Yevgeni Yevtushenko Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Yevtushenko, Yevgeni 1933–

Yevtushenko is a Russian poet known throughout the world for his superb dramatic readings of his own work. Although frequently critical of contemporary Soviet society, he remains essentially a regime poet. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 3.)

J. M. Cohen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Yevgeny Yevtushenko]writes about metaphysical overtones. The leading theme of his … sequence 'The Bratsk Station' is a dialogue between an Egyptian pyramid and this electrogenerating station in the Siberian tundra. The work Bratsk has a double meaning: it stands both for brotherhood and for the place. Yevtushenko's sequence hymns the Russian achievement and prophesies a spiritual future of vaster achievement, but not of faith; though his ideas are strictly Communist, his expression is individual…. This book contains Yevtushenko's best poetry till now: an individual restatement of a commonplace passionately accepted by his audience. It can and should be read in the West with suspension of disbelief, for it is fine poetry…. (p. 78)

J. M. Cohen, in The Spectator (© 1967 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), July 21, 1967.

Rima Shore

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The actors in Yevgeny Yevtushenko's Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty wait onstage for the audience to enter…. Sitting casually against the large metal backdrop, eighteen youths talk in undertones, chew gum, smoke and stare indifferently or defiantly at the people who are joining them in the hall.

Cramped and restless, the actors are very close to the audience, practically within reach of the first row of seats. This first row is reserved. The audience, settling into place, has the time and proximity to absorb details of set and costume on the shallow stage…. This is American Youth as the Moscow audience might expect it to be, but the actors would probably strike the American viewer as middle-aged and dated, belonging more to the Beat Generation than to today's counter-culture….

The main presence in the theatre is the metal backdrop, which replaces a curtain. All of the action of the performance takes place in front of this backdrop. Seamed together from sturdy sections of flat and corrugated metal, it creates a cold and urban setting. The last two words of a slogan, the WAR, painted in large, white English letters at the extreme left, leave to the imagination the beginning of the slogan and the extension of the metal curtain beyond the dimensions of the stage and theatre. (p. 138)

What we see and hear on stage is a series of enactments of political events or of events that are portrayed as central to the American Experience. (p. 139)

[Violence] alternates with less devastating skits. Some seem irrelevant, like a barker selling lottery tickets. Others strike the American viewer as on target, such as when a Gallup pollster, using the rope as a microphone, puts questions to Americans on the street who are handily portrayed by the four skulls….

When the students play themselves, Yevtushenko's treatment is sympathetic, and the youth movement is depicted as a helpless,...

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A. Lawton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The general reader as well as the specialist in Russian literature will find [Le betullenane] extremely valuable. Although Yevtushenko is probably the Soviet poet best known abroad, several of the poems included in this collection are published for the first time outside of the Soviet Union….

Yevtushenko, caught between [poles of eradicated traditions and anticipated phenomena], voices the "Soviet" anguish of the individual, whose ideological opposition to the old beliefs is frustrated by the absence of new positive values. In the search for new values, he alternately rejects and accepts official Soviet dogmatism and the pseudo-ideals of Western consumer society. This suffered uncertainty, far from being the reflection of a calculated compromise (as it has often been considered), reveals the full measure of his moral and artistic integrity. As a "dwarf birch" (the image which gives the title to the collection) tenaciously rooted in its inhospitable, frozen ground, he commits himself to life, even if its significance may forever remain a mystery. (p. 805)

A. Lawton, in Books Abroad (copyright 1975 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 49, No. 4, Autumn, 1975.

Vickie A. Babenko

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Many contemporary Soviet poets write about women … but Evtushenko's poems on the subject are somewhat different from those of other poets. While most of them present women in love this is a minor subject for Evtushenko…. His female characters have specific qualities; they are earthly creatures; their feelings are intense and real. Evtushenko does not distance them with abstract associations. At the same time his poetic "I" is less personally involved in the action than those of poets like Voznesenskii. Like Voznesenskii, however, he sees women as victims of a cruel fate who are to be pitied or admired. Yet each of them is an unique human being, and there is always a certain tragic tone about each one. Although his...

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L. B. Croft

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

For the specialist, there is patently little point in acquiring [From Desire to Desire]. It is obviously intended for those romantic but uninitiated poetophiles who have somewhere heard of Yevtushenko and seek another name to drop in literary conversation. To this purpose it is well designed. (p. 642)

L. B. Croft, in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 4, Autumn, 1977.

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Blake Morrison

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Love Poems cannot be regarded as one of [Yevtushenko's] major publications: only half a dozen poems have not appeared in translation before…. But it is part of the same venture to divert attention from public works such as "Babiy Yar" towards the more personal, though never hermetic, love lyrics….

Recent poems suggest the development in Yevtushenko of a dutiful and at times tiresomely moralistic persona—"Where there is no love, how foul and disgusting / to copulate", "Oh bless the family, dear Lord, the crown of all mankind"—but it would be wrong to expect a complete, "Dover Beach"-like withdrawal from public concerns. (p. 846)

Blake Morrison,...

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