I'm very fond of A. Blok's poem bellow -- which, by the way, yesterday became 100 years old. My Russian is very limited, and this is one of the little pieces I can almost understand; this "almost" here precisely stands for the current question

I kind of know the meaning of the separate words in "ледяная рябь канала", but I suspect I'm missing something.

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи ещё хоть четверть века —
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрёшь — начнёшь опять сначала
И повторится всё, как встарь:
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

Could somebody shed some light on this? Isn't there any hidden meaning?

  • That might be interesting. Here's the exact place of the pharmacy. – user820 Nov 9 '12 at 4:28
  • @Mr.Hide at Universam? – c.p. Nov 9 '12 at 15:00
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    He meant that this is where the apothecary used to be (I would like to see the source). However, apothecary in this poem is also a symbol of death (see. Siniavski André, Sorbonne, 1996). – theUg Jan 13 '13 at 22:59

10 Answers 10


There is no hidden meaning in this phrase. Ледяная means that water is cold, рябь is used here for indicating that water is almost still, but nevertheless, water slightly flows, most probably, mainly because of wind. Most probably, this wind is cold as well.

That's it)

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    So рябь sands for ripple...I had found before dazzle as translation for рябь as well. So I thought before that the channel was shining due to some source of light in the icy water, which walking in the night produces some dazzles the vision. Now I think I understand. – c.p. Oct 11 '12 at 19:26
  • yes, this is ripple, if it was a poetic translation, may be the translator tried to convey the impression, the sense, of the scene. But it is ripple) – shabunc Oct 11 '12 at 19:32
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    @JorgeCampos: "dazzle" can only translate some idiomatic meanings of the word like рябь в глазах. – Quassnoi Oct 11 '12 at 19:36
  • you are very welcome. thanks for appreciating good poetry ) – shabunc Oct 11 '12 at 19:36
  • If you google 'рябь' then you will get picture of exactly what he meant - ripple https://www.google.ie/search?q=рябь&safe=off&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=1860&bih=971 – Dimitry K Dec 8 '14 at 19:19

It's a metaphor, literally translated as "icy ripple of the canal".

Blok was raised in Saint-Petersburg (then capital of Russia) with its numerous canals, so this metaphor conveys feel of a cold windy night in a large city.

  • Thanks for enriching! It's fundamental to know about Blok's childhood to understand better to fully understand why he mentions channels, I think. – c.p. Oct 12 '12 at 16:51
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    "Ледяная" adds gloomy mood to "рябь канала". Рябь канала by itself could have evoked a happy picture. It is metaphor - ледяная рябь канала is not used in everyday speech. – farfareast Oct 12 '12 at 21:06
  • In English, it's canals, not channels. – thorn Oct 29 '12 at 0:37
  • @thorn: indeed, corrected. – Quassnoi Oct 29 '12 at 5:38

This poem is part of the sub-cycle Пляски смерти (“Dances of Death”: reference to the medieval allegory on universality of death). In it author pictures specific place in Saint Petersburg: the corner of Bolshaya Zelenina street and Koltovskaya embankment near Krestovsky bridge from Petrogradskaya storona across Malaya Nevka to Krestovsky island. The apothecary was located in house number 44. There is a reason for such specificity.

Likhachov’s Interpretation

Famous academician, philologist D. S. Likhachov writes in his book “Literature-Reality-Literature” (1981):

…before the wooden bridge over to Krestovsky island […] at the corner to the left he showed me an apothecary and said that Blok was always concrete in his poetry (same was often repeated by A. A. Blok’s cousin — G. P. Blok) and in the poem “Night, street and streetlight, drugstore…” he meant exactly this apothecary. Blok loved to walk here, loved Petrogradskaya side in general, even after he settled down on Officers’ [side].

