Boris Pasternak

Poems by Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak is one of the world’s truly great poets. “And the whole world was his inheritance, and he shared it with everyone,” Anna Akhmatova wrote about him. Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote that one’s attitude toward poetry should he like the attitude toward the woman described in Pasternak’s brilliant quatrain

Like any rep Romeo hugging his tragic part,
I reeled through the city rehearsing you.
I carried you all that day, knew you by heart
From the comb in your hair to the foot in your shoe.

As the son of a famous painter, Leonid Pasternak, the young poet was brought up in a circle of refined intelligentsia. He composed music under Scriabin’s tutelage and completely mastered several foreign languages. He studied at the University of Marburg.

Among foreign poets, probably Rainer Maria Rilke exerted the greatest influence on him. Among his Russian contemporaries, Mayakovsky held the greatest attraction for Pasternak; their complex friendship was based on mutual attraction and mutual repulsion. If Mayakovsky moved from his internal world steadily outward, Pasternak did the reverse. Initially linked with the Futurists, Pasternak steadily distanced himself from them, for literary strife was not part of his nature. But Mayakovsky always remained the first, unbetrayed love of Pasternak’s youth, and it was Pasternak who, on Mayakovsky’s death, wrote the finest poem in his honor, asserting, “Your shot was like Etna in the foothills of cowards.” Pasternak was reproached for lack of respect for Mayakovsky when, following Stalin’s famous pronouncement “Mayakovsky was and remains the best and most talented poet of our times,” Pasternak wrote, “Mayakovsky began to be planted everywhere like potatoes.” But Pasternak was really using this bitter phrase to defend his fellow poet from the rash of newly spawned vulgarizers.

A characteristic trait of Pasternak’s early work was its dense saturation with poetic elements of striking metaphors and elusive syntax. His poems do not resemble usual poetic substance but rather its quintessence. The scope and palpability of the world in Pasternak’s works appear almost stereoscopic, as branches wet with dew reach out from the page and gently brush the reader’s eyelashes.

The line “And what century have we got out there, my dears?” has frequently been cited by those who accuse Pasternak of standing outside his own time. His poetry always seems somehow to separate itself from time, yet in reality it is thoroughly historical. Pasternak painted powerful historical canvases in “The Year 1905” and “Lieutenant Schmidt.” In his best-known work, the novel Doctor Zhivago, he paints a portrait of a member of the Russian intelligentsia who involuntarily finds himself caught between the two fires of the Civil War. People like Zhivago did exist, and the story of the Civil War would be incomplete without their depiction. Unfortunately, however, the novel itself, unpublished in the USSR, was caught between two fires. When Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1958, the Writers Union of the USSR condemned Doctor Zhivago as an anti-Soviet work and excluded him from its ranks; under more dire threats, he was forced to decline the award. Thus Pasternak, a morally pure person for whom political speculation was unimaginable, became its innocent victim.

Now justice to Pasternak’s name has been reestablished in his own country, with his poetry published in editions of many thousands and his novel Doctor Zhivago published in the pages of Novyi mir, the most prestigious literary journal and the official organ of the Writers Union that had excluded him. (The order of exclusion was finally rescinded in 1987.) Pasternak was also a brilliant translator of Goethe, Shakespeare, Rilke, and Georgian poetry, an activity he pursued, as did Akhmatova and others, rather than risk writing his own poetry during the long harsh night of Stalin’s reign.

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in german

Boris Pasternak, gedichte (deutsch)

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in french

Boris Pasternak, des poèmes (français)

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in spanish

Boris Pasternak, poemas (español)

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in italian

Boris Pasternak, poesie (italiano)

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in portuguese

Boris Pasternak, poemas (português)

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in hungarian

Borisz Paszternak, versek (magyar)

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in dutch

Boris Pasternak, gedichten (nederlands)

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in finnish

Boris Pasternak, runoja (suomi)

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in romanian

Boris Pasternak, poezii (română)

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in bosnian

Boris Pasternak, pjesme (bosanski)

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in norwegian

Boris Pasternak, dikt (norsk)

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