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By John Helmer, Moscow

Russian poets are hardly the only ones to think they are irresistible on account of what comes out of their mouths.

The two I’ve known best, Yevgeny Yevtushenko (lead image, right) of Irkutsk and Ted Hughes of Yorkshire, were irrepressible on the point, which helps account for some of the fatuities in their poems.

It’s well-known that of the ancient Latin greats, Ovid had a laughably large nose. I suppose Catullus must have been just as ugly for his inamorata, Clodia Metelli, not to fall for his compositions. So it seems the more beautiful the poetry, the uglier the poet. Byron thought himself the exception, but wasn’t. Cavafy didn’t think so, but was.

Yevtushenko, the Russian poet who was more popular in his day than any other before or since, was quite sensitive about his nose.

When he was a teenager he “discovered in my nose if not ugliness at least some obvious duckliness. For a while I almost stopped writing poetry and wasted a huge amount of time manipulating no less than two mirrors investigating the configuration of my nose with the fragile hope that this, not the best part of my face, would improve as I asked in my prayers. But, my nose tragically refused. Having lost all hope for it I began step by step to try to adjust to my own profile. It was an additional waste of time. Only when someone’s shy lips whispered three magic words to me — and you can guess what they were — did I finally forget about this nasal problem. Until this moment I live in the pleasant illusion that I am not so ugly as to have to commit suicide.”

By the time he said that in 1994, Yevtushenko, who of course had read Gogol’s story of the man whose nose ran away from him, was kidding. Yevtushenko knew very well how he attracted women. He also knew that by then it wasn’t the poems that did the trick. Also, by then he had come to the realisation there was no place for him, nose or poetry, in the Russia which had succeeded the Soviet Union. So he moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is where he was when he died aged 84 on April 1, 2017.

He was taken to Moscow for burial. Representing the state at the funeral was Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the most powerful figure in the country after the President Vladimir Putin. What Yevtushenko would have resented about that was that Putin didn’t appear in person.

For his burial Yevtushenko scored another career goal. His grave is beside Boris Pasternak’s, a writer and poet Yevtushenko thought, and said publicly, was an inferior and a mediocrity.    In the end, Russian politics has reduced the two of them to the same level in the ground – except that as he went down,  Yevtushenko demonstrated he understood Russian politics much better, and the discreditable role the Russian intelligentsia usually plays —  before the Revolution, during Stalin, during Yeltsin, nowadays.  Yevtushenko said so; Pasternak didn’t dare.

It was an accidental encounter with Yevtushenko in the spring of 1966 which started me on the road to Moscow.  

I didn’t intend the encounter. For the decades following, I didn’t think of going to Moscow, and didn’t. At our next encounter in March 1994 Yevtushenko was living in Tulsa; I was living in Moscow.

We met at the funeral of a mutual friend, a well-known Soviet surgeon. By then I had learned, not only what had set Yevtushenko apart from, at war with, and a true member of the Soviet intelligentsia. I had also learned why Boris Yeltsin’s putsch of 1991 isolated Yevtushenko for good; put an end to public poetry; and in due course destroyed even pop music. Yevtushenko worked out that the old art of the spirit, as he had performed it for thirty years, 1960 through 1990, was in vain.  

But in 1966, I was a 19-year old in a provincial town at the nether end of another empire.  I was unconfident of what I knew and didn’t know about Europe, especially about Russians. At the time I was struggling with a final-year thesis on colonial politics in the 1890s, so the Russians were about as irrelevant as could be. Why then I decided to attend Yevtushenko’s performance – advertised in an indoor stadium usually reserved for boxing matches and rock n’ roll bands – I can’t remember. In 1966 I hadn’t read his poetry nor understood a word of Russian. But what happened that evening in Festival Hall – capacity 5,445, attendance 6,000 – was shocking. That’s to say – Yevtushenko was electrifying. I dropped the story of colonial politics, and began work on Russian politics, and Yevtushenko’s place in it at the time. The result still didn’t lead me to Moscow. But it did give me a glimpse of one thing I would never have begun to learn if it hadn’t been for him. That is how to project resistance as ambiguity; make uncertainty in the face of power turn into courage;  and inspire a stadium full of people who don’t understand exactly what you are saying, but cheer you and themselves on regardless.

