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.