“With Oars at Rest” is best interpreted as an organic part of the collection My Sister, Life. Pasternak wrote it after the February Revolution of 1917, when the czar was overthrown and democracy instituted for the first time in Russian history. It was short-lived, however. The second revolution, in October of 1917, brought about even more fundamental changes in Russia. Even though My Sister, Life was finished before October, drastic changes were already in the air during the summer, which did not leave any one in Russia indiferent. As it turned out, the interval between the two revolutions transformed everything and energized everybody, especially the intellectuals, even those who were not engaged in politics, such as Pasternak.
Pasternak himself commented on those fateful days and on My Sister, Life in a letter to a fellow poet, Valery Bryusov. He had defended himself against Leon Trotsky’s criticism of his aloofness from social themes by saying that My Sister, Life was revolutionary in the best sense of the word. That the phase of revolution closest to the heart and to poetry—the morning of the revolution, and its outburst, when it returns man to the nature of man and looks at the state with the eyes of natural rightare expressed by this book in its very spirit.
On another occasion, he elucidated further and more directly, “I saw a summer on the earth which seemed not...
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