
and in nine hundred days of German onslaught
over half a million died of hunger,
and bombs, the devil’s hurricane,
shook the city like a straw,
and drenched with hate was the weather.
is made deafening by the will to survive.
The top of the head blown off,
the base of the earth giving way –
and Leningrad, a straw
was not broken.
Now an April snow-gust hurrying after the sun
for a moment bears memory,
in each flake the horror of a person dying
But go to Palace Square.
Alexander the First stands there,
on a great granite pillar mounting the city.
The French were fought off by his army’s monolith.
And then the Winter Palace.
The architect of green and white
could make one walk for an afternoon
up and down the Square, seeing the pillars,
the even, matched pillars, the Tsarist winter months.
But the palace in those rooms.
The first hall
plasters your head with gold.
In Peter’s room the precious wood on the floor
tells of the forests and the hands of men,
the Russian carpenter’s pride.
It balances the great bronze chandelier.
And won from hoarding Time
is porphyry, malachite in urns and tables,
the deep and lighter-leaping green,
and the elements of lapis lazuli blue.
But the tall, door-studded rooms
swing finer through the mind
even than their contents, their pictures.
But rising from the soft settee of architectural splendour,
look at the pictures.
Christ is being carried down.
A bird with wonderful feathers
is hanging by the neck.
A petal-young child reads to a torn old woman.
Her heart is of that softness.
And these are three among a mansion of pictures.
Walk for a time.
See the statue of a crouching boy,
how Michelangelo has made his knee,
locking strength in the bone.
And other sculptures … in the passage between two rooms
shadow of an angel’s wings –
As you go out do not forget to see,
gripping the arms of his marble chair,
white yet with eyes so bright …
Come out into the open.
See the smoke piping from the factory chimneys,
the newer pillars.
Leningrad must rivet metal,
pour out ships.
The Ship of the Dawn
is at harbour here.
It was launched, against centuries’ backwash, into a new day.
Aurora is at rest, the day begun.
Good town, great town
stand for peace.
In Peter and Paul Cathedral
under the splendid golden icon-stand
the Tsars keep marble silence.
They are done.
Now the city works for every member
of its straight-walled display that rises in the sun
mindless of the threats of weather,
turning them all to sun
that strongly copes with blood’s impurities,
beating out techniques and first controls
of its new life.
Leningrad, I dedicate these
few lines to those who died for that first spark,
Iskra, alone and in great companies,
who made the fire of this century their life’s work
and vanished simply as used coals –
who burned fiercely for this town.
They are not in the dark,
for on the Neva’s water glint their souls.