Yevgeny Yevtushenko Yevtushenko, Yevgeny (Vol. 126) - Essay

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Razvedchiki gryaduschego (poetry) 1952
Tretii sneg: Kniga liriki (poetry) 1955
Shosse entusiastov (poetry) 1956
Stantsiya Zima [Winter Station] (poetry) 1956; originally published in journal Oktiabr
Obeschanie (poetry) 1957
Luk i lira: Stikhi o Gruzii (poetry) 1959
"Babi Yar" (poetry) 1960; originally published in journal Literaturnaya gazeta
Yabloko (poetry) 1960
Nezhnost: Novyii Stikhi (poetry) 1962
Posie Stalina (poetry) 1962
Selected Poems (poetry) 1962
Vzmakh ruki (poetry) 1962
Zamlung (poetry) 1962
I Am Cuba [with Enrique Pineda Barnet] (screenplay) 1963
A Precocious Autobiography (autobiography) 1963
Selected Poetry (poetry) 1963
The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1953–1965 (poetry) 1964
Bratskaya GES (poetry) 1965; also published as New Works: The Bratsk Station and Bratsk Station and Other New Poems
The City of Yes and the City of No and Other Poems (poetry) 1966
Flowers and Bullets & Freedom to Kill (poetry) 1970
Stolen Apples (poetry) 1971
Pod kozhey Statui Svobody [Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty] (verse drama) 1972
The Face behind the Face (poetry) 1979
Ivan the Terrible and Ivan the Fool (poetry) 1979
Yagodnyye mesta [Wild Berries] (novel) 1981
A Dove in Santiago: A Novella in Verse (poetry) 1982
Invisible Threads (poetry) 1982
Ardabiola (novella) 1984
Almost at the End (prose and poetry) 1987
Divided Twins: Alaska and Siberia (essays) 1988
Early Poems (poetry) 1989
Fatal Half Measures: The Culture of Democracy in the Soviet Union (essays, speeches, lectures) 1991
The Collected Poems (poetry) 1993
Ne umira prezhde smerti: Russka, skzka [Don't Die before You're Dead] (novel) 1993
Net let (poetry) 1993
Twentieth Century Russian Poetry: Silver and Steel, an Anthology [compiler and author of introduction] (poetry) 1993

The Economist (essay date 30 January 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Past, Implacable," in The Economist, Vol. 306, No. 7535, January 30, 1988, pp. 75-6.

[In the following essay, the critic draws parallels between Yevtushenko's poetic themes and glasnost, concentrating on "Bukharin's Widow" and "Monuments Not Yet Erected."]

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the modern Russian poet the West knows best, is not only delighted about glasnost; he takes some personal credit for it. Those now trying to push through reforms, he thinks, are probably the same people who went to his poetry readings in the late 1950s and early 1960s in clubs and factories and theatres round the country; the new openness is "an echo of our poetry." And it is poetry, in Mr Yevtushenko's eyes, that will have to drive glasnost on.

He is playing his part with his usual fierceness. Last June, after a meeting with the widow of Nikolai Bukharin, a Bolshevik leader executed by Stalin in 1938, he wrote "Bukharin's Widow", a poem intended to push forward the campaign to rehabilitate Bukharin and demolish Stalin; later last year, in "Monuments not yet Erected", he called for a public memorial to the victims of Stalins's purges. Both poems have just reached the West. When "Monuments" was published in Moscow, in November, it inspired furious letters to Izvestia; one suggested that Mr Yevtushenko should be sent "in good Stalinist fashion" to Siberia—from which he comes, and which has been the subject of much of his most lyrical poetry.

"Bukharin's Widow" has caused an even greater uproar. Although it was submitted to a magazine, Ogonyek, last summer on the understanding that it would appear at once, it has not yet been published. Mr Yevtushenko read it aloud at the end of October at a meeting organised by Ogonyek with the editor on the platform; the editor implied then that he would publish it if Bukharin turned out to have official approval. In November Mr Mikhail Gorbachev mentioned Bukharin in a speech, and there have been several long articles about Bukharin since; but because he is not yet wholly rehabilitated, "Bukharin's Widow" has not yet appeared. This makes Mr Yevtushenko bitter. He was bold enough to write about Bukharin before the others, without any official nod, and he is now in danger...

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Thomas D'Evelyn (review date 8 March 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Soviet Whitman." in The Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1991, p. 10.

[In the following review, D'Evelyn emphasizes the public and social aspects of Yevtushenko's poetic practices evident in The Complete Poems.]