This piece about Yevtushenko was the first I published in a mainstream literary magazine. In mid-1966 I didn’t know it was an anti-Soviet tribune paid for by the Central Intelligence Agency. That was revealed a year later. But I must have known enough at the time I was writing to improve my chances of publication by inserting the bellwether term, “totalitarian”. Used twice – the second after the qualifier, “I imagine”.  Too bad  even that much ambiguity, I mean Yevtushenko’s, has gone now.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at Yevtushenko’s bier, Moscow, April 11, 2017.  

The critical response to Yevtushenko’s poetry has something about it of a situation with which we are all familiar: a man is wandering in the desert. He desperately needs water. On the horizon he thinks he sees shapes which resemble trees, and believing that water is near, he sets off happily in that direction.

We, however, know that what the man imagined he saw might have been a mirage. We know that the need to find water might have been so great as to be projected into a ‘discovery’ of symbols of it, like the shapes on the horizon.

In a similar way I’m suggesting that the critics of Yevtushenko’s poetry (in The Bulletin and other places) have projected symbols of their own needs into what may well be a mirage. What the needs are that create the critical projection I speculated about elsewhere; now I want to examine more closely the mirage itself and see what interpretations Yevtushenko ‘s poetry allows.

The first observation that needs to be made is that the latest works (Bratsk Station, and The City of Yes and The City of No and Other Poems) are qualitatively different from the earlier poems. The nature of this difference, and the very fact of a development over time, are not things which the Australian critics have felt worthy of a mention: Charles Higham discussed only the Penguin edition of earlier poems and R. F. Brissenden discussed only the later ones; if there were any connection or worthwhile distinction between the two, then it must have escaped them.

I would like to suggest that there have in fact been three periods (at least) in Yevtushenko’s poetic development, and these are characterized by quite different approaches, not only to the problems of poetic form (about which, without a knowledge of Russian, I can say very little and that at second hand) but to social problems, of the relation of the poet to his society and of individual values.

You may object that a knowledge of Russian is essential to any involved analysis and interpretation of the poetry; to this I suggest that these social relations are readily discernible to the reader of the English translation, though no doubt an appreciation via the original would be more complex and satisfying. Furthermore, since those Russian scholars who might be able to do this public job of analysis haven’t (with one or two exceptions), I think that someone ought to make the attempt, however doubtful it may later prove to be. So let’s bear in mind these doubts and begin.

The first period of Yevtushenko’s poetry ends with Stalin’s death in 1953. There is no information in the Penguin edition of Selected Poems about these early works, save that a first book appeared in 1952. An American, Peter Viereck, in an article published in the special issue of Tri-Quarterly entitled ‘Creativity in the Soviet Union’ (spring, 1965), tells us that these poems ‘show that Yevtushenko was zealously promulgating the Stalin line, even in regard to the same anti-Semitic frameup of Jewish doctors…’; he goes on to say that ‘this fact not only adds the pathos of atonement to his later anti-anti-Semitism of Babiy Yar but should make us admire his heroic struggle more than ever’. So the first point, for those who celebrate Yevtushenko as the heroic defender of the Jews and the rebel against Stalinism is, to put it roughly, that he wasn’t always that way.

The experience of Stalin’s death, however, had an immense effect on his images of the world and sense of personal integrity within it. This is vividly described (in allegorical form almost) in the Precocious Autobiography , by the story of Stalin’s funeral (Rosh Ireland, in the introduction to New Works: Bratsk Station, notices this piece but not its allegorical character). Yevtushenko tells how the crowd that gathers for the funeral becomes uncontrollable and in the crush several people are killed. His own part in the event is that of being swept along: ‘wedged against the traffic light was someone else, his body twisted and his arms outflung as on a cross. At that moment I felt I was treading on something soft. It was a human body. I picked my feet up and was borne along by the crowd.’

It is the realization of this experience of being ‘borne along by the crowd’, of each individual’s passive complicity in Stalin’s crimes, that is being described here: ‘That day was a turning point in my life and therefore in my poetry as well.’

