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22 September 2018

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A Deluge of Images and Feelings

Author: Tamara Eidelman
Translation: Nora Seligman Favorov

Jan/Feb 2015
Page 22   ( 3 pages)

Summary: Boris Pasternak was born 125 years ago. We look back at how he has been remembered.


Boris Pasternak was the son of an artist and a pianist, and in his youth he aspired to be a musician. Instead, he wound up writing poetry that painted stunning images while being exceptionally musical.

Fellow poet Osip Mandelstam, wrote of Pasternak:

“This burning salt of certain language, this whistling, clicking, rustling, sparkling, splash, the fullness of sound, the fullness of life, the deluge of images and feelings spring to life with unprecedented force in Pasternak’s poetry… Reading Pasternak’s poetry is like rinsing your throat, invigorating your breathing, renewing your lungs: poetry like that must be effective against tuberculosis.”

Almost all of Pasternak’s relatives left Russia in the 1920s, but he remained. Amazingly, he was officially recognized and allowed to publish, although he never made it into the top ranks of Soviet writers. He was a delegate to the first Soviet writers congress, and in 1935, by which time foreign travel was banned for virtually all Soviet citizens, he traveled to Paris for the anti-fascist International Congress for the Defense of Culture. Most surprising of all, Stalin telephoned Pasternak at one point to ask him what he thought of Mandelstam, who had just been arrested. For the rest of his life Pasternak was tormented by the thought that, utterly stunned by the call, he had not done a good job of arguing the brilliant poet’s case.

Somehow Pasternak, a man not quite “of this world,” whose thoughts tended to reside on some higher plane, far away from immediate and practical reality, managed to survive the brutal Stalin era. He did write a few rapturous poems in praise of Stalin (most likely sincerely, like everything else he did), but such poems were no guarantee of survival, as many learned the hard way. Furthermore, Pasternak took the risk of interceding on behalf of the persecuted and helping some deemed personae non grata by the authorities. Try as she might, his conformist wife could not persuade him to behave otherwise.

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