I need to do an analysis of "The Poems of Yuri Zhivago" and show the connections between them and Book One. I need help. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak The new 2010 translation by Richard...

I need to do an analysis of "The Poems of Yuri Zhivago" and show the connections between them and Book One. I need help.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

The new 2010 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An analysis of all Yuri's 25 poems, occupying Book Two, Part 17 of Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago (translated anew by Pevear and Volokhonsky), is a very large task and perhaps a daunting one. What eNotes can do, in accord with our aims and in keeping with our limited format, is to help you see how to go about undertaking analysis of the 25 poems and to help you begin to see how the poems relate to the text that precede them, specifically, in this case, Book One.

Start, of course, by reading both the poems and Book One of the text. In the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation, Book One covers 300 pages ending with Part Seven: On the Way, which describes events as Yuri and Tonya relocate from Moscow to the Yuriatin area following Yuri's two years of war. Incidentally, this is one of the things that is different between the 2010 Pevear-Volokhonsky translation and the original 1958 Max Hayward and Manya Harari translation in which Book/Part One covers 130 pages and ends after Lara and Pasha scare off robbers, repack their bags and catch the train.

Commonalities Between Text and Poems

The next step in accomplishing your analysis and connection task is to find commonalities in both (find things they have in common). Some commonalities you will notice are that both are focused around:

  1. nature
  2. religiousness
  3. death
  4. belonging and returning

Pasternak as a Writer

Your next step is to consider what you know of Pasternak as a writer. Since you are reading a translation, this task is a little difficult because different translators bring different perspectives and objectives to the task of translating. Ann Pasternak Slater--Pasternak's niece and a lecturer on his work at St Anne's College, Oxford--has some interesting things to say on the subject of capturing the writer in translation. Of the 2010 Pevear-Volokhonsky translation, her summary comment is that the translation is "Not inaccurate, and lacking everything."

Nonetheless, it is possible to consistently know some things about Pasternak as a writer regardless of the translation being read (and regardless of its objectives). Specifically, we know that Pasternak is a metaphorical, even a metaphysical writer.

As a metaphorical writer, he introduces metaphors for his characters, his plot, his themes and his settings (settings for Pasternak often are important elements of character development). As a metaphysical writer, he introduces and discusses (either through the narrator or through character dialogue) metaphysical ideas similar to the nature of truth, the existence of intrinsic characteristics, the possibility of universal realities, the opposition of determinism and fate and free will, the nature of human existence, the limits and scope of time (temporality) and other such metaphysical questions.

We also know Pasternak places a specific emphasis on nature and the settings of actions, events, and experiences of characters. What's more, certain characters are as acutely aware of setting as Pasternak, through his narrator, is himself, particularly Yuri who notices all the nature/setting elements Pasternak sets forth (not all characters notice for themselves what a narrator may describe, as is true in Conan Doyle's White Company).

An illustration of all these points--metaphor, metaphysical ideas, nature and settings--is apparent in the quote from when young Yuri went to visit a family friend in the countryside at Duplyanka:

The stagnant scent of flowers wandering in the air was nailed down motionless to the flowerbeds by the heat. ... Yura kept turning right and left. Over the lawns in an auditory hallucination hung the phantom of his mother's voice; it sounded for him in the melodious turns of the birds and the buzzing of the bees. ... Yura felt more and more sad. He wanted to cry. He fell to his knees and dissolved in tears.
   "Angel of God, my holy protector," Yura prayed, "set my mind firmly on the true path ...."

Metaphor: In a deeper series of metaphors than I can include here, the metaphor(s) here compare Yuri's motherless life to the "stagnant scent of flowers ... nailed down motionless." The continuation of this metaphor, the idea this one flows into, compares his psychological state to a "ravine" full of "damp darkness" and "carrion." 


  • stagnant: no moving current; unpleasant smell
  • ravine: deep, narrow mountain gorge with steeply inclining sides
  • carrion: dead animals decaying in the sun

Metaphysical: Pasternak raises and Yuri experiences the metaphysical question of the continuance of the essence of human beings: Does the essential element of a human being continue after death, or does each human become but carrion?

Nature/Setting: Nature is meticulously noticed by Yuri and reported by Pasternak through his narrator. The setting reveals deep aspects of Yuri's experience, psychological state and present-moment emotional state.

