The Song of the Stormy Petrel

Last updated
Stormy Petrel, painted by John James Audubon Stormy Petrel.jpg
Stormy Petrel, painted by John James Audubon

"The Song of the Stormy Petrel" (Russian : Песня о Буревестнике, Pesnya o Burevestnike/Pesńa o Burevestnike) is a short piece of revolutionary literature written by the Russian writer Maxim Gorky in 1901. The poem is written in a variation of unrhymed trochaic tetrameter with occasional Pyrrhic substitutions.



Artistic rendering of Gorky late in life Painting of maxim gorki.jpg
Artistic rendering of Gorky late in life

In 1901, no one could criticise the Tsar directly and hope to escape unhappy fate. "Aesopian language" of a fable, which had been developed into a form of art by earlier writers such as Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, [1] was not infrequently used by the critics of the regime.

Maxim Gorky wrote "The Song of the Storm Petrel" in March 1901 in Nizhny Novgorod. It is believed that originally the text was part of a larger piece, called "Spring Melodies" (Весенние мелодии) and subtitled "Fantasy" (Фантазия). [2] In this "fantasy", the author overhears a conversation of birds outside his window on a late-winter day: a crow, a raven, and a bullfinch representing the monarchist establishment; sparrows, "lesser people"; and anti-establishment siskins (чижики). As the birds discussing the approach of the spring, it is one of the siskins who sings to his comrades "the Song of the Stormy Petrel, which he had overheard somewhere", which appears as the "fantasy's" finale. [2] In the "Song", the action takes place on an ocean coast, far from the streets of a central Russian town; the language calling for revolution is coded—the proud stormy petrel, unafraid of the storm (that is, revolution), as all other birds cower.

The publication of this parody of the Russian society was disallowed by the censors; however, apparently because of a censor's mistake, the siskin's "Song" was allowed to be published as a separate piece. [2] The entire "fantasy" was published in Berlin in 1902. [3]

The "Song" was first published in the Zhizn magazine in April 1901. [4] Gorky was arrested for publishing "The Song", but released shortly thereafter.

The poem was later referred to as "the battle anthem of the revolution", [5] and the epithet Burevestnik Revolyutsii (The Storm Petrel of the Revolution) soon became attached to Gorky himself. [4] According to Nadezhda Krupskaya, "The Song" became one of Lenin's favorite works by Gorky. [4]

The bird species in the song

A siskin, unafraid to sing to his comrades about the stormy petrel Carduelis spinus 1 tom (Marek Szczepanek).jpg
A siskin, unafraid to sing to his comrades about the stormy petrel

As a poet, Gorky would not pay too much attention to precisely identifying the birds species appearing in his "Song". The Russian word burevestnik (modified by appropriate adjectives) is applied to a number of species in the families Procellariidae (many of whose species are known in English as petrels) and Pelecanoididae (diving-petrels). According to Vladimir Dal's Dal's Dictionary , Russia's favorite dictionary in Maxim Gorky's time, burevestnik could be understood as a generic word for all Procellariidae (including the European storm petrel). [6] This Russian word is not, however, used to specifically name the species properly known in English as storm-petrel, or any other individual species from its family (the Hydrobatidae). However, since the Russian burevestnik can be literally parsed by the speaker as 'the announcer of the storm', it was only appropriate for most translators into English to translate the title of the poem as "Stormy Petrel" (or, more rarely, "Storm Petrel").

Other avian characters of the poem are generic seagulls, loons (also known as "divers"; Russian, гагара), and a penguin. While North Hemisphere loons and south hemisphere penguins are not likely to meet in the wild, their joint participation in the poem is a legitimate example of a poetic license. Or the penguin might refer to the extinct great auk, genus Pinguinus, once known commonly as "penguins". [7]


The Song was translated into many languages (and to almost all officially recognized languages of Russia), including German, [8] Japanese, [9] and Hebrew. [10]

The text of the poem

The text in original Russian and English translation follows (the English translation is GFDL; note on translation on the discussion page).

Над седой равниной моря ветер тучи собирает. Между тучами и морем гордо реет Буревестник, чёрной молнии подобный.

То крылом волны касаясь, то стрелой взмывая к тучам, он кричит, и — тучи слышат радость в смелом крике птицы.

