Pasternak, Boris (Vol. 18)
Pasternak, Boris 1890–1960
Pasternak was a Russian poet, novelist, dramatist, essayist, translator, and autobiographer. Although Pasternak is best known in America as the author of the novel Dr. Zhivago, he is primarily recognized in Europe as a poet. There is a trace of mystical Christianity akin to that of Dostoevsky running through his work. His poetry has been praised for its dense imagery, highly personal nature, and its complex, yet close-knit, structure. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, which he declined under political pressure. (See also CLC, Vols. 7, 10.)
J. W. Dyck
Pasternak's claim for art is that of simplicity and clarity. The right choice of rhyme, rhythm, and meter, the right poetic techniques in general: all this he recognizes as of great importance. But of even greater consequences are the powers of language. (p. 56)
The forces which control the artist cannot always be explained, and Pasternak's protagonist, Yury Zhivago, had experienced, in Varykino, that during the creative moment "the ascendancy is no longer with the artist or the state of mind which he is trying to express, but with language, his instrument of expression."… Both the state of mind which is longing for form and the instrument of expression play an important role in Pasternak's poetic process; and in his art, in his poetry, in real art, content and form flow into one. (p. 57)
Pasternak's poetic history can be divided into four major periods. Between his first book, [The Twin in the Clouds (Bliznets v Tuchakh)] (1914), and the fourth, [Themes and Variations (Temyi Variatsii)] (1923), Pasternak travelled a long and difficult road on which many personal and social obstacles had to be overcome. It was a period in search of independent creativity, a quest for self-determination. (p. 59)
The title, The Twin in the Clouds, Pasternak recalls, was chosen "in imitation of the cosmological obscurities of the booktitles of the Symbolists …"….
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Whom does Pasternak address? Pasternak speaks to himself. One even wishes to say, in his own presence, as in the presence of a tree or a dog, that is in the presence of one who does not betray. The reader of Pasternak is prying, he is peeping. This is felt by everyone. The reader is peeping not into Pasternak's room (what is he doing there?) but under his very skin, under his ribs (what is being done to him there?). Try as he might (as Pasternak already did for many years) to come out of himself, to address himself to these or those people (or even all of them), try as he might to say it, whatever he says is invariably not it. What is even more important he speaks to nobody. For what he speaks are his thoughts aloud, sometimes—in our presence, if it so happens; sometimes—in our absence, if he happens to forget. His are words said in a dream or in a daze. "Babbling of sleepy Parcae."
(An attempt at conversation with Pasternak on the part of the reader reminds me of dialogues in Alice in Wonderland, where to every question there is an answer either belated or be-earlied or beside the point, which otherwise would have been perfect, but in this particular instance is out of place. The resemblance is explained by the fact that in the story a new time is introduced, the time of the dream, the state that Pasternak never leaves.)
Substantially neither Mayakovsky nor Pasternak has a reader. Mayakovsky has a...
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Rosette C. Lamont
Although the Zhivago poems of the American edition of Pasternak's novel are not numbered, it is interesting to note that "Fairy Tale" ("Skazka" in the original), central as it is to both the Appendix and the events of the novel, is the thirteenth of twenty-five poems left by the hero, Yuri Zhivago, as his testament. It is in fact at Lara's urging that the poet decides to record some of the work she has heard him recite. This takes place on the second and third night of the couple's stay at Varykino, a period of thirteen days stolen out of time, out of History. "Fairy Tale" is a deeply personal message to Lara, yet it is so devoid of "romantic morbidity" as to yield "to a broad and serene vision that [lifts] the particular to the level of the universal and the familiar."…
It has often been pointed out that Doctor Zhivago is not a novel of social criticism, that it is the portrait of a poet caught in the midst of historical upheaval, a man of thought and faith whose consciousness is deeply involved with the destiny of the Russian people from its earliest beginning to the epoch of the Revolution….
At the moment of creation … it is language which takes over, imposing its own laws upon the writer…. During the waking hours the poet's consciousness is veiled, diffuse; he readies himself for the night's labor. When everyone is asleep, except the wolves which issue from the nearby gully, Zhivago allows himself...
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The last chapter of Boris Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago consists of a cycle of twenty-five poems…. These poems express the quintessence of Zhivago's life experience and the insights he has reached in the course of events described in the prose part of the novel. Whereas in the prose Zhivago's life is narrated and forms a part of a larger context, in the poetry it is he himself who, in his capacity of poet, is the sole "central intelligence." This does not mean that Zhivago's existential attitudes are immediately and directly revealed in the last lyrical chapter, in spite of the formal simplicity of the poems. Their meaning is hidden in certain key images and concepts, and in the very structure of separate poems and the cycle…. The main principle which unifies the Zhivago poems into a cycle containing a closed system of thought, is both structural and philosophical. It may be termed an "alternation of opposites."
The Zhivago cycle is permeated with certain contrasting concepts and images. These are: (a) darkness and light, (b) oblivion and remembrance (or departure and return), (c) sickness and health, (d) autumn and spring (winter and summer), (e) sleep and vigil (awakening), and (f) death and life (resurrection). These opposites which may be further generalized under headings such as "passivity" and "activity," or "disintegration" and "synthesis," are shown in sequences of alternation, either in one poem, or several...
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