The sense of moral complicity in, and responsibility for, Stalinism – for having believed and trusted authority and having put his youthful poetry to this end – brings about a very significant re-evaluation of his own relation to his society, both as a poet and as a feeling human being. Since, as he says elsewhere in the Autobiography, ‘Stalin’s greatest crime was not the arrests and the shootings he ordered…(but)…the disintegration of the human spirit he caused’, he undertakes the task of understanding afresh the ‘human spirit’ and, though this is done with an intense sense of social responsibility (‘to the Russian the word “poet” has the resonance of the word “fighter” ‘), it takes on, in the poetry, a very private form. He goes back to Zima, to the country of his birth and childhood, to an investigation of the private worlds and feelings of the peasants of the region, to begin in questioning innocence – after a period of unquestioned acceptance of the social order – a reappraisal of his experience and personal values; Zima Junction is the major work of this second period of Yevtushenko’s, and his aims are suggested on the first page:

I realize that my twenty years might be less than mature: but for a reassessment:
what I said and ought not to have said,
and ought to have said and was silent.

Yet always here these means for a new design,
new strength, touching the same ground
where you first moved bare-footed, kicking up dust.
I often rely on this ordinary thought:
near Lake Baikal my own town waiting for me.

This re-evaluation of experience and of values, from the point of view of an innocent, the child and the adolescent, is the concern which dominates all of the poetry of this second period, which lasts from 1953 to 1957, and which is translated in the Penguin Selected Works (translated and introduced by Milner-Gulland and Levi).


The population of Zima peaked in the 1970s at about 48,000. From 1990 it has lost more than a quarter of its people.  

Yevtushenko is not primarily concerned at this time with society abstractly conceived, either Russia, the world or the brotherhood of man, but with a microcosm of these – everyday peasant life in Zima. The characters of these poems are himself, his uncles and aunts, the town councillors, railwaymen, little girls, war brides, and he is concerned to build up a series of images about the private worlds and private feelings of these people. The values that they have are illustrated in the tiny situations and dramas in which they are used, and Yevtushenko is content merely to describe them:

Walking along the dusty paving-boards, passing the clock that sits on the town hall.
hearing behind the fence of the old market
rustle of oats…
the cranberries wet on the low counters,
and the bright yellow butter-balls afloat
in basins made of flower-painted china.

He is after an evocation of moments, of a country idyll, with almost none of the didactic, moralizing concern of the later poems:

I grew up in the small town
acquiring an affection for the forest
and landscape and the quiet houses.
I grew up
and at hide-and-seek
uncatchable whatever guard you kept
we peered out from the barn through the bullet holes.
There was war at that time;
Hitler not far from Moscow.
And we
– we were children and accepted a lot lightly.

‘There in the country’, Yestushenko explains in the Autobiography, ‘as though sheltered from the pollution of the towns, the language was pure. Language is like snow – covered with factory soot and only in the country virginally fresh…… I wanted (my verses) to smell of the taiga (forest)’.
This country was……….where I was born,
where I came home for strength and for courage,
for the truth and truth’s well-being.

In Zima, Yevtushenko feels able to make a simple and meaningful identification with a small community, in which he is never conscious of any conflict between the communal ethos and his sense of his own individuality. He writes about simple experiences and the pleasure of recording them is sufficient reason for writing; for instance, Waiting:

My love will come,
will fling open her arms and fold me in them,
will understand my fears, observe my changes.
In from the pouring dark, from the pitch night
without stopping to bang the taxi door
she’ll run upstairs through the decaying porch
burning with love and love’s happiness,
she’ll run dripping upstairs, she won’t knock,
will take my head in her hands,
and when she drops her overcoat on a chair,
it will slide to the floor in a blue heap.

You might suggest that this poetry is really quite naive stuff, pleasant enough but trivial. This may well be so; they are naive, though this is deliberately affected to heighten the sensation of simple things; they may be about trivial experiences, though I don’t believe they are trivial poems. But I am less concerned with the judgments that others might make of Yevtushenko’s experience (and this is what is most impeded by the process of translation) and much more with what seems to be his own relation to it; for in these early poems he makes very few explicit ethical or political judgments of his experience. He is implying something about the value of simplicity and nature, but beyond that he suggests only a sense of peace and content in his society. In his escape from the stridently Political Poetry of May Day parades and Stalin (in the Mayakovsky tradition of revolutionary poetry) he takes flight into simple imagist poetry of private lives (more in the tradition, I imagine, of Blok, Tsvetayeva and Pasternak).