В этом крике — жажда бури! Силу гнева, пламя страсти и уверенность в победе слышат тучи в этом крике.

Чайки стонут перед бурей, — стонут, мечутся над морем и на дно его готовы спрятать ужас свой пред бурей.

И гагары тоже стонут, — им, гагарам, недоступно наслажденье битвой жизни: гром ударов их пугает.

Глупый пингвин робко прячет тело жирное в утёсах... Только гордый Буревестник реет смело и свободно над седым от пены морем!

Всё мрачней и ниже тучи опускаются над морем, и поют, и рвутся волны к высоте навстречу грому.

Гром грохочет. В пене гнева стонут волны, с ветром споря. Вот охватывает ветер стаи волн объятьем крепким и бросает их с размаху в дикой злобе на утёсы, разбивая в пыль и брызги изумрудные громады.

Буревестник с криком реет, чёрной молнии подобный, как стрела пронзает тучи, пену волн крылом срывает.

Вот он носится, как демон, — гордый, чёрный демон бури, — и смеётся, и рыдает... Он над тучами смеётся, он от радости рыдает!

В гневе грома, — чуткий демон, — он давно усталость слышит, он уверен, что не скроют тучи солнца, — нет, не скроют!

Ветер воет... Гром грохочет...

Синим пламенем пылают стаи туч над бездной моря. Море ловит стрелы молний и в своей пучине гасит. Точно огненные змеи, вьются в море, исчезая, отраженья этих молний.

— Буря! Скоро грянет буря!

Это смелый Буревестник гордо реет между молний над ревущим гневно морем; то кричит пророк победы:

— Пусть сильнее грянет буря!..

Up above the sea's grey flatland, wind is gathering the clouds. In between the sea and clouds proudly soaring the Petrel, reminiscent of black lightning.
Glancing a wave with his wingtip, like an arrow dashing cloudward, he cries out and the clouds hear his joy in the bird's cry of courage.
In this cry thirst for the tempest! Wrathful power, flame of passion, certainty of being victorious the clouds hear in that bird's cry.
Seagulls groan before the tempest, groan, and race above the sea, and on its bottom they are ready to hide their fear of the storm.
And the loons are also groaning, they, the loons, they cannot access the delight of life in battle: the noise of the clashes scares them.
The dumb penguin shyly hiding his fat body in the crevice . . . It is only the proud Petrel who soars ever bold and freely over the sea grey with sea foam!
Ever darker, clouds descending ever lower over the sea, and the waves are singing, racing to the sky to meet the thunder.
Thunder sounds. In foamy anger the waves groan, with wind in conflict. Now the wind firmly embraces flocks of waves and sends them crashing on the cliffs in wild fury, smashing into dust and seaspray all these mountains of emerald.
And the Petrel soars with warcries, reminiscent of black lightning, like an arrow piercing the clouds, with his wing rips foam from the waves.
So he dashes, like a demon, proud, black demon of the tempest, and he's laughing and he's weeping . . . it is at the clouds he's laughing, it is with his joy he's weeping!
In the fury of the thunder, the wise demon hears its weakness, and he's certain that the clouds will not hide the sun won't hide it!
The wind howls . . . the thunder rolls . . .
Like a blue flame, flocks of clouds blaze up above the sea's abyss. The sea catches bolts of lightning drowning them beneath its waters. Just like serpents made of fire, they weave in the water, fading, the reflections of this lightning.
Tempest! Soon will strike the tempest!
That is the courageous Petrel proudly soaring in the lightning over the sea's roar of fury; cries of victory the prophet:
Let the tempest come strike harder!


The popularity of the poem in Russia's revolutionary circles, and the later "canonization" of Gorky as a preeminent classic of the "proletarian literature" ensured the wide spreading of the image of the Burevestnik ("stormy petrel") in the Soviet propaganda imagery. A variety of institutions, products, and publications would bear the name "Burevestnik", [11] including a national sports club, a series of hydrofoil boats, [12] an air base in the Kuril Islands, a labor-union resort on the Gorky Reservoir, a Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod express train, and even a brand of candy. [13] (See Burevestnik for a very partial list of entities so named). Naturally, Burevestnik-themed names were especially popular in Gorky Oblast.

Maxim Gorky himself would be referred to with the epithet "the Stormy Petrel of the Revolution" (Буревестник Революции); [14] [15] monuments, posters, postage stamps and commemorative coins depicting the writer would often be decorated with the image of a soaring aquatic bird.

