Yevgeny Yevtushenko

The best known Russian poet of the post-Stalin generation, Yevtushenko's demands for greater artistic freedom and his attacks on Stalinism in the late 1950s and 60s made him a leader of Soviet youth. 

Yevgeny Yevtushenko was born in Zima in Irkutsk in 1933, as a fourth-generation descendant of Ukrainians exiled to Siberia. He moved to Moscow in 1944, where he later studied at the Gorky Institute of Literature.

His first important narrative poem Zima Junction was published in 1956 but he gained international fame in 1961 with Babi Yar, in which he denounced the Nazis and at the same time clumsily criticized his own country for forgetting the message of the Internationale:

"But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.
I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these anti-Semites - without a qualm
they pompously called themselves
the Union of the Russian People."

Babi Yar is one of a number of literary treatments of a massacre of Jews in occupied Kiev on September 29, 1941. The poem was not published in Russia until 1984, although it was frequently recited in both Russia and abroad.

Yevtushenko has remained politically outspoken all of his life, though he was sometimes critisized in the West for being too soft. In 1987, when Yevtushenko was appointed an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Russian-born poet Joseph Brodsky resigned in protest -- he considered his colleague a party yes man. Brodsky has bitterly stated: "He throws stones only in directions that are officially sanctioned and approved." Yevtushenko's readers, however, have defended the poet faithfully, stating that "you can't blame him that he survived." In 1993 Yevtushenko received a medal as 'Defender of Free Russia,' which was given to those who took part in resisting the hard-line Communist coup in August 1991.

One of my favorite Yevtushenko poems:

From a Talk

You're a brave man
  they tell me.
But Iím not.
  Bravery never was my vice.
I only thought it unworthy
to be as cowardly as some I saw around.

I never tried to push the world out of orbit.
I just laughed at the pompous,
   poked fun at the bogus.
I wrote verses.
     Not denunciations.
I tried to say what I thought loud enough to be heard.

I defended those with talent and branded mediocrity.
Only did what needed to be done.
And they say Iím brave.

But a time will come to remember
and burn with shame:
when we shall have done with dishonesty and plain lies
with those
strange times
when a man who was simply honest
            was called brave.

1960
(translations by Albert C. Todd & Anselm Hollo, revised by Cara Mumford)

Read more poems:
Lies
Babi Yar
Prayer Before the Poem
Memento

A list of Yevtushenko's book that are in print and available at Amazon.com:

Poetry:
Yevgeny Yevtushenko: Early Poems
The Collected Poems, 1952-1990: Yevgeny Yevtushenko
The Face Behind the Face

Fiction:
Don't Die Before You're Dead

A more complete biography and bibliography for Yevtushenko can be found at: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jevtusen.htm

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