The second point, then, for those who criticize Yevtushenko for his dogmatism and propagandizing, is that this criticism is not altogether appropriate either.

We might think of a third period of Yevtushenko’s poetry as beginning from about 1957. It is during this year that the first major attacks on his poetry are made by the party organs, on the grounds of disloyalty to communist ideals, formalism, bourgeois decadence and the rest of the charges that are trotted out on these occasions. 

This time he is openly challenged by the authorities – by his society in a sense – to declare whether he is loyal or not, and this is quite a different kind of challenge from the one which arose on Stalin’s death. Then the challenge was initiated by himself, and led him through a lengthy process of self-evaluation, in which he develops a fresh sense of identity in the microcosmic Zima community and explores the nature of individual lives.

This second challenge leads him, I believe, not to self-evaluation but to self-justification – of himself and his poetry before society, as it were. Attacked for being disloyal to communism, he is pushed into replying and affirming that he is not, into demonstrating that the values of his poetry affirm and are not incompatible with the ideals of his society; and, finally. into producing a credo simple and unambiguous enough to be understood by all to refute the charges laid against him.

If the dimensions of the poetry of the years 1953-57 are, as I’ve said, microcosmic in their situation, private and individual in their focus and descriptive in their moral concern, then the dimensions of the post-1957 poetry are their opposites – macrocosmic (society and social forces in the abstract), public and monolithic, and prescriptive (direct affirmation of social goods and didacticism).

The contrast in the quality of the poetry between the two periods may be best illustrated if we compare two poems, both called Party Card. The first was written in the second period, early in 1957, and described the reactions of Yevtushenko as a young boy to the death of a young communist lieutenant:

A shot-up forest of black holes.
Mind-crushing explosions.
He wants some berries, he wants some berries:
the young lieutenant, lying in his blood.
I was a smallish boy,
who crawled in the long grass till it was dark
and brought him back a cap of strawberries.
and when they came there was no use for them.
……….Passionate with silence,
unable to see when he asked me,
I took his party card from his pocket.
Wheatfields blackened round their villages.
In the woman’s coat I wore at the time
I felt for the party card close to my heart.

Selected Works, p. 73.

The second was written between·1963 and 1965:

The heroic action advances.

Communists are marching over the earth
like a million-faced Lenin.
Party cards in shabby overalls,
in women’s jackets, in raincoats,
in much laundered field-shirts
and in mended jackets.

And the bullets are busily seeking
but there is no way out of it:
if the bullet is to reach the heart
it must go through the party card.
but they are powerless to kill – they only
hammer the party card into the heart.

Only he deserves a party card
for whom, until the end of his days,
the party card is a second heart,
indeed, the heart is a second party card.

Bratsk Station, p. 76.

The contrast seems so clear that it hardly requires explanation; the image of society in the second poem is an abstracted macrocosmic one with built-in authority (‘a million-faced Lenin’) and the identification the poet suggests with this ‘society’ equates all human feeling with total obedience (‘the heart is a second party card’). In the first poem there are only two individuals described and the party card has a private significance symbolism for them. It is not a device which prescribes moral behaviour as it is in the second. Finally, the experience of death is conveyed in the first poem as something desperately sad and puzzling for the poet, but in the second it is reduced as an experience to mere means for a more glorious end (‘the heroic action advances’) and with it the sense and value of the individuals involved (individuals become party cards – ‘party cards in shabby overalls/ in women’s jackets, in raincoats’).

Yevtushenko is still pursuing the same aims of his earlier poetry – an assessment of his relation to his society – but the nature of this identification and his concept of his own social role has undergone a major metamorphosis.

In the years 1953-57 he remains full of doubt and questioning; he never comes to make a decision about his social role, nor about his values. In the years after 1957 he adopts a very definite posture as a poet-tribune; in justifying his place in communist society, he takes on the role of telling others what their place is (Ireland calls these later poems ‘publicist’), and this is no subtle analysis: the images of the world which he now produces sound all in the same key like slogans, and the tenderness of human experience which he had earlier captured so clearly and so unpretentiously is reduced to simple symbolic equations and gross ethical antinomies. Comparing his earlier role as a poet (‘infantile’, ‘naively clattering’, hairpins instead of swords) with the new one of the Bratsk Station poem, he exclaims:

Caught by blazing passion, 
naively clattering, I fought with hairpins
where the call was for a sword.
My blaze was feloniously infantile.
I lacked full pitilessness,
and thus full pit.

