Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Like many of Yevtushenko’s poems, “’Yes’ and ’No’” is in the form of a dramatic monologue. It represents his dilemma in having to shuttle like a train between two cities, “Yes” and “No,” causing his nerves to be strained like telegraph wires. The city of No is loveless and without help, inhabited by ghosts and scowling objects. In contrast, the city of Yes is like a bird’s song; there are no walls, and even the stars are begging to be friends, the lips offer themselves to be kissed, and the cows provide free milk. At the end, however, the poet tires of this land of plenty, unable to appreciate things given to him gratis. He would rather continue to shuttle between the two cities.
“’Yes’ and ’No’” is a simple poem on the surface, but it harbors some allegories. The poem is subtitled “From the Verses About Love,” and this subtitle offers a possible explanation of the allegory of unrequited love in the city of No and the allure of fulfilled love in the city of Yes. The poet uses apt images to characterize the difference between the two emotional states. The decision not to opt for the logical choice of happiness and bliss and to travel between the two instead corresponds to a choice that is made by the heart and not by reason. Another possible allegory is of a political nature, the city of No representing the bleak state of affairs in the poet’s country and the city of Yes the promise of a better life elsewhere. In this connection, the inability to travel abroad is of particular relevance.
The fact that Yevtushenko remained a man of politics, as well as a man of letters, supports this basic dichotomy, allowing for various interpretations of his works. What should not be ignored, however, is that his first love and avocation was always literature and that his poems are, first, works of art.