The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Prologue” is a poem in free verse, its sixty-six lines divided into six stanzas of uneven length. Written in 1953, shortly after the beginning of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s career, the poem can be seen in retrospect as an introduction to his entire body of work, as the title indicates.

Like many of Yevtushenko’s poems, “Prologue” serves as a vehicle of self-identification. In the very first line, “I am different,” the poet makes a statement that would sound self-evident and redundant had it not been written at the beginning of a new phase in Russian poetry. A new generation, led by Yevtushenko and Andrey Voznesensky, was making its voice heard, replacing the officially approved old guard which had ruled the poetic scene for decades. In that sense, the above declaration is not only prophetic but also courageous, coming immediately after the death of dictator Joseph Stalin.

The poet also declares that he does not fit in—another statement that goes beyond its nominal meaning: He does not fit into the encrusted establishment of prescribed tenets and norms. He does not fit in because “much of everything is mixed” in him—his thoughts, his allegiance, his creeds—which would be acceptable under normal circumstances but was not in his country at that time. He denies that he lacks the “integral aim” for which he is criticized; on the contrary, there is great value in being different and individualistic. He believes that this is...

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Prologue Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

There is no one particular form or device that dominates “Prologue” but rather several, among which is the use of contrast. When he speaks of his frame of mind as well as his emotions, he uses contrast to underscore the complexity of human nature. He is overworked and idle at the same time, indicating that not all exertion is worth undertaking. He thinks he has a goal, yet he finds himself aimless, again pointing to the discrepancy between professed intentions and real aims. He is both shy and rude, nasty and good-natured, which is a more realistic appraisal of human nature than the insistence on either a black or white reading. He sways from West to East and back, alluding to the perennial dichotomy in the Russian mind and soul, to which he is not immune either, but whose expression has been officially suppressed. Finally, he sways from envy to delight, revealing that he is capable of a wide range of emotions. All these contrasts serve one main purpose: to show that in real life things are never black and white, as officials claim, but a combination of stands and moods often opposing one another.

Another device used in the poem, even if sparingly, is imagery. When he finds himself in a mood of exhilaration, the poet feels himself “heaped as high/ as a truck with fresh mown hay.” He would “fly through voices,/ through branches,/ light and chirping,/ and butterflies flutter in my eyes,/ and hay pushes out of cracks.” On another occasion, he would “love to crunch/ cool scarlet slices of watermelon” in August heat. The use of such striking images lends lyricism to Yevtushenko’s poem, thus poeticizing his references to not-so-lyrical matters.

The form of the poem is consistent with the prevalent mode of Yevtushenko’s poetry: free verse, its lines according to their rhythm, often in only a few words, sometimes in a cascading fashion, rhyming frequently but not according to any strict scheme. There is a built-in dramatic tension in the verses which lends itself well to Yevtushenko’s powerful style of recitation.