Bratsk Station, p. 5.

If Geoffrey Dutton suggests that what is important about Bratsk Station is that it reveals Yevtushenko ‘desperately anxious to show that “affirming flame” which…Auden begged for in 1939’, then I suggest that he has lost his capacity for judging between kinds of affirmations. At least both Brissenden and Ireland agree that Bratsk Station might be a poor work (‘in places it reads like nothing more than an official eulogy of a power station’) but they are missing the point very significantly if they rationalize the weakness by declaring that it is ‘uncharacteristic’ of his whole work. It is certainly different, and, as I’ve attempted to show, Yevtushenko has passed through two distinct periods and has now moved into a third; but judging from the poetry of the years after 1957, Bratsk Station is very characteristic of the directions in which Yevtushenko is moving (though there is an ambiguity here which I shall discuss in a moment).


First commissioned in 1966, Bratsk is now owned through a chain of companies by Oleg Deripaska who operates it to subsidise the profitability of his Siberian aluminium smelters and to drain Lake Baikal. Read how:  http://johnhelmer.net/  

Ireland goes on to say that ‘to find the essential (sic) element in Yevtushenko’s poetry one must go beyond the publicist verve, the technical brilliance and the vividness of detail to a basic concern with the human condition’; but, of course, the ‘publicist verve’ is quite as enduring an element of the poetry as ‘the concern with the human condition’ and this too is a rather meaningless concept unless the major changes in this concern on the part of the poet are recognized and analyzed for their worth, to determine what sense he makes of social experience.

The later poems – but not those of 1953-57 – make nonsense of experience ­ ours and the poet’s. They make nonsense of it because social experience is presented in an oversimplified form, like counters in draught games, and because the poet allows (in fact dictates) only one dogmatic interpretation of it all.

But this will not do as a sufficient interpretation of Yevtushenko’s work, any more than the social rebel, social stooge interpretations. We have come so far as to describe several distinct periods of poetry and to suggest their characteristic partly in terms of the successive postures (a political relationship as well as a poetic one) which the poet adopts towards Russian society. Only in the years after 1957 does he develop a clear recognition of his vocation (which is the word he uses) and this involves a personal identification with (what he takes to be) the social norms, and a commitment to several notions of social and individual destiny.

These identifications and commitments are fairly conservative and conformist, and they lead Yevtushenko to reject unequivocally the lyricism of the years 1953-57:

I do not want to squander
my vocation upon trifles
but that my verses
be the very colour of our flag.
Verses so strikingly red
and their light so solemnly pure
that the old and young will say
‘this is indeed a communist poet’. 

But the personal evaluations of these years have not been altogether lost on him. He is at the same time both a social conformist – supporting the values and goals of the totalitarian regime – and a social rebel on behalf of the private life and individual freedom.

This, however, is a dual role which Yevtushenko finds increasingly difficult and unpleasant to play. In his plainly political observations (in the Autobiography for instance) he suggests that the ‘true details of communism’, those of Lenin, have been perverted by ‘cynics’, ‘bureaucrats’ and ‘dogmatists’, to whom he cries out: ‘I a believing communist, (cannot) equate’ the substance of my religion (sic) with the crooks who climb on its bandwagon, with its inquisitors, its crafty, avaricious priests or its double-thinking, double-faced parishioners.’ In another interview (with Kingsley Amis in The Spectator, July 6, 1962) he reiterates this point by suggesting that ‘in many countries there is a conflict between the bureaucrats, the philistines, and the people who want to live ordinary private lives’.

In the political conditions of the Soviet Union that have marked the period since 1957 (when the immediate post-Stalin liberalization ceased) – which Viereck characterizes as a swinging pendulum of freeze and thaw – Yevtushenko’s interpretation of Leninism is sometimes acceptable to the party organs and at other times harshly criticized.