Likhachov goes on to explain that this desolate bridge at (then) outskirts of Petersburg attracted suicides, who were sometimes rescued and brought into the apothecary for the first aid. The shore was then low, unlike the modern high embankment, which provided for a certain picture:

Coloured lights of the apothecary, and the kerosene street lamp standing near the entry to the bridge reflected in the water of Malaya Nevka. “The Apothecary of Self-Murderers” had overturned reflection in the water; low bank without a granite embankment sort of bisected two-fold body of the apothecary: the real one, and overturned in the water, “mortal”.

Further author describes the symmetry of the quatrains, then continues:

In this poem its content in a marvellous way merged with its structure. The reflection depicted in overturned form of the street, streetlamp, apothecary. This reflection is reflected (I intentionally repeat paronymous words — “reflection reflected”) in the structure of the poem, and the theme of death appears to be meaningless reverse reflection of the life spent: “There’s no way out”. Posthumous life as overturned and caricatural repetition of life — usual motif of the folklore. […] Everything is the same, but everything is not real, reflected, devoid of genuine substance and meaning.

Eternal Recurrence

Likhachov insists on his interpretation, contradictory to Maximov’s (another noted philologist):

In his excellent commentary on the poem Night, Street… D. E. Maximov writes about “the gloomy symbols of the nocturnal city”. However, from my point of view, this poem is not “about frightful, reverberating, prosaic world” (p. 113), but phantasmal recurrence of life and death. Symmetry of the structure of this poem is not vertical, but with a horisontal axis — axis of the bank separating life above from the death below, in the icy water.

Here I am in no position to argue with esteemed academicians, but both variants, as it seems to me (for my philosophical knowledge is rather limited), this way or another correspond to the fact that Blok was playing with Nietzsche’s ideas (see Papernyj), including the idea of eternal recurrence.

Was the Water Frozen?

If for Likhachov idea of reflection was central, translators did not ponder over the state of the water too much. Alex Cigale translates the phrase in question so:

…the canal’s rippled icy surface

Y. Bonver translates differently (at that ignoring author’s symmetry for the sake of more convenient rhyme):

Swell of the canal in the night

Considering that poem was dated 10th of October (O.S.), and, therefore, 23rd of October (N.S.), historical data about temperature shows that for the several days prior to 23rd the temperature was staying around 0°C during the day and below at night, therefore it is possible that Malaya Nevka could have been at least partially covered with fresh ice. However, given the winds, and the tide, it is highly unlikely the river would be frozen solid in a couple of days.


All in Russian:

  • Likhachov, D. S. Literature-Reality-Literature. Leningrad, 1981. Excerpt “From the commentary to the poem of A. Blok ‘Night, Street and Streetlamp, Drugstore…’” taken from the Likhachov’s Fund website (articles).

  • Maksimov, D. E. Poetry and Prose of A. Blok. Leningrad, 1975.

  • Papernyj, V. M. “Blok and Nietzsche”. Via ruthenia.ru.

  • Shifrin, M. “Hundred Years of the Famous Blok’s Poem”, Around the World.

Это стихотворение является частью под-цикла «Пляски смерти» (ссылка на средневековый аллегорический сюжет всеобщности смерти). В нём автор изображает определённое место в Петербурге: угол Большой Зеленина улицы и Колтовской набережной рядом с Крестовским мостом с Петроградской стороны через Малую Невку на Крестовский остров. Аптека находилась в доме №44. Такая точность неспроста.

Интерпретация Лихачёва

Знамениный академик, филолог Д. С. Лихачёв пишет в своей книге «Литература-реальность-литература» (1981):

…перед деревянным мостом на Крестовский остров, […] на углу слева он показал мне аптеку и сказал, что Блок всегда конкретен в своей поэзии (то же обычно повторял и двоюродный брат А. А. Блока — Г. П. Блок) и в стихотворении «Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека…» имел в виду именно эту аптеку. Блок любил здесь гулять, любил Петроградскую сторону вообще, даже после того как поселился на Офицерской.