Related Research Articles

Procellariiformes order of birds

Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, and 2 families of storm petrels. Formerly called Tubinares and still called tubenoses in English, they are often referred to collectively as the petrels, a term that has been applied to all Procellariiformes, or more commonly all the families except the albatrosses. They are almost exclusively pelagic, and have a cosmopolitan distribution across the world's oceans, with the highest diversity being around New Zealand.

Maxim Gorky 19th and 20th-century Russian and Soviet writer

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, primarily known as Maxim Gorky, was a Russian and Soviet writer, a founder of the socialist realism literary method, and a political activist. He was also a five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Prior to his renown as an author, he frequently changed jobs and roamed across the Russian Empire; these experiences would later influence his writing. Gorky's most famous works were The Lower Depths (1902), Twenty-six Men and a Girl (1899), The Song of the Stormy Petrel (1901), My Childhood (1913–1914), Mother (1906), Summerfolk (1904) and Children of the Sun (1905). He had associations with fellow Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov; Gorky would later mention them in his memoirs.

Northern storm petrel family of birds

Northern storm petrels are seabirds in the family Hydrobatidae, part of the order Procellariiformes. The family was once lumped with the similar austral storm petrels in the combined storm petrels, but have been split, as they were not closely related. These smallest of seabirds feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. Their flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like.

Procellariidae A family of seabirds which includes petrels, shearweters and prions

The family Procellariidae is a group of seabirds that comprises the fulmarine petrels, the gadfly petrels, the prions, and the shearwaters. This family is part of the bird order Procellariiformes, which also includes the albatrosses, the storm petrels, and the diving petrels.

European storm petrel Migratory seabird in the family Hydrobatidae

The European storm petrel, British storm petrel, or just storm petrel is a seabird in the northern storm petrel family, Hydrobatidae. It is the only member of the genus Hydrobates. The small, square-tailed bird is entirely black except for a broad, white rump and a white band on the under wings, and it has a fluttering, bat-like flight. The large majority of the population breeds on islands off the coasts of Europe, with the greatest numbers in the Faroe Islands, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Iceland. The Mediterranean population is a separate subspecies, but is inseparable at sea from its Atlantic relatives; its strongholds are Filfla Island (Malta), Sicily, and the Balearic Islands.

Samuil Marshak Russian writer, poet, playwright

Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak was a Russian and Soviet writer of Jewish origin, translator and poet who wrote for both children and adults. He translated the sonnets and some other of the works of William Shakespeare, English poetry, and poetry from other languages. Maxim Gorky proclaimed Marshak to be "the founder of Russia's (Soviet) children's literature."

Southern giant petrel species of bird

The southern giant petrel, also known as the Antarctic giant petrel, giant fulmar, stinker, and stinkpot, is a large seabird of the southern oceans. Its distribution overlaps broadly with the similar northern giant petrel, though it overall is centered slightly further south. Adults of the two species can be distinguished by the colour of their bill-tip: greenish in the southern and reddish in the northern.

Vladislav Khodasevich Russian poet, literary critic

Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich was an influential Russian poet and literary critic who presided over the Berlin circle of Russian emigre litterateurs.

Spectacled petrel species of bird

The spectacled petrel is a rare seabird that nests only on the high western plateau of Inaccessible Island in the South Atlantic Tristan da Cunha group. It is one of the largest petrels that nests in burrows.

Vladimir Aleksandrovich Posse was a Russian socialist journalist and editor who typically signed his articles V. A. Posse.

Birds of Macquarie Island

The Birds of Macquarie Island are, unsurprisingly for an isolated oceanic island, predominantly seabirds. By far the majority of the breeding species are penguins, petrels and albatrosses. However, the bird list includes many vagrants, including passerines, from New Zealand and Australia.

Burevestnik is a Russian name for the petrel, popularized by Maxim Gorky's 1901 poem "The Song of the Stormy Petrel".

Grey petrel species of bird

The grey petrel, also called the brown petrel, pediunker or grey shearwater is a species of seabird in the Procellariidae, or petrel family. It occurs in the open seas of the Southern Hemisphere, mainly between 49°S and 32°S.

Maksim Rayevsky was a Russian-Jewish anarcho-syndicalist.