For about 30 years now, Yevgeny Yevtushenko has lit up the international scene with his unique fireworks, a blend of chutzpah, charm, and sheer gall. His most recent coup—a teaching stint at the University of Pennsylvania—brings the career of this Soviet poet to a pinnacle of success. Now the publication of his complete poems in English [The Complete Poems] will provide opportunities for a long look at the basis of his career, a large body of poems of diverse kinds that is at once accessible and beguilingly obscure.

Yevtushenko was 20 when Stalin died. He rode the anti-Stalin wave to prominence, reading in front of thousands and selling tens of thousands of his books of poetry. Even when the inevitable swerve came and Khrushchev attacked modern art, Yevtushenko kept baiting dogmatic bureaucrats and those he would call "comradwhatifers" in a poem. He also spoke in solidarity with Jews. In 1963, the great hammer fell. Yevtushenko was forced to confess his irreparable error. While others, like Solzhenitsyn, chose silence, Yevtushenko got a second wind and was praised by party organs for his civic-mindedness.

This patriot, who has achieved extraordinary freedom of movement, uses the word "international" as a term of highest praise. In one of his earliest and most publicized poems, "Babii Yar," he addresses his audience: "O my Russian people! / I know / you / are international to the core." While this cannot be taken literally, it does confirm usage elsewhere. For Yevtushenko, patriotism and internationalism do not conflict.

Yet the springs of Yevtushenko's art appear to well up from the same source that fed the great Russian novelists of the 19th century. In his introduction to The Collected Poems, 1952–1990, Albert C. Todd says, "Confession, grappling with self-understanding, is the impetus behind most of the poems that are mistakenly understood to be merely social or political. His sharpest attacks on moral cowardice begin with a struggle within his own conscience."

Yevtushenko wrote in 1965: "The first presentiment of a poem / in a true poet / is the feeling of sin / committed somewhere, sometime." His experience in the '60s gave him many opportunities for his brand of poetry. In 1964 he published the big patriotic poem "Bratsk Hydroelectric Station." Although he's silent about the cruel slave labor used to erect the station, in a section entitled "Monologue of the Egyptian Pyramid," he does mention the whip under which the Egyptian slaves labored. The comparison seems obvious and intentional.

Yevtushenko often uses the monologue to speak indirectly about himself. In "Monologue of an Actress," he speaks as an actress from Broadway who can't find a suitable role....

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Rushworth M. Kidder (essay date 8 March 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Perestroika Redefines the Poet's Role," in The Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 1991, p. 11.

[In the following essay, Kidder expresses Yevtushenko's concerns about the state of Russian politics, poetry, and attitudes toward indigenous cultural traditions in the era of perestroika.]

Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a man at a crossroads. Still one of the Soviet Union's best-known poets, he treats each conversation almost like a performance—arms flying to emphasize his points, metaphors abounding in a rush of language, political opinions jostling with personal probings. To talk with him is to see poetry being made while you watch.

But in the past...

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James Finn Cotter (review date Summer 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Truth of Poetry," in The Hudson Review, Vol. XLIV, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 343-45.

[In the following excerpt, Cotter outlines the principal themes of Yevtushenko's poetry in The Collected Poems.]

I once reviewed a sequence of poems about a marriage and divorce. The story was detailed, painful, funny, and fully involving. I later learned that the poet had made up the whole thing. I was delighted. I had been taken in by the author's voice and the entire situation he had imagined. The truth of poetry is not in reciting facts but in creating veracity. I ask a poem to be true to itself, to convince me and to capture my attention with its thought, emotion,...

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Patricia Pollock Brodsky (review date Winter 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Collected Poems 1952–1990, in World Literature Today, Winter, 1992, pp. 156-57.

[In the following review, Brodsky provides a thematic and stylistic overview of the contents of The Collected Poems.]

The new Collected Poems 1952–1990 reflects Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poetic career in microcosm: vast and uneven, sometimes irritating, often appealing, and ever astonishing in its variety. The title is somewhat misleading, since the volume offers only a selection from Yevtushenko's extensive oeuvre, and in addition, several long poems are represented in excerpts only. Yevtushenko's allusiveness can be a problem for Western readers; a...

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Lee B. Croft (review date Winter 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Fatal Half Measures, in World Literature Today, Winter, 1992, p. 159.

[In the following review, Croft vaunts the rich detail and informed perspective of Soviet society in Fatal Half Measures.]

Yevgeny Yevtushenko has been particularly blessed by the glasnost era in Soviet politics. Now he is able to shed every vestige of compromise and live his own legend. He has become a truly uncompromising man, and he has decided to use his fame as a poet and his powers of persuasion for political effect. This is a switch, to be sure. Soviet poets have long attempted, albeit futilely, to remain apart from politics. However, Yevtushenko was elected...

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Jonathan Z. Ludwig (review date Spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Fatal Half Measures, in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 120-22.

