BORIS LEONIDOVICH PASTERNAKBoris Leonidovich Pasternak was known as one of “Russia s greatest living poets” (Kunitz 756). Boris Pasternak was born in Moscow in 1890. He was the son of Leonid and Rosa (Kaufman) Pasternak. He was the eldest son of a cultivated family. His father was a well-known painter and his mother was a concert pianist. Therefore, he grew up in a highly cultivated atmosphere. One of Pasternak s childhood idols was Scriabin, the famous composer, who was a friend of the family. Pasternak says that music was his first love, and he thought for a long time that he would be a composer. However, he describes in his short autobiography Safe Conduct that, “Music with which I was still only postponing a parting, was already becoming interwoven with literature” (Kunitz 756). As Pasternak grew older, he attended a Moscow gymnasium and then entered Moscow University to study law. However, he became so interested in ideas that he finally broke off both his studies of music and law and went to Germany to pursue his study of philosophy. He eventually turned to literature and started writing. When World War I broke out, Pasternak was caught up in the literary fire of the groups of young Futurist and Symbolist poets in Moscow. “The sun beat sweetly on thepavement,” he writes, “twisted like fine mauve sweet peas. It was May 1914. Historic changes were so near! But who thought of them?” (Kunitz 756)Schroeder-3Pasternak had broken his leg as a boy, and he could not serve in the army. So, during the second year of the war, he left for the Urals where he worked in a factory. Soon after the February Revolution, he returned to Moscow and was later employed in the Library of the Commissariat for Education. During the war, he joined avant-garde groups, experimenting in new techniques of rhythm and composition. Few details about Pasternak s life have been published. He married as a young man and his first wife s name was Zhenia. It is clear from his autobiography that they had at least one son. From 1933 on, Pasternak lived a retired life, devoting himself mainly to translations of foreign poets. Pasternak s writings were mostly unpublished and unknown except to poets. He did, however, publish some of his works long after they had been written. His poems and stories gave him an eminent and unique position in the world of literature. Pasternak began publishing in 1913 in the Centrifuga, an association of moderate, scholarly Futurists. The following are only a small fraction of his entire works. Pasternak s first book of poems, Twin in the Clouds, was the first to appear in the world in 1914. However, it was My Sister Life, the series of poems written in 1917 that was perhaps his most important volume of all. It was not published at the time, but it was circulated in many scripts. It was from this book of poems that Pasternak gradually rose to fame. My Sister Life was first published in 1922. Pasternak finished Over the Barriers, his third volume of poems, in1916. Between 1922 and 1930, Pasternak published Aerial Ways, a collection of four short stories, three of which were written during the war. Pasternak wrote The Adolescence ofSchroeder-4Zhenya Luvers in 1925. Pasternak s short autobiography Safe Conduct was written in 1931. In 1942, Pasternak wrote In Early Trains, a small volume of poems. A second volume waspublished in 1954, but has not yet been translated into English. Besides these two small volumes, Pasternak published little original work between 1935 and 1955. One of Pasternak s most popular works was Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak finished the novel in 1956. It was the first real work published by Pasternak after 25 years of silence. Despite its popular reputation all over the world, Doctor Zhivago was rejected by Soviet publishers as anti-Soviet. It is, in fact, apolitical. It was published in the West after being smuggled out of the Soviet Union. It is the story of one man and his mistress who together try to insulate their private lives from the chaos and violence of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Civil War that followed. The book is wistfully sad and full of powerful metaphors lyrically accentuating the breathtaking beauty of life even amidst tragedy. It is a vastly fascinating novel which weaves philosophy and art together into the complex matrix of fate and destiny which make up our human lives (”Boris Leonidovich Pasternak” 2). Pasternak was one of the Soviet Union s most prominent poets and was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize for literature largely as a result of his novel Doctor Zhivago. As the winner of the Nobel Prize, Pasternak won international recognition as a major novelist, although he was much criticized in his native Russia. Pasternak s acceptance of the Noble Prize embarrassed the Soviet Union, because Doctor Zhivago was uncomplimentary in its
portrayal of the Russian Revolution. Pasternak was criticized by the Soviet critics and coerced into retracting the acceptance of the Nobel Prize. Schroeder-5There is hardly a critic who questions the superb quality of Pasternak s art, his originality, the striking freshness of his imagery and smiles, the simplicity and, at the same time, subtly of his words-ordinary conversational speech which acquired under his pen unexpected meaning and precision of shades (Kunitz 756). At a time when most Soviet poets wrote verse designed to inspire ordinary people to work for the Communist cause, Pasternak s intellectual lyrics probed the meaning of lifeand the mystery of death. In Pasternak s prose and verse, human lives are shaped primarily by love, faith, and destiny. Political events play a lesser role in determining the course of human lives than does art. Coincidences serve to demonstrate the inevitability of fate. In his prose as well as his verse, mood is more important than plot. Contemplation of such problems as death, fate, and the role of poetry and music is more important than ordinary events. Pasternak s landscapes and still lifes are perhaps his most remarkable achievements. They give the reader the impression of seeing the world for the first time. At first, they seem far fetched, but the more one rereads them, the more one realizes the “almost mathematical precision and exactness of his imagery” (Mirsky 102). Pasternak s rhythms are also remarkable. Nowhere does he attain such force as in the poem, The Quarrel, on the subject of his final quarrel with his mistress. For emotional and rhythmic force, these lyrics have no opponent in modern Russian poetry. This emotionalcomponent makes him very different from other Futurists with whom he has in common only the will to reform poetical diction (Mirsky 503). Schroeder-6Many of Pasternak s poems and some of his prose works, particularly Doctor Zhivago, have strong religious overtones. He was not interested in social issues themselves except as they influence individual human destinies, and even then, their relevance is regarded as minimal. In Pasternak s writings, there are two aspects that especially strike the reader; first is the intensity of his political passions, and second is the “extraordinary analyticalacuteness of his vision combined with a deliberate freshness in expressing it” (Mirsky 502). Because of the type of writer Pasternak was and because of the topics he wrote about, the people of Russia disliked him. He was ridiculed and had a hard time publishing his works. His lack of interest in social issues was often criticized by the Soviet press. For many years his verse was not allowed to appear in print. Doctor Zhivago was rejected by Soviet publishers. They called it anti-Soviet. It was published in the West only after it was smuggled out of Russia by an Italian Communist publisher and was soon printed in many languages. Pasternak did not really care that no one liked him, and he continued to write. The public remained cold to Pasternak because of his excessive stubbornness. When Pasternak s verse was not allowed to appear in print, he was known as being “silenced.” Like many other “silenced” Soviet writers during the 1930s and 1940s, Pasternak sought refuge in translation. Pasternak s translations of Gregorian lyricists”have aroused public endorsement and emulation” (Kunitz 757). Pasternak translated into many tongues. He also translated novels and plays from many authors. Some of theseSchroeder-7authors include Goethe, Kleist, Hervegh, Verlaine, Swinburne, Ben Johnson, Shelly, and many more. His translations of Shakespeare are considered the most outstanding in the Russian language. His translations of Shakespeare include Hamlet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and Romeo and Juliet. They are very popular with the Russian readers. Boris Pasternak was a brilliant novelist and poet. The style and topics of his writings prove him to be strong-willed and stubborn, but they also bring out the sensitivity and creativeness in him. He is still considerably famous in many countries today, but unfortunately his beloved country never gave him the recognition and fame that he so greatly deserved. He died in 1960.