Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

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“Sparrow Hills” is a lyric apotheosis of the beauties of nature. Pasternak wrote numerous poems extolling nature, including the other poems in the same collection Sestra moia zhizn (My Sister, Life, 1959), but this poem is among his best, if not the best, in that respect. Some of his most powerful images are to be found in “Sparrow Hills.”

For Pasternak, nature represents the best things that life has to offer. It has a soothing and healing power that is there for the taking. Even the frightening specter of approaching old age cannot diminish the beneficial power of nature, as illustrated by the poet’s dismissal of the “terrible prophecies” concerning old age. All one has to do is to be attentive to the signals coming from nature, and the vital forces in man will be released.

Yet Pasternak is not merely praising the beauties of nature. He is also warning humankind not to be so blind, as, for example, when he asks rhetorically, “Where are your eyes?” The veiled warning of the potential for incalculable loss is contained in the final stanza, where he bestows on nature the power to light up the whole world (metaphorized by “noon”), all holidays (“Whitsunday”), and all motion (“walks”), all of which can be lost if humankind is indifferent or abusive. Life has always been like that, and nothing will ever change it. The woods know it, the clearings know it, the clouds know it—only human beings seem to be blind to it. They can ignore nature, however, only at their own risk: the risk of the loss of vital energy and of the very reason for their existence.

In reality, the poet is addressing himself, hinting at his own negligence of the vital link with nature. As a creative artist, he can gain much more than others from an intense commitment to all reality, when, in the words of Rimvydas Silbajoris, the heat of the poet’s passion melts down the barriers between different categories of phenomena. Therefore, nature, as the depository of these phenomena, represents the best source of creative power, and thus the summer heat and the heat of creation are used by Pasternak as similes.

“Sparrow Hills” was written in the summer of 1917, a few months before the October revolution. Although Pasternak probably was not predicting it, the disintegration of the country and of the fabric of Russian life was already in progress, having started with World War I and continued with the revolution of February, 1917. People were in danger of losing their spiritual compass and of forgetting the basic values that had nourished them so far. Until then, the Russians had been known to be in uncommonly close contact with nature, especially because the vast majority of them lived in rural areas. Seen from that perspective, “Sparrow Hills” seems to express the poet’s plea to his countrymen—and to himself—to revert to communing with nature, as they had done for centuries.

Seen within the entire opus of Pasternak, especially when complemented by the poems of Doctor Zhivago, in which nature also plays a decisive role, “Sparrow Hills” fits into the large mosaic of Pasternak’s poetry as a shining and important tessera.