Yevtushenko, Yevgeni 1933–
Yevtushenko is a Russian poet known throughout the world for his superb dramatic readings of his own work. Although frequently critical of contemporary Soviet society, he remains essentially a regime poet.
Yevtushenko's poetry strikes me as that of a man in whom power and banality of thought and language are inextricably combined…. A bit of a publicist, a bit of a journalist, something of an orator, and certainly a poet, Yevtushenko impresses me as being a virile but impure servant of the Muse.
Derek Stanford, in Books and Bookmen, March, 1972, p. 79.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko is the most universally well known contemporary Soviet poet, and his name has been linked with the post-Stalinist struggle for liberalization within the USSR. Yevtushenko has been attacked vituperatively by Soviet officialdom and yet virtually canonized by Soviet youth. Most westerners who know of his work are familiar with "Zima Station," which reveals the bewilderment of a youth who has discovered the seamy side of life under Communist rule, "Babi Yar," an attack upon anti-Semitism in the USSR, and "Stalin's Heirs," a warning that Russia be ever watchful lest Stalin rise again….
Yevtushenko considers himself to be a civic poet with a mission as well as a message, and he selected the materials for [Stolen Apples], "as a matter of principle." Each of the five sections forms a cycle which reflects the topical nature of Yevtushenko's poetry in general. The first set, entitled "Pitching and Rolling," contains six poems linked formally by the somewhat ubiquitous nature-imagery and thematically by the poet's assertion of his unanimity with the common people and their fate…. Throughout the second set of poems, somewhat nonromatically entitled "Doing the Twist on Nails," the poet meditates upon his amatory experiences. It is significant that from this section Yevtushenko selected the poem which lends appellation to the entire collection. The poet, though pessimistic, views love as a transitory but redemptive experience. In his love poetry, Yevtushenko is perhaps at his best. Here we find his most efficacious use of assonance, alliteration, and his tendency to utilize the stepped line of Mayakovsky. The most lengthy section is entitled "The Torments of Conscience" and recollects some recent historical catastrophes from the rise of fascism to political assassination in the United States. Included also are veiled references to the Stalinist era as well as to contemporary forces of reaction within the USSR. The artist is reminded of his sacred responsibility to expose and root out evil, thus preventing its recurrence.
There follows a series of poems, "Procession with the Madonna," inspired by Yevtushenko's visit to Italy. The rhythms of contemporary Roman life lead the poet to contemplate the essence of existence. Filled with hope and bitterness, he seeks to establish the meaning of life while examining the nature of injustice in the world. The final section of the collection summarizes the poet's impressions of America and is somewhat ironically labeled "Cemetery of Whales." It is here that the unevenness of Yevtushenko's style is most apparent….
Stolen Apples then presents the English speaker with the most comprehensive edition of Yevtushenko's poetry available in this country. The student of Russian should find this collection invaluable since he is readily able to compare the adaptations with the original Russian texts, a feature hitherto scarcely available to those interested in the work of Yevtushenko. We find the poet enigmatic and at times uneven in his poetic output, but he is unquestionably sincere at each given moment.
Delbert Phillips, in Arizona Quarterly, Spring, 1973, pp. 86-8.
I came away from Yevtushenko's American visit sick at heart. He stayed too long, long enough for our suspicions to be confirmed, for the myth of his intellectual independence and moral integrity to be dissipated, for us to see him no longer as the brave young poet speaking out against social-fascist tyranny but rather as a Cold Warrior not yet come in from the cold; to see him as a loser, a man of bad faith, a poseur, a stalking horse for Soviet imperialism. He is not a friend of freedom, nor a true socialist. Allen Ginsberg, in trying to justify the obvious moral ambivalence of the man, said, "He is trying his best to unify the Russian-American Soul under the banner of poesy; in heaven great golden thrones of credit are given for good intentions." Well, Ginsberg is wrong. And Sartre is correct. Intentions count for nothing;… it is precisely Yevtushenko's intentions which are most wrong….
He has begun to blunder, Yevtushenko, to believe his clippings. The pity is that so many American writers abet his career—Updike, Kunitz, Dickey, Ginsberg—that it will be some time before the mediocrity of his poetry and the opportunism and bad faith riddling his life like a fever are publicly acknowledged. But it will come….
It is understandable how he is able to manipulate both Western and Soviet media. He possesses great intelligence and strength and a single-minded attachment to his own advancement. All that might be excusable if he were a passably decent poet, but he is the biggest literary fraud to roll down the pike since Truman Capote. He is brother in feeling and media-manipulation to Erich Segal and Rod McKuen—the latter being the "poet" he most resembles—beyond their shared capacity for lousy writing. Both he and McKuen celebrate mawkish dimestore sensibilities, sensibilities common to fourteen-year-old groupies gushing hotpantsed over television rock stars. There is a distinction: Yevtushenko runs more to melodrama and bathos than McKuen, giving a purple tint to his popular banalities. And he has added one modern refinement to the bag of emotional clichés: he plays the role of poet-as-political-bad-boy, naughtily although safely provocative. And that is why I am discussing him here, because many serious people have taken his publicity stunts for politics and his ladies' verse for poetry.
Dotson Rader, "Yevgeny Yevtushenko: The Cold Warrior as Poet," in Evergreen Review, Spring, 1973, pp. 125-36.
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