In the Interlude: Poems, 1945-1960

In the Interlude: Poems, 1945-1960

In the Interlude: Poems, 1945-1960

In the Interlude: Poems, 1945-1960

Excerpt

In the last thirty years of his life Boris Pasternak published almost no original poetry. Apart from two or three slim volumes, not of the highest quality, issued during the war, his public output was limited to his noble translations of Shakespeare and Goethe. If asked about him, orthodox Russian writers would speak disparagingly of him as 'the translator', as if they had never heard of his poetry. In this they displayed the dishonesty of their kind; for Pasternak's earlier poems were widely quoted in many circles, and when the authorities stopped the further publication of original poems by him, they no doubt feared that this unpolitical and independent man, with his passionate convictions about the integrity of art, would by his example discredit official theories of what art ought to be. None the less in these years of apparent silence Pasternak did not abandon poetry. If much of his time was given to translation and to Dr. Zhivago, these were incentives to turn his poetical gifts in new directions and to find at last for his genius that full scope in which he had so long been hindered by the literary policies, at once gruesome and grotesque, of the Soviet Union. Just because he had no hope of publishing any more poetry, he could say with the utmost candour what otherwise he might have had to disguise or distort, and he could apply to this his ripe, matured notions of what poetry ought to be. He wrote now for himself and for posterity, but not for any immediate recognition or renown. The hard restrictions to which the authorities subjected him had a notable effect on his art.

Pasternak himself was fully conscious of this. He felt that these later poems were much better than any he had written hitherto, and it was by them that he wished to be remembered. In this he was unjust to his earlier work which, at least in his brilliant years between 1919 and 1922, had a most unusual vitality and brilliance. But a poet may well turn against his earlier work if he is obsessed by a desire to write differently, and this Pasternak certainly was. As his faith in the Russian Revolution waned through the long tyranny of Stalin, he turned in on . . .

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