Boris Pasternak


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Pasternak, Boris Leonidovich

 

Born Jan. 29 (Feb. 10), 1890, in Moscow; died May 30, 1960, in Peredelkino, Leninskii Raion, Moscow Oblast. Soviet Russian author.

Boris Pasternak was the son of the artist L. O. Pasternak. In 1912 he studied the philosophers of the Marburg school in Germany. His poems were first published in 1913, and his first collection of poems, Twin in the Clouds, appeared in 1914. His next collections, Above the Barriers and My Sister, Life, appeared in 1917 and 1922, respectively, although the latter was mainly written during the summer of 1917. Pasternak joined the literary group Centrifuge, whose membership included N. Aseev and S. Bobrov and which occupied an intermediate position between the symbolists and the futurists.

Pasternak’s poem “The Lofty Malady,” which was written in 1924 and revised in 1928, represented a departure from lyric poetry in favor of the epic genre. In this poem he created an image of V. I. Lenin: “He could direct the course of thought, and hence, the country.” Pasternak devoted two narrative poems to the first Russian revolution: Nineteen Hundred Five, written in the period 1925–26, and Lieutenant Shmidt, written in the period 1926–27. About the latter M. Gorky wrote, “The book is excellent; it is one of those books that are destined to live long” (Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 70, 1963, p. 300). Moreover, of Pasternak’s lyric verse Gorky wrote, “I can only wish that it were still simpler. It often strikes me as being too refined, and the connection between impression and image is often barely perceptible” (ibid., p. 308). Pasternak’s lyric verse is noted for its high degree of poetic sophistication. It is imbued with a sense of the coexistence of nature, poetry, and love in the world— age-old elements that must be discovered and re-created by the author in their pristine, natural state. Pasternak’s poetic career was marked by an insistent striving to reach “the very essence” of his subject and to achieve a simplicity of style that would accurately reflect the profundity and clarity of his vision.

As evidenced in Pasternak’s books of the early 1930’s, contradictions in the poet’s world view arose as he was finding his way in a new reality. In his autobiographical sketch Safe Conduct and in his unfinished novel in verse Spektorskii, both of which were published in 1931, Pasternak expressed his conviction that the revolution was morally correct and that it developed from highly moral sources and goals. However, when opposing proletarian humanism, Pasternak rejected violence as a means of attaining revolutionary goals. At the same time, his book of verses Second Birth, which appeared in 1932, essentially tried to examine the life of the country “without blinders” and to understand what lay ahead: “You are near, distant day of socialism.”

In the early 1930’s, Pasternak translated the verses of the Georgian poets N. Baratashvili, A. Tsereteli, G. Leonidze, T. Tabidze, S. Chikovani, and P. Iashvili. A polyglot, he provided new translations of Shakespeare’s plays, J. W. von Goethe’s Faust, and the poems of H. Sachs, P. Shelley, J. Keats, and P. Verlaine. During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) he wrote poems about the military heroes and other supporters of the war effort, for example, “Death of a Sapper.” His collection of poems On Early Trains appeared in 1943; this was followed in 1945 by another collection, Terrestrial Expanse. In both books the author abandons his earlier poetics and strives for a classical, clear style.

In the 1950’s, Pasternak underwent a profound crisis. His novel Doctor Zhivago expressed a negative attitude toward the Revolution and a lack of faith in social transformation. In 1955, Pasternak admitted that while working on the novel his “own sense of alienation … began to lead [him] more and more astray” (see Istoriia Russkoi sovetskoi literatury, vol. 3, 1968, p. 377). The publication of this novel abroad in 1957 and the decision to award Pasternak a Nobel Prize in 1958 aroused sharp criticism in the Soviet press: Pasternak was expelled from the Writers’ Union and subsequently declined to accept the Nobel Prize.

His last cycle of verses, When the Skies Clear, appeared between 1956 and 1959; here, we sense a new surge of the poet’s creative powers and his striving to overcome tragic loneliness.

WORKS

Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, 2nd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Stikhi. [Introductory article by K. Chukovskii, afterword by N. Bannikov.] Moscow, 1966.
”Liudi i polozheniia.” Novyi mir, 1967, no. 1.
[Letters of B. Pasternak.] Voprosy literatury, 1972, no. 9.
Vil’iam Shekspir v perevode Borisa Pasternaka, 2nd ed., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1950.
Stikhi o Gruzii; Gruzinskie poety. Tbilisi, 1958.
Zvezdnoe nebo: Stikhi zarubezhnykh poetov. [Introductory article by N. Liubimov.] Moscow, 1966.

REFERENCES

”Gor’kii i sovetskie pisateli. Neizdannaia perepiska.” In Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 70. Moscow, 1963.
Tager, E. “‘Izbrannoe’ B. Pasternaka.” Literaturnaia gazeta, Aug. 11, 1966.
Papernyi, Z. “B. L. Pasternak.” In Istoriia russkoi sovetskoi literatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1968. Pages 350–89.
Naumov, E. “O vremeni i o sebe. Maiakovskii i Pasternak.” In his O spornom i besspornom. Leningrad, 1973.

Z. S. PAPERNYI

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