Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

Thematically, “‘Yes’ and ‘No’” is a relatively simple poem, with two main themes already hinted at in the preceding discussion of the poem as an allegory.

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The first of these is the age-old theme of love between a man and a woman. Considering the fact that Yevtushenko has written many poems concerning this human emotion, love as a primary theme in this poem imposes itself. It is interesting that the lover (most likely a man, although it is not explicit, and does not need to be) does not even mention the object of his love, let alone describe her. He is more concerned about where his love either languishes (in the city of No) or triumphs (in the city of Yes). It is as though both he and his lover are victims of invisible external forces and restrictions that have been imposed upon them. These restricting forces compel the woman to behave like a robot, giving the same negative answer again and again. Thus the rejected lover places all the blame on the circumstances.

For a time, he seems to be compensated in the city of Yes, where everything is the opposite. Yet even though he thinks he has satisfied his emotional needs with other women, instead of enjoying the bliss of the plenty, he returns to the site of his defeat, only to move to easier conquests in the city of Yes when he is rejected again. It is as though he has become a prisoner of his own feelings, unable to extricate himself, resigning himself willingly and knowingly to the indefinite rejection in the belief that what is gained without pain and strain is not worth having.

It is here that the other theme, the striving of an individual for freedom and dignity, offers itself. It should be kept in mind that Yevtushenko has always been a man of politics, not merely a man of letters; for that very reason, every work of his allows at least the possibility of a dual interpretation. Throughout his career he has been locked in a duel with the powers that be. It is therefore conceivable that he is using Aesopian language and allegory to pretend to write about love while in fact the city of No is the portrait of the state in which he has to live, and the city of Yes is the Arcadia of all his dreams, wishes, and hopes. When he has a chance to partake of the delights of the city of Yes, however, he tires of them quickly, undoubtedly remembering that the city of No is his own city, after all, and that it is there that he should work to create conditions like those in the city of Yes. Once again, he becomes a prisoner of his own noble feelings as he resigns himself to a constant shuttling between the two worlds. These two worlds can easily be seen as the East and the West, and Yevtushenko’s oscillation between them as his desire to reside in both worlds with equal right and goodwill.

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