The Poem

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Like many of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poems, “‘Yes’ and ‘No’” is a kind of dramatic monologue. The poem is subtitled “From the Verses about Love,” and it can be seen also as a lyric poem. Its eighty-two lines are all in one uninterrupted stanza, lined up in a cascading fashion, a form that Yevtushenko inherited from Vladimir Mayakovsky.

“‘Yes’ and ‘No’” is about a dilemma in which the poet finds himself. He sees himself shuttling like a train for years between the two cities that he has named Yes and No. He is torn between these two cities, and his nerves are strained like the telegraph wires. He first describes the city of No as being loveless, resembling a room upholstered with anguish and full of scowling objects; the sofas are made of spurious material and the walls of misfortune. In such an environment, it is impossible to experience love, let alone get good counsel. Instead, all the persona finds is constant rejection (hence the name of the city). It is so depressing that when the lights are switched off, ghosts in the room dance a somber ballet. It is also extremely difficult to travel away from this “black city of ‘No’.”

In contrast, the city of Yes is like a bird’s song; there are no walls, and the stars beg to make friends. Instead of rejection, acceptance and embrace are offered by lips begging to be kissed, or plucked, as the poet puts it. The herds offer their milk gratis, and there is no suspicion in anyone. Most important, freedom reigns supreme wherever, whenever, and however one wishes to go. Instead of a constant “no,” in the city of Yes even the water whispers an alluring “yes-yes-yes.”

Finally, the poet seems to tire of everything that is given to him on a platter, as it were, in the “multicolored,/ brightly lit/ city of ‘Yes’.” Unable to appreciate things for which he does not exert himself, he concludes that it is better to shuttle between the two cities forever, even if it costs him heartache and strained nerves.

Forms and Devices

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“‘Yes’ and ‘No,’” even though it is written in one stanza, has four distinct parts. In the first, the poet presents himself as a person torn between two cities: the city of Yes and the city of No. In the second, the city of No is described in a few bold strokes. In the third, its opposite is described by means of several telling details. In the concluding part, the poet, being unable to choose between the two cities, returns to shuttling between them instead.

The main devices Yevtushenko uses in “‘Yes’ and ‘No’” are allegory, metaphor, and images. There are two possible interpretations of the allegory. The subtitle “From the Verses about Love” leads one to assume that the poet is alluding to a love affair. The metaphor of a city of No fits the description of unrequited love. The constant rebuke the poet gets from the object of his love precludes any happiness, even a simple welcome. To emphasize the depth of his unhappiness, he paints everything in bleak images: The floors are polished with bile, and objects scowl at him. His plight is personified by ghosts dancing a somber ballet in a dark room.

To contrast this picture of gloom, the poet experiences exactly the opposite in the city of Yes—another metaphor. Here, presumably, his prospects of happiness are much brighter. Fittingly, they are enhanced by cheerful images. Life here is a song of a thrush, and the suffocating room of the city of No becomes an open,...

(This entire section contains 491 words.)

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friendly nest, from which, figuratively, any train, plane, or ship can take him to even wider horizons as soon as he wishes. The multicolored, brightly lit city of Yes reflects the cornucopia of bliss, in contrast to the restricting walls of misfortune of the city of No. At the end, however, even such unrestricted bliss is too much for the poet, and he wishes to return to the constant tension of strained nerves.

Another possible allegory lies in the area of politics. The metaphors of the two cities in “‘Yes’ and ‘No’” may allegorically represent the two states between which the poet is forced to choose. The images in the city of No, in particular, conform to the conditions of daily life in Yevtushenko’s country. A loveless city resembling a room upholstered with anguish, the parquet polished with bile, and silently scowling objects are some of the images that clearly reflect conditions in the poet’s Russian homeland. The inability to travel abroad, particularly, points out the restrictions placed on people, especially on freedom-loving individuals like the poet. On the other hand, the images depicting life in the city of Yes correspond to the life of freedom: no walls, the sky brightly lit by stars, lips that offer themselves, milk flowing in the streets, no suspicion anywhere, and unrestricted freedom to travel. With such distinct images, the poet delineates the two worlds in which the allegory is placed.