Maxim Gorky bibliography Wikipedia bibliography

This is a bibliography of the works of Maxim Gorky.

Sergey Dmitrievich Mstislavsky was a Russian Soviet writer, dramatist, publicist, anthropologist, editor and political activist, close to the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. In the 1920s and 1930 he authored numerous adventure novels, mostly about the events of the 1905 and 1917 Revolutions and the Russian Civil War.

Burevestnik was a newspaper published daily from Petrograd, Russia. Burevestnik was the organ of the Petrograd Federation of Anarchist Groups. The newspaper was founded in November 1917. Burevestnik was primarily distributed in Vyborg district, Kronstadt, Kolpino and Obukhovo. It had a readership of around 25,000. This newspaper was one of several publications with the name Burevestnik, a name originating in Maxim Gorky's poem Song of the Stormy Petrel.

Burevestnik was a Russian language anarchist periodical published in Paris between 1906 and 1910. It had the subtitle 'Organ of the Russian Anarchist Communists'. The publication was the most prominent periodical of Russian anarchist émigrés in the aftermath of the Russian revolution of 1905. It was edited by Maksim Rayevsky and Nikolai Rogdaev. Nineteen issues of Burevestnik were published during its five years of existence.


  1. Bodin, Per-Arne; Hedlund, Stefan; Namli, Elena, eds. (2012), Power and Legitimacy - Challenges from Russia, Routledge Contemporary Russia and Eastern Europe Series, Routledge, ISBN   978-1136267307
  2. 1 2 3 Novikov, Lev Alekseevich (Лев Алексеевич Новиков) (1979), Лингвистическое толкование художественного текста (Linguistic interpretation of a literary text), Русский язык, p. 77
  3. "Весенние мелодии (Фантазия)" (Spring Melodies. (Fantasy)) in: Gorky, Maksim; Sukennikov, M. (1902), Tri razskaza (Three Stories), Izd-vo Ioanna Rėde, pp. 20–26
  4. 1 2 3 "Maxim Gorky: The Song of the Stormy Petrel" (in Russian).
  5. "A Legend Exhumed", a review of Dan Levin's book Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Maxim Gorky. TIME . June 25, 1965.
  6. The entry Burya ["storm"] in: Толковый словарь живого великорусского языка. В 4 тт. Т. 1: А—3, 2001, p . 172. This is a modern reprint (using modernized Russian orthography) of the 1903 edition which would be familiar to Gorky and his readers.
  7. In modern Russian, pingvin only refers to Antarctic penguins, and it seems to be predominant usage in Gorky's time as well. However, Gorky's era Dal's Dictionary defines pingvin simply as a "Sea bird, chistik, [which] flies poorly and walks erect" (Морская птица, чистик, плохо летает и ходит стойком), without identifying it more precisely. The term chistik is not defined in Dal's dictionary, but appears to apply to a number of seabirds, including, indeed, to the great auk (which is called "Atlantic chistik in a Russian's translation of Brehms Tierleben : Жизнь животных). A Russian geography textbook from 1887, too, would use the word pingvin to refer to Alca tarda (razorbill) of Russia's Arctic coast. Географія Россійской Имперіи: (курс средних учебних заведеній), p. 54.
  9. ja:海燕の歌#詩の内容
  10. saginatus (13 January 2011). "Песнь о буревестнике. Перевод на иврит (Лея Гольдберг)".
  11. Ziolkowski, Margaret (1998), Literary Exorcisms of Stalinism: Russian Writers and the Soviet Past, Camden House, p. 111, ISBN   978-1571131799
  12. Russian River Ships Archived 2009-01-02 at the Wayback Machine
  13. The Burevestnik candy was essentially chocolate-coated sugar: Taylor, Russell; Polonsky, Marc (2011), USSR: From an Original Idea by Karl Marx, Faber & Faber, ISBN   978-0571281589
  14. See e.g. numerous references in this Cand. Sc. (Philology) dissertation abstract: Ledneva, Tatiana Petrovna (Леднева, Татьяна Петровна) (2002), Авторская позиция в произведениях М. Горького 1890-х годов. (Author's position in Maxim Gorky's 1890s works)
  15. Levin, Dan (1965), Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Maxim Gorky, Schocken Books, ISBN   978-0805207880