What is the meaning of the poem "Summer" by Boris Pasternak? What would be an analysis of the poem?
Here is a copy of the poem incase you cannot find it.
Thirst strains for butterflies,
For moths, for household stains.
All round are woven memories
Of honey, mint and summer.
No clocks chime, but the ringing flails
From dawn to early dusk
Assert their dreams of stings
In this enchanted weather.
The sunset strolling leisurely
Yields to the cicadas,
While stars and woods surrender
Power to gardens and kitchens
The moon spreads its long beams
Or vanishes in deep shade.
Softly, softly the night shines
Flowing shyly from cloud to cloud.
More from their dreams than from roofs,
More in forgetfulness than shyness
The smell of rain shuffles to the door
Where the air smells of wine corks,
The smell of dust, the smell of grass.
And should we pay them tribute,
The smell of gentry’s teaching was
Of brotherhood and freedom.
The councils met in villages
You over there, did you attend them?
Bright with wood sorrel hung the days
When the air smelled of wine corks.
It is essential to read Pasternak's poem as an expression of the speaker's experience in history and to understand that the speaker is a member of the privileged class (this poem is similar to but not taken from those in "The Poems of Doctor Zhivago," the final section of Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak).
An analysis of this melancholy poem shows that:
- the poem is describing a present-life day.
- the last seven lines recall by-gone day.
- the tone is morose, gloomy, regretful.
- the mood is despondent, discouraged.
The first line established the tone and mood with "thirst" (a human craving) straining, in strenuous effort, toward "butterflies," "moths" and "stains." These are not what human thirst needs. These are what human thirst has been forced to resort to by "flails" (a tool for beating wheat chaff) and "stings." The opening word "thirst" is a metaphor, from a deeply metaphorical writer, for inner human needs (peace, freedom, brotherhood, tranquility, etc).
The smell of the rain, personified as distracted and distant ("More from dreams ... / More from forgetfulness"), creeps to the door leading to the interior "Where the air smells of wine corks." The smell of wine corks is deeply meaningful and symbolic representing the full luxury of life: here, the smell of wine corks is confined within doors; good living is in a small place within doors.
In a retrospective recollection, it is suggested, then, that if (shown by a strongly conditional "should") a tribute were to be paid to the gentry of old (giving tribute to the gentry, the upper class, may be a poor idea in an anti-gentry communist political system), it would be noted that their teaching was "brotherhood and freedom." The painful basis of the poem comes out when here it is subtly confessed that the days of the "gentry's teaching," with the great outdoors "bright with wood sorrel," is "When the air smelled of wine corks."
Contrast this with the earlier confined and confining "Where the smells of wine corks"--with "smelled" being the by-gone past and "smells" being the present-life moment--to see that in the past (in the speaker's perspective), the entire world smelled of luxury and the good life, while in the present only the confined inner spaces smell of good living; now good living is confined and done in private. This is a melancholy poem of regret.
The principal meaning of the poem "Summer", by Russian writer Boris Pasternak, is a celebration of the natural beauty of summer and the attendant sights and sounds and the freedom at the time that was all a part of the whole picture. Pasternak speaks of brotherhood and freedom, so, in essence, this is where the heart of the analysis of this poem begins.
Boris Pasternak, who also wrote the acclaimed novel Doctor Zhivago, in this poem describes a time of intense summer beauty. He speaks of memories, and how they are all around and how these pleasant memories of a fine summer satiate the longings of human beings:
All round are woven memories
These are memories that were ‘made’, specific memories that endure because of the commitment to living life to the full in that summer, with the aforementioned brotherhood and freedom in the air, which gave a purpose and a positivity to this time, which Pasternak calls a time of ‘enchanted weather’.
The everydayness of life is celebrated in this poem. The natural surroundings give up their power, so-to-speak, to the tasteful beauty of nice ‘gardens and kitchens’. Therefore, everyday elements in fact have a power of their own in their basic simplicity and practicality. They offer a foundation and a place to refresh oneself from the sometimes harsh aspects of life.
Boris Pasternak in this poem also speaks of humbler times when ideas and ideologies and more were discussed in good faith in villages by the local councils. Any analysis of this poem must include this allusion to this time of cooperation, when things were discussed over wine on these days that are now a memory.
The conclusion is that these days were a highlight in the narrator’s life. There was a brightness to them and a belief that things were being done for the benefit of all in the village community - all following a common purpose and enjoying the natural beauty around them in the process.
Pasternak is a poet who focuses in especially on the detail of any scene. With "Summer," he is focusing on the various memories of a past summer--one where life was simpler, where people were closer to nature, before the Russian Revolution occurred. He's painting a picture of better times.
The images of simplicity and nature can be seen with the memories of "honey" and "mint," while the sunset is "strolling leisurely" with seemingly no worries. These are contrasted with images of cruelty and pain, representing the current, post-Revolution world--there are "ringing flails" and "dreams of stings" which permeate these the calm and natural details. One can see the setting in the mention of the "gentry" and what they taught ("brotherhood and freedom")--beliefs that could have been espoused in pre-Revolution days.