Лихачёв продолжает, объясняя, что этот пустынный мост на тогдашней окраине Петербурга привлекал самоубийц, которых иногда спасали и приносили в аптеку для оказания первой помощи. Берег был тогда низким, не таким как современная высокая набережная, что представляло определённую картину:

Цветные огни аптеки и стоявший у въезда на мост керосиновый фонарь отражались в воде Малой Невки. «Аптека самоубийц» имела опрокинутое отражение в воде; низкий берег без гранитной набережной как бы разрезал двойное тело аптеки: реальное и опрокинутое в воде, «смертное».

Далее автор описывает симметрию четверостиший, затем продолжает:

В этом стихотворении содержание его удивительным образом слито с его построением. Изображено отражение в опрокинутом виде улицы, фонаря, аптеки. Это отражение отражено (я намеренно повторяю однокоренные слова — «отражение отражено») в построении стихотворения, а тема смерти оказывается бессмысленным обратным отражением прожитой жизни: «Исхода нет». Посмертная жизнь как опрокинутое и карикатурное повторение жизни — обычный для фольклора мотив. […] Всё — то же, но всё ненастоящее, отражённое, лишённое подлинного содержания и смысла.

Вечное возвращение

Лихачёв настаивает на своей интерпретации, противоречащей Максимову (другому известному филологу):

В своём прекрасном истолковании стихотворения «Ночь, улица…» Д. Е. Максимов пишет об «угрюмых символах ночного города». Впрочем, с моей точки зрения, стихотворение это не «о страшном, повторяющемся, прозаическом мире» (с. 113), а о призрачном повторении жизни и смерти. Симметрия построения этого стихотворения не вертикальная, а с горизонтальной осью — осью берега, отделяющего жизнь наверху от смерти внизу, в ледяной воде.

Здесь я уже никак не могу спорить с академиками, однако оба варианта, как мне кажется (ибо мои философские познания весьма ограничены), так или иначе соответствуют тому, что Блок играл с идеями Ницше (см. Паперный), включая идею вечного возвращения.

Была ли вода замёрзшей?

Если для Лихачёва идея отражения была центральной, переводчики сильно не задумывались о состоянии воды. Alex Cigale переводит фразу под вопросом так:

…the canal’s rippled icy surface

Е. Бонвер переводит иначе (при этом игнорируя авторскую симметрию в пику более удобной рифмы):

Swell of the canal in the night

Учитывая, что поэма датирована 10 октября по старому стилю, а, значит, 23 октября по новому, исторические данные о температуре воздуха показывают, что несколько дней перед 23-м температура держалась около нуля днём и ниже нуля ночью, поэтому вероятно, что Малая Невка могла быть хотя бы частично покрыта свежим льдом. Тем не менее, учитывая ветра и прилив, весьма маловероятно, что река была бы полностью скована льдом за пару дней.


  • Лихачёв, Д. С. Литература-реальность-литература. Л. 1981. Отрывок «Из комментария к стихотворению А. Блока „Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека…”» взят с сайта Фонда им. Д. С. Лихачёва (статьи).

  • Максимов, Д. Е. Поэзия и проза Ал. Блока. Л. 1975.

  • Паперный, В. М. «Блок и Ницше». Через ruthenia.ru.

  • Шифрин, М. «Сто лет знаменитому стихотворению Блока», Вокруг света.

  • +1, Thorugh answer and it addresses the line in question. – c.p. Jan 14 '13 at 14:14

"Ледяная" means that the colour of water is "cold" - it's dark. Not frozen, not lighting. рябь so you can imagine dark, cold and deep river, to understand the phrase.

  • "Ледяная" as a colour is an interesting notion... – Aleks G Nov 12 '12 at 15:24

Well, at the time Blok literally lived by the canal; the neighborhood was poor and desperate; St. Petersburg can be very inhospitable on a November night. The meaning of the phrase is most definitely literal but used to underline the mental state of the poet.