In this uncertain situation, Yevtushenko (who isn’t as anarchical as, say, Mayakovsky was) responds by adopting the safer, more conservative position. But this, too, is made difficult and unpleasant for him because his earlier rebelliousness has created for him an immense following of radical young Russians who look to him and identify with him as a radical defender of non-conformist stances. Thus he is subject to fierce pressures from both conservative (official) and radical (non-communist) directions.

This conflict destroys Yevtushenko’s confident sense of his ‘vocation’ as a poet and in the poetry he often tries to perform the two antagonistic roles at the same time; this has the effect of producing ‘split-personality’ poetry in a number of cases. Doubts, uncertainty, senses of guilt preoccupy him increasingly in the very latest poems (City of Yes and City of No and Other Poems) and he adopts an entirely new set of images and situations – the Arctic seas, sailors, seaports – to convey these:

The white nights – eternal ‘maybe’.
Something is shimmering, strangely worrying me.
Maybe it’s the sun, but maybe it’s the moon.

White Nights in Archangel.

The metaphor of the Arctic winter – neither day nor night – is used to describe his own sense of uncertainty and ambiguity toward experience and society:

Self-confidence is a state of grace
but uncertainty is sinful.
It freezes the soul’s latent ferment
over, like white ice.
I am superstitiously uncertain.
Hiding my inner qualms,
at times too excessive in some things,
at others constrained and mean.

0, grant me, God, to be a poet.
And don’t let me deceive people.

Reflections Among the Ice.

Here the confident declaiming tone of Bratsk Stationonce more (as with the confidence of the pre-1953 poetry) appears to be undergoing a metamorphosis:

Can it be I am like a frail boat,
and that passions, like the waves, roll
and toss me about?

The Mail Cutter.

And again there is a return to poetry of lyricism and private worlds (of sailors, fishermen, whalers, port women):

We had slaughtered a hundred white whales,
civilization was quite forgotten,
our lungs were burnt out from smoking shag,
but on sighting port we blew out our chests like barrels
and begin to speak to one another politely,
and with the noble aim of drinking
we went ashore from the schooner at Amderma

Jolly Ballad.

It seems to me that, on the evidence of his most recent poems, Yevtushenko may be moving in the direction of his earlier ‘second period’ poetry, and that this movement significantly coincides with a swing of the political pendulum (since Khrushchev’s departure) toward another thaw, but it is impossible to say whether this thaw will last long enough for Yevtushenko to use the greater freedom to develop his poetic ideas further (important in this respect may be the Daniel-Sinyavsky trial on which Yevtushenko has kept stonily silent). At least I think we can say another period of self-evaluation is under way in Yevtushenko’s poetry:

I used to be so open, completely open,
I didn’t hold myself back from anything,
and for that I was ditched by fate
as though by a mocking woman.
And I’m tired.
I have become reserved.
I’ve stopped being trusting.
At times when I’ve been drinking
I catch myself at the point of explosion,
but there is no explosion,
only a sigh

A Sigh.

In a very real way, Yevtushenko’s predicament is an immensely tragic one, and this is a tragedy, I imagine, of the intellectual in a totalitarian society. Yevtushenko’s responses to it differ considerably from those of others; he has not chosen silence as Pasternak or Akhmatova, nor outright rebellion like Brodsky or Yesenin-Volpin, nor subtle independence like Voznesensky nor complete obedience like many others. The characteristic that distinguishes him from these others is, ironically, a lack of consistency in his behaviour and poetry.

It is this which makes nonsense of the one-view interpretations of Australian (and foreign) critics; but what is more naive and culpable on their parts (now I am referring mainly to Geoffrey Dutton) is their failure to understand the complex nature of Yevtushenko’s relation to his society and their attempt so simply to convert him – across political cultures so differently structured – into an ideal model for our own society (to turn it into a ‘poetocracy’).

To speculate about Yevtushenko’s poetry for the future is, of course, a very hazardous enterprise, hedged about, as it is, by the unknown quantities of a volatile poet and by all the problems of interpreting Soviet politics. The latest book contains poetry of both the didactic, macrocosmic kind (City of Yes and City of No, Perfection), poetry of the lyrical, microcosmic kind, and blends of the two. (Picture of Childhood, for instance, is for the most part a dramatic evocation of mob violence in a peasant village, but it is concluded with a curiously out-of-place moral exhortation to the world.) But in making our judgments of Yevtushenko’s work and predictions about his future there is one further factor that needs, perhaps, to be considered.

