Yevgeny Yevtushenko World Literature Analysis
The beginnings of Yevtushenko’s literary activities passed in the spirit of youthful rebelliousness and of the Russian poetic tradition. That tradition, however, was not so much the classical one of Alexander Pushkin, Aleksandr Blok, or even Boris Pasternak, with their heavily rhymed and regulated poetry; it was, rather, the tradition of modern, free-verse poetry, which was, by and large, absent from Russian poetry until the middle of the twentieth century. The notable exception was Vladimir Mayakovsky, with whom Yevtushenko has much in common, including the powerful, dramatic way of publicly reading one’s poetry.
From the very beginning, Yevtushenko believed that he was bringing something new to Russian poetry. It was not so much the dissatisfaction with the existing state and the ensuing rebelliousness as it was his belief that the torch had been passed and that the new generation should be taking its rightful place. Imbued with the age-old conviction that poets hold a special position in Russian society, he asserted himself forcefully even in his very first poems. In one of his earliest, “Prolog” (“Prologue”), for example, he declares in the very first verse, “I am different,” speaking not only for himself but for the entire generation. His early poems also express his love and respect for nature, faith in his people and love for his land, a strong belief in himself, and a confirmation of his faith in the original aims of the revolution, which have been corrupted and are in need of reconstitution. A strong lyrical bent and a desire to experiment with poetic devices, including rhyme, complete the picture of the young Yevtushenko.
As he matured in the course of only a few years during the changes in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death, Yevtushenko turned to wider themes and concerns. His political activism became more prominent, as evidenced in poems such as “Stantsiya Zima” (“Zima Junction”), “Babii Yar,” “Stalin’s Heirs,” and “Conversations with an American Writer.” He displayed a willingness to state his position openly and courageously and to fight for his beliefs. By becoming a fighter for his ideals, he identified with one of the oldest traditions of Russian poets—to speak out as the conscience of the people in the absence of other democratic institutions. This attitude, however, had its price: Yevtushenko has often been labeled a topical poet lending his talent to social causes that came to his attention, as illustrated by a poem that he wrote on the spot upon visiting the bombed office of political activists in New York. It is difficult, therefore, to ignore the fact that his political activism and opposition to Soviet authorities contributed heavily to his popularity at home and abroad. His critics, however, accused him of flirting with the authorities and defending the revolution.
Yevtushenko has expressed his resentment over being labeled primarily a political or topical poet. He has frequently pointed out his faith in poetry as a noble endeavor and in the integrity of poets, who should be interested in social issues but should also express high emotions and pursue lofty aesthetic goals. Indeed, in a great number of his poems, he pursues exactly such goals. He conducts a running dialogue with Russian and foreign poets about the mission of poetry. He registers his poetic reactions to sights and sounds on his numerous world travels. He writes poems about everyday life, such as about women burdened with life’s miseries, as in “Ne ponimaiu” (“I Don’t Understand”) and “A Tie Salesgirl”; his mother’s contribution in shaping his character, as in “Ia pozdravliaiu vas, mamma” (“I Congratulate You, Momma”); the vagaries of love, as in “Zrelost liubvi!” (“Love’s Maturity?”); the simple joys of life, in “Berry-Picking”; or an absentminded old professor whose wife has left him, in “Okno vykhodit v belye derevia” (“Schoolmaster”). His variety of themes is one of Yevtushenko’s most appealing characteristics. As he states in “Prologue,” “I want art to be/ as diverse as myself.”
In another poem (“Poetry”), he says of poets, “They slander him from left/ and right,/ but he looks down on the liars with contempt.” His courage has stood him in good stead throughout his career.
First published: “Prolog,” 1957 (collected in The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko 1953-1965, 1965)
Type of work: Poem
“Prologue” can be seen as an...
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