To return our thoughts to the commonalities between text and poems, this passage also discloses the commonalities apparent in the topics of death, religion, belonging and returning as well as the nature/setting commonality.

Death: Yuri perceives the "phantom" of his dead mother then plunges into a ravine harboring "carrion."

Religion: Yuri falls on his knees and calls out to "Angel of God" pleading for his mother who "can't" be a "sinner," then swoons in "lost consciousness" because he "could not bear" the "heartrending anguish."

Belonging and Returning: Yuri senses that "in the melodious turns of the birds" he hears his mother's voice "calling him somewhere." He belongs to her and she to him, and he feels she is calling him somewhere where there is a returning to what once was between them.

Knowing Book One Contents

Your next task is to familiarize yourself with a summation of the contents of Book One so that you will recognize plot, character, or setting elements present in the poems also; so you will recognize commonalities between the text and the poems.

Book One

Yuri's Youth

  • Yuri's mother's death
  • Belonging with Uncle Nikolai Nikolaevich
  • Connection of mother and uncle with nature

Yura's Adulthood

  • Yuri's education 
  • Yuri's introduction to Lara
  • Yura's medical degree  (Yuri's name and patronymic, Yura Andreevich, used after he becomes a doctor)
  • Yura's marriage to Tony and the birth of their son
  • Yura as a doctor in the war
  • Meeting Lara again
  • Living as a war doctor for two years
  • Comforting Tonya who believes she has lost him
  • Confession of attachment to Lara ("Oh, no," she says and burns a blouse she is ironing)
  • Returning to Moscow on the train sharing a car with a deaf-mute (metaphorical for Yura's conflicted state torn between Lara and Tonya)
  • Reentering Moscow
  • Flight from Moscow with Tonya, Sasha and Evgraf to the countryside near Yuriatin

Analyze Poems

Now you are in a position to analyze poems and find how they connect to plot, characters, themes, settings or other commonalities in Book One. One starting place is with the poem "Wind." (Unfortunately, I can access only the Hayward-Harari translation of "Wind"; the translations are materially the same.)

Wind [Hayward-Harari]
I have died, but you are still among the living,
And the wind, keening and complaining,
Makes the [dacha] and the forest rock---
Not each pine by itself
But all the trees as one,
Together with the illimitable distance;
It makes them rock as the hulls of sailboats
Rock on the mirrorous waters of a boat-basin.
And this the wind does not out of bravado
Or in a senseless rage,
But so that in its desolation
It may find words to fashion a lullaby for you.

We have two clues to use for connecting "Wind" to Book One: dacha, or country house, and lullaby. If we discount a metaphorical use of lullaby to represent one of the two women Yura loves, lullaby tells us that this is a poem written to his son. This establishes a general time reference pinning its writing date to after Tonya gives birth to Sasha. We know that Yura barely saw his son as an infant because his transfer to the front-line occurred immediately after the baby's birth. We also know that Sasha is three when they all move from Moscow to the country estate outside of Yuriatin, significant for being Lara's home town and the place she moved to after marrying Pavel. The dacha gives us a more specific time reference: The poem was written at a time when Yura was living with his family at the country dacha.

Thus, the poem "Wind" connects to the end of Book One and reflects Yura's experiences as a stranger-father after the war and after they have left Moscow: It was written at a time when Yura was experiencing the dislocation--physical, emotional, psychological--that follows war: the wind in the poem is a metaphor for Yura's personal experiences of war and fatherhood and for his psychological state. He, like the wind, is rocked by the strange turns his life has taken and, like the wind, he is not in a rage but rather feels the desolation of his life [desolation: emptiness, loneliness, anguish, misery], and, like the wind, he tries to find a way to connect soothingly with his infant son.

"Wind" embodies the commonalities of nature and of belonging and returning. It addresses the metaphysical question of existence. Yuri writes "I am dead" even though he is living summoning up the metaphysical question of the meaning of existence. It projects a setting that reveals the development of the character and reveals his inner conflicts.   

Two More Poems Connected to Book One

Two other poems that lend themselves to a connection to Book One. "A Final Talk," poem 6, can be connected to Yura's return to Moscow after the war:

Life has come back as causelessly
As once it was strangely broken off.
I am here on the same old street
As then, that summer day and hour.

"Summer in Town," poem 7, can connect to Yura's new life in Moscow, after the war, with his war-estranged wife Tonya, "A woman in a helmet."

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Doctor Zhivago

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