Peter Viereck put it this way: ‘What makes it so painful to predict his future candidly is the fact that this Russian Byronizing tradition has an undercurrent of unconscious self-destructiveness, constantly oscillating between would-be folk hero and would-be folk martyr ….’ We have already considered some of the ambiguities of Yevtushenko’s social posturing, and, as a final alternative to the oscillations that have so far marked his life and work, this final one, the urge to self-destruction – or as A. D. Hope called it in another context, the ‘Slavic perversity’ – might be seen as the most tragic of all.


 Geoffrey Dutton, 'The Poet as Public Figure', The Bulletin, March 12, 1966; Charles Higham, 'The Dullness of Yevtushenko', ibid., March 19; letters from Geoffrey Dutton and from a group of A.N.U. academics (Rigby, Hope, Brissenden, Clark and Campbell), ibid., March 26; R. F. Brissenden, 'Poetry and the Legend', The Australian, March 26.

 In Farrago, University of Melbourne, April 1, p. 8.

 The most valuable exception is Rosh Ireland's Introduction to New Works: Bratsk Station, Sun Books, 1966.

 This effect of Stalin's death is well documented in discussions of modern Russian literature, and Yevtushenko 's response was a fairly common one; compare Pierre Forgues, 'The Young Poets ', Survey, January, 1963, and Thomas Whitney, 'Russian Literature and Soviet Politics', Michigan Quarterly Review, issues of autumn 1964 and winter 1965.

 Originally published as an interview in France in 1962, and published in English translation (by Andrew MacAndrew) by Collins and Harvill, London, 1963, and by Penguin in 1966.

 The liberalization of the Party 's policy toward the arts that followed Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalinism at the Twentieth Party Congress of 1956 was abruptly halted after the Hungarian uprising late in that year, and a period of fairly strict control ensued until 1959. (1958 was marked by the scandal that followed publication in Europe of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.) From 1959 to 1962 the liberal writers made some advances: Tvardovsky was elected editor-in-chief of the influential Novy Mir, the Writers' Union moved in less dogmatic directions, in early 1961 poetry by Akhmatova and Tsvetayeva was published (much of which had been banned for over 30 years), and in November, 1962, Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch was released and favourably reviewed. Right at the end of 1962, however, Khrushchev launched another major attack on the liberal and radical artists and intellectuals, which culminated in the major speech on culture in the Soviet Union, of March 8, 1963. This marked a clear step backward (or, to keep the metaphor, a swing of the pendulum) toward Stalinism in Khrushchev 's attitudes on the arts and in the following months Yevtushenko and Voznesensky made public recantations. Roughly speaking, then, the political situation from 1957 until Khrushchev's fall was very unsettled for artists like Yevtushenko and periodic crackdowns on 'liberal tendencies' were frequent. See Whitney, op. cit., and 'Khrushchev on Culture', an Encounter pamphlet, 1963.

 Translated by Pierre Forgues, op. cit.

 See also 'Yevgeny Yevtushenko : An Interview', The Paris Review, Spring-Summer, 1965.

 An account of the artists' relations with the Kosygin-Brezhnev regime is given by Mark Gayn, 'Writers in Moscow', New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1965. Yevtushenko again came under fire and, as Gayn puts it, 'For the Soviet literati a summer of pleasant expectations has now yielded to an autumn of uneasiness'. Despite periodic relaxations in party policy, we might conclude that no sustained liberalization like that of the years 1953-56 has occurred since that time.

 While this trial may not signify the return to Stalinist policies that some have suggested, it no doubt adds to the burden of poets like Yevtushenko. Brezhnev's brief remark to the Twenty-third Party Congress on the matter reiterated the official argument on the 'party character of art', adding: 'Unfortunately, we come across also certain tradesmen of art who, instead of helping the people, choose as their specialty the denigration of our system, abuse of our heroic people....The Soviet people will deal with them as they deserve. (Applause.)' lzvestia, March 30, 1966 (translated by Peter Hill). 

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