[In the following review, Ludwig outlines the principal themes of Fatal Half Measures, revealing their significance to Yevtushenko's poetic works.]

Until the publication of this book [Fatal Half Measures], the title of which comes from the 1989 poem which precedes the introduction, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was known in the English speaking world primarily through translations of his poetry. In her introduction, however, Antonina Bouis, borrowing the opening line of Yevtushenko's "Bratsk Hydroelectric Station," notes "A POET in Russia...

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Maura Reynolds (essay date 6 May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Russian Poet Still Pleases, Provokes," in The San Diego Union-Tribune, May 6, 1993, p. F1.

[In the following essay, Reynolds discusses Yevtushenko's reputation in relation to his politics.]

If it is hard for a poet to become a legend in his time, surely remaining a legend is still harder.

Yet for the last three decades, through shifting regimes and ideologies, Yevgeny Yevtushenko has managed to remain the most famous of Russia's living poets.

From "Babi Yar," the 1961 poem that forced the Soviet Union to confront its anti-Semitism, to a forthcoming novel about the August 1991 coup that eventually launched Boris Yeltsin to...

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Boyd Tonkin (review date 8 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry, in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 6, No. 273, October 8, 1993, p. 42.

[In the following review, Tonkin commends the selections of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry.]

"The history of the Russian and Soviet peoples in the 20th century is a bizarre, fantastic fable that could not have been invented by the wildest imagination." As I read that, the heroic defender of Russian liberty in August 1991 turned his tanks on the parliament. In Moscow's tragic pantomime of role-reversal, each new turn upstages the army of journalists who try to fix in print the chaos of post-communism.

While punditry...

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David Sterritt (review date 10 March 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rediscovered Gems Play Again," in The Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 1995, p. 13.

[In the following review, Sterritt praises the cinematic style of I Am Cuba.]

Confounding the conventional view that the newest movies are the most exciting movies, rediscoveries from bygone years are providing some of this season's most interesting fare.

At the head of the list comes I Am Cuba, a remarkable 1964 picture that literally defies description.

Belatedly brought to theaters by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, who have admirable records of digging out overlooked cinematic gems, the movie has an episodic plot...

(The entire section is 353 words.)

Vancouver Sun (essay date 6 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yevtushenko-Poet of Love and Politics," in Vancouver Sun, May 6, 1995, p. D2.

[In the following essay, the critic profiles Yevtushenko's life and career with respect to the poet's politics and literary themes.]

Nikita Khrushchev called him ungovernable—but left him alone (more or less) to write the scathing poetic outbursts of moral indignation against Communist oppression that made him the voice of his generation.

Envious writer colleagues, watching his rise to fame in Russia and (more importantly) abroad, called him a licensed dissenter—one who sold out to the authorities as a tame tiger in exchange for privilege and foreign travel....

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Anthony Wilson-Smith (review date 12 June 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Russian Roue," in Maclean's, June 12, 1995, pp. 60-62.

[In the following review, Wilson-Smith assesses the literary merits of Don't Die before You're Dead, concentrating on characterization and thematic emotion.]

If Yevgeny Yevtushenko did not exist, another author might have invented him as the central character in one of those sweeping epics that Russian writers adore. The problem would be that, as a work of fiction, Yevtushenko's real life strains credulity. A literary superstar in Russia since his teens, he attracts stadium crowds of up to 30,000 for his poetry readings. He moonlights as an actor, director, screenwriter and political activist. And...

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Alessandra Stanley (review date 12 November 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yevtushenko's Revolution," in The New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1995, p. 53.

[In the following review, Stanley situates Don't Die Before You're Dead in a contemporary Russian literary and social context, addressing the relevance of Yevtushenko's literary art.]

It can take a while, but success and fame in Russia are always punished eventually. Throughout the 1960's, 70's and 80's and even up until the moment the statues of Lenin came tumbling down, Yevgeny Yevtushenko was the Russian "superpoet," worshiped by millions. They packed soccer stadiums to hear him recite his ringing, defiant verse, and in the West he was lionized for his talent and...

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Lesley Chamberlain (review date 17 November 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Don't Die Before You're Dead, in Times Literary Supplement, November 17, 1995, p. 27.

[In the following review, Chamberlain appreciates the vitality and balance of the account of the 1991 Russian putsch in Don't Die Before You're Dead.]

Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a household name in Russia, where his poetry has entered the language. His ability to survive in a position of privilege through four decades of Soviet life has, however, so damaged his moral reputation that a few years ago his enemies burnt him in effigy. It is a mark of his professionalism as a writer that this novel [Don't Die before You're Dead], in which he appears as...

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Lawrence Hansen (review date 11 January 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of the Babi Yar Symphony, in American Record Guide, January 11, 1996, pp. 174-5.