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    why November, specifically? – c.p. Nov 9 '12 at 3:49
  • sorry - should be October; the poem is dated October 10, 1912 – Misha Nov 9 '12 at 3:55
  • @Misha, if you would register, you could edit your own post to fix that. – theUg Jan 25 '13 at 3:04

What comes to my mind
дуализм движения и стагнации
frozen water (ice,frozen,stop,death, 0°K) which looks like living(liquid) water but is not, is not living water, death.
this is a symbol, which is not existing but you so close for that, so you can see it, see it in what really is, world and nature opens it's own inside for you, so you can see beyond the reality, but it not helps, you have no use for that knowledge, you can't use it, because you here and you do not belong to the world where that knowledge exists. or maybe this world do not belong to you?
Frozen and stopped forever like hollywood slow motion.

shabunc answer assumes no special meaning in it, just cold water, windy weather (and nice photo by Anna shows how it looks like), but it is, it is)

"ледяная рябь" in that case just another formulation of uncertainty principle(Schrödinger's cat)

  • Physical meaning for Blok's poem! I know the uncertainty principle, so, what are here the mutually exclusive variables? And uncertainty principle is not Schrödinger's cat. – c.p. May 27 '14 at 17:28
  • @c.p. your comment(original) is just direct hit back to the poem, thing have nature to repeat themselves in different manner, and poem is build in uroboros manner, and physics knows that too ) (unfortunately did't found how it called in english - принцип подобия (in english it's more about gestalt psychology and how Einstein invented ...). and poem is brilliant catch(freez) of the moment it selfs. I glad u asked your Q, because I had no chances to understand that poem in school) as I see it now. – MolbOrg May 27 '14 at 18:00
  • @c.p. cat is a superposition of dead and living cats, until we do not resolve that by direct observation, measurement. small particles can be assumed like just small particles or like wave - physical sense (of uncertainty principle) in first case smallest amount of energy which you can spend to do measurement, in second case there is just no point where you can tip and say - it is. but is you think about that microparticle as a macrosystem you also may build some superposition. I do not pretend to be correct in all aspects of my imagination) – MolbOrg May 27 '14 at 18:21

"Леденая рябь канала" means that the water has already frozen with small waves. And it's blinking because of that on the light.

  • Ледяная not necessarily means that the water was frozen. Like in ледяная вода it may mean just very cold. But here it can also be a metaphor like in ледяной взгляд. Рябь not necessarily means that bright light is reflected from small waves. As others already mentioned it just means the presence of the small waves. – farfareast Jan 26 '13 at 20:52
  • Check my answer, the section about whether the water was frozen. The temperatures around the day the poem was written simply were not low enough for the river to froze. – theUg Feb 14 '13 at 17:22

I guess it looks like this:

enter image description here

And the poem is about something like this:

enter image description here

  • Welcome to Russian Language and Usage Beta! Usually we prefer longer and more elaborated answers to short answers. If you can improve your answer by adding detail, context, examples, and backing up with references, this would increase your answer's quality. Poor answers risk being down-voted and subsequently removed. – Olga Nov 8 '12 at 10:35
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Everyone here tells you, that «ледяная рябь канала» is the icy ripple on the cold water of canal. It might be true. But, if Blok's poem takes place in winter, the canal is sure frozen. In this case, «ледяная рябь канала» means, that the canal is covered in ice, and on that ice lies the snow, which is rippled like water, and shining.

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    Welcome to Russian Language and Usage Beta! Please don't repeat existing answers. Invest some time in the site and you will gain sufficient privileges to upvote answers you like, which is our way of saying "thank you, I like this answer, I agree with it". – Olga Nov 9 '12 at 12:05
  • The poem takes place in October, and the temperatures were around 0°C just for a couple days prior, so it is unlikely the water was frozen. – theUg Jan 25 '13 at 3:08

the 'icy ripple on the cold water of canal' literally does mean something which can be felt by touch. The charecter ponders suicide and the 'icy touch' of the could waters, but rejects the idea because he thinks that everything will be repeated anyway.

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