Monday, April 26, 2010

Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak was another poet born in Moscow. He did not originally set out to be a writer. He initially wanted to compose music and study philosophy. Pasternak's adult life in the Stalin era of the Soviet Union turned him away from writing his own poetry. He translated the works of famous poets and playwrights, including Shakespeare, for much of his adulthood. Pasternak wrote other things besides poetry such as short stories and a novel, Doctor Zhivago, his most popular and well-known work. In 1958, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but declined to accept it, supposedly under pressure from the Soviet government. Pasternak died in 1960 at the age of 70.


The sun is hotter than the top ledge in a steam bath;
The ravine, crazed, is rampaging below.
Spring -- that corn-fed, husky milkmaid --
Is busy at her chores with never a letup.

The snow is wasting (pernicious anemia --
See those branching veinlets of impotent blue?)
Yet in the cowbarn life is burbling, steaming,
And the tines of pitchforks simply glow with health.

These days -- these days, and these nights also!
With eavesdrop thrumming its tattoos at noon,
With icicles (cachectic!) hanging on to gables,
And with the chattering of rills that never sleep!

All doors are flung open -- in stable and in cowbarn;
Pigeons peck at oats fallen in the snow;
And the culprit of all this and its life-begetter--
The pile of manure -- is pungent with ozone.

"March" caught my attention because of its descriptive quality - the imagery in conjures. Spring is always a time of rebirth and growth. Winter is leaving behind a trace of cold and snow, but, for the most part, the sun dominates the day. Pasternak makes it seem that Spring itself is coming alive on the page. Personifying it as a milkmaid helps to show such an idea, especially since she is "busy at her chores." In a farming community, spring is the time for planting, for getting the fields ready and wiping the dust off the machinery. Pasternak grew up as agriculture changed in Russia. Serfs were free, famine struck on and off again, farming communes developed and gave way in favor of insustry, new machinery and advances in technique came into being. The Soviet Union itself (Russia included) experienced Spring for decades. Gone was the winter of Tsarist Russia. Here was the rebrith of the Russian people and identity, the springtime of the country. Pasternak captures both a literal and a figurative spring in his poem "March," a spring that is new and exciting with its "rampaging" ravine of animals and plants, people and ideas. 


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