The Poems of Doctor Zhivago is a collection of twenty-five poems that Boris Pasternak appended to his novel Doctor Zhivago (1958). Some were published individually in various publications; others appeared for the first time when the novel was published in Italian in 1957, in many other languages (including English) in 1958, and in the first Russian edition in Paris in 1959. The significance of the title lies in Pasternak’s insistence on the authorship of Yuri Zhivago, the protagonist of the novel. The poems are not simply appended to the novel without being connected to it. Their most important characteristic is the fact that they correspond to the novel closely and therefore must be considered an organic part of it. In fact, in the original volume, the poems are designated as the final, seventeenth, chapter of the novel.
One-half of the poems are told in the first person, that of Yuri Zhivago. One-fourth are in the form of a third person, often Christ, and an equal number are descriptions by an omniscient observer.
The opening poem of the collection, “Hamlet,” is perhaps Pasternak’s best-known poem. It can also serve as an introduction or prologue to the rest of the collection. The main reason for invoking Hamlet is his famous soliloquy in which he muses about his dilemmas and his indecision in solving them. Pasternak’s Hamlet finds himself in a similar situation except that he is addressing Pasternak’s own predicaments, time, and place. In this sense, “Hamlet” is the most autobiographical of the poems.
The collection follows a pattern of seasons, not chronologically within the novel but harmonically, starting with spring, the most natural symbol of a beginning. The first of the five poems of the spring cycle, “March,” depicts the hustle and bustle of annual renewal, ending with the metaphor of a pile of manure, a source of the nutrients that are necessary for new life. “Holy Week” moves from renewal to resurrection, the foundation of Christianity. As it wakes up and rejuvenates everything, spring also awakens love feelings in the young man (“White Night”). “Bad Roads in Spring” recalls Zhivago’s abduction by the partisans on his way home. The last poem in this cycle, “Explanation,” refers to the three women of Zhivago’s life—Tonya,...
(The entire section is 952 words.)