Overview (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Babii Yar” is a poem in free verse consisting of ninety-two lines. The title, roughly translated as “Women’s Cliff,” refers to a ravine near Kiev where thousands of Jews were massacred during the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine in the Soviet Union. The name of the place in itself has no symbolic connotation in the poem, even though Babii Yar (also known as Babi Yar, Baby Yar, or Babiy Yar) has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Nazi crimes perpetrated against the Jews. The Holocaust is not the main focus of the poem. The very first line, “No monument stands over Babii Yar,” reveals Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s main concern. The original crime was bad enough, he seems to say, but it has been compounded by a lack of visible recognition and respect for its victims.
The poet immediately identifies with the Jewish people. He goes back to ancient Egypt and the agony of crucifixion, then leaps across the centuries to Alfred Dreyfus, who was the subject of a celebrated case of prejudice and persecution in nineteenth century France. The poet then turns to a boy in Byelostok, a town in Byelorussia (now Belarus) near the Polish border that had a large Jewish population that has been decimated—first in the pogroms in czarist Russia, then during the Holocaust. Finally, the poet identifies with the feelings of fear and the needs for love and kindness expressed by the young Holocaust victim Anne Frank in her Het Achterhuis (1947;...
(The entire section is 1307 words.)
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