The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Sparrow Hills” is a lyric poem consisting of five stanzas of conventional quatrains, with the regular rhyming scheme abab. The title refers to a hilly section of Moscow situated on a bend of the Moscow River. At the time of the writing of this poem (1917), Sparrow Hills was an area on the edge of Moscow, but now it is completely inside the city limits, near Moscow University. The poem is written in the first person, with Boris Pasternak addressing directly either the reader or himself, now describing the scenery, now expressing his thoughts and feelings or giving a friendly suggestion, even a warning. The poem is set in the summer, which is especially luxuriant in both the open and the wooded countryside. The persona begins by exhorting the unknown listener or reader to submit himself to the charms of nature, to let his breast be kissed as if “under a tap,” for the summer will not always be so gallant and one will not be able to dance to accordion music night after night.

In stanza 2, the poet suddenly switches to musing about old age, saying that he has heard all kinds of terrible prophecies about it—“no face in the grass,/ No heart in the ponds, no God in the trees.” There will be nothing in old age to inspire one toward the stars. After he has conditioned the reader with this mild warning, in the third stanza the poet exhorts him all the more to liven up and partake of this beauty. “Where are your eyes?” he asks...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In a poem centered almost entirely on nature, it is not surprising that “Sparrow Hills” abounds in nature images, representing the main device used here by Pasternak. The images are reinforced by metaphors carefully selected to fit the atmosphere of the poem.

It is also not surprising that, since the poem takes place in the summer heat, most of the images should be connected with water as the source of the most satisfying relief. In the very first line, Pasternak uses the metaphor of a breast being soothed by the kisses of invisible rain, as if under a tap. Further images centering on the refreshing effect of water follow. When the poet exhorts the soul to come to life, he wants it to bubble up in foam, and when clouds, woodpeckers, pine needles, and pinecones are called on to display their “Sunday best,” they cluster in fleecy sprays, inspiring creative thoughts. In the final verse, the poet also hails the soothing power of water in the form of light that descends from the clouds like vapor.

Auditory images are also abundant, as if to underscore the teeming, seething nature of a hot summer. The summer “bubbles up,” everything is astir, and the thoughts evoked by the summer scenery are effervescent. The sound images complement the sight images and vice versa.

Other images deal with spatial delineation between the two worlds—that of the city and that of nature. As revealed in the first three stanzas, the poet emphasizes through water images the beneficial aspects of nature providing relief in the summer heat. Next, he turns to the city by way of the metaphor of the rails stopping at the foot of Sparrow Hills. There is no place for them beyond that point. From there on, it is the pines, the clearings, the holiday spirit as expressed metaphorically by the word “Sunday.”

By constantly shifting his focus between nature and humankind and by combining complementary images and metaphors, Pasternak achieves a certain unity of purpose and creates a compact, well-defined poem.