[In the following review, Hansen highlights the musical significance of literary allusions to Babi Yar in an audio recording of Shostakovich's symphonic version of the poem.]

Can there be a body of music more suited than Shostakovich's to sum up the 20th Century? This music is angry, violent, bitter, biting, depressive, ugly, coarse, brutal, sardonic, haunted, enigmatic, gloomy, desperate, terrified, sentimental, brooding, ironic, and always fiercely emotional under the bleak surface. So how can it be that I am willing to suggest that he is our century's...

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Phoebe-Lou Adams (review date February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Don't Die before You're Dead, in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 277, No. 2, February 1996, pp. 113-14.

[In the following review, Adams comments on the vivid narrative techniques of Don't Die before You're Dead.]

Mr. Yevtushenko's exciting novel [Don't Die before You're Dead] about the 1991 attempt to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev's government puts the reader right on the barricades along with the author. It throws together personal observation, real and imaginary characters, actual and fictional events, satire and tragedy, past and present, prose and poetry. The fictional characters include an honest, and therefore disaffected, policeman, an...

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Mary Wade Burnside (essay date 28 March 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Well Versed," in Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette, March 28, 1996, p. 1D.

[In the following essay, Burnside provides an overview of Yevtushenko's literary career in comparison to contemporary and past writers and themes.]

When a friend took Yevgeny Yevtushenko to Babi Yar, the site near Kiev where the Nazis massacred more than 30,000 Jews in two days, he felt enraged. Not only at the thought of what the Nazis had done, but also at how the site stood barren, as if nothing had ever happened there.

Moved by what he saw as a "dumpy ravine" holding "so many bones of innocent people," the Soviet poet picked up a pen and wrote his own monument...

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Ewa M. Thompson (review date 6 July 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Don't Die before You're Dead, in America, Vol. 175, No. 1, July 6, 1996, pp. 34-5.

[In the following review, Thompson pans Don't Die before You're Dead, charging Yevtushenko with obfuscating historical realities.]

Between the cold-blooded planners of Soviet strategy, on the one hand, and those who adamantly refused to participate in the Soviet enterprise, on the other, there has always been enough crawl space to accommodate people like Yevgeny Yevtushenko, a Russian poet and court dissident during the Krushchev and Brezhnev years. His first novel [Don't Die before You're Dead] depicts the ups and downs of Gorbachev's perestroika...

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Allen Linkowski (review date 19 September 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of an audio recording of Babi Yar Symphony, in American Record Guide, September 19, 1996, pp. 202-3.

[In the following review, Linkowski praises an audio recording of Shostakovich's Babi Yar Symphony, detailing its origins in Yevtushenko's poem and its premier performance in 1962.]

Russian Anti-Semitism is not a well-guarded secret. The Czars had their pogroms and the commissars their purges. Even those who were accomplished in the Arts and Sciences were not free from the ever-present shadow of discrimination. When the doors of the prison finally opened, thousands of Jews fled to new lives in the West. This unthinking racism was not...

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Mark Swed (review date 9 November 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Concert Stage Too Small for Morality and Art," in Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1996, p. 1.

[In the following review, Swed assesses the viability of composer Shostakovich's symphonic rendition of Babi Yar, focusing on the musical presentation of the poem's themes and tones.]

Shostakovich's Symphony No. 13 is courageous, moral music. As much a cantata as a symphony, its five movements each set—for bass soloist, male choir and orchestra—a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The first movement is Shostakovich's somber intoning of "Babi Yar," the dissident poet's famous evocation of Soviet anti-Semitism at a time, 1962, when such topics were possible...

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Sidney C. Schaer (essay date 4 April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "In His Own Words," in Newsday, April 4, 1997, p. A6.

[In the following essay, Schaer reports his impressions of Yevtushenko's public reading of his poetry during a visit to Long Island, New York, providing an overview of the poet's career.]

Yevgeny Yevtushenko sat in the library director's office fidgeting with a pile of his poems, and the words he was murmuring were anything but lyrical: "too much, too much … I have to cut it down."

Russia's most famous living poet had come to the Connetquot Public Library in Bohemia, and minutes before he was to appear in the library's community room, he was hastily winnowing out poems from his program...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Van Blema, David. "Yevgeny Yevtushenko." People Weekly (31 March 1986): 70-7, 75-7.

Incorporates Yevtushenko's commentary during a visit to New York City, providing an overview of his life and career.


Bayley, John. "Poet of the Appropriate." Times Literary Supplement (14 June 1991): 3.

Discusses the public nature of Yevtushenko's poetry and essays in The Collected Poems and Fatal Half Measures.

Brown, Clarence F. "Ashes and Crumbs." Times Literary Supplement (7 January...

(The entire section is 211 words.)