Sunday guests: Yevgeniy Yevtushenko

Yevgeniy Yevtushenko is the poet who inspired and fired my imagination. It wasn’t that I didn’t like poetry, I did and devoured it. All of them came from collections of poetry, and it wasn’t as if I didn’t know poetry didn’t need to rhyme, or that it could swell with emotion. But, the poem Prologue attached itself to me like no other ever has. Funny that I don’t remember exactly where I read it, well I do, I know it was a magazine, one my parents subscribed to, so probably the Saturday Evening Post. They published a volume in 1963 with Yevtushenko on the cover, he also graced the cover of Time the same year, but the Post is most likely where I read it. Here is Prologue (George Reavey, translator):

I’m different,


and idle too;

I have a goal and yet I’m aimless!

I don’t, all of me, fit in; I’m awkward,

shy and rude,

nasty and good-natured.

I love it when sharp edges blur.

Many opposites meet in me:

from west to east,

from envy to delight.

I know you insist on the “compact monolith.”

But it is the opposites that have value!

You need me. I’m heaped as high

as a truck with fresh-mown hay.

I fly through voices, branches, light and warbling,

with butterflies in my eyes, and hay sticking out of cracks.

I greet all that moves! Ardent desire,

and eagerness, triumphant eagerness!

Frontiers are in my way. I am embarrassed

not to know Buenos Aires and New York;

I’d like to walk at will through London streets

and talk with everyone I want, even in broken English.

I’d like to ride through Paris in the morning,

hanging on to the back a bus like a boy.

I want art to be as diverse as myself;

and even if art brings trouble,

and harasses me on every side,

I am already the besieged–besieged by art.

I’ve seen myself in every sort of thing:

I feel close to Yesenin and Walt Whitman,

to Mussorgsky with the whole stage in his embrace,

and Gauguin tracing his virgin line.

I like to skate in winter,

write poems through sleepless nights;

I like to mock an enemy to his face,

and carry a woman across a stream.

I bite into books, and carry firewood;

I can feel depressed, and know vaguely what I seek.

In hottest August I love to crunch

An ice-cool slice of watermelon.

With no thought of death I sing and drink,

fall on the grass with arms outspread’

and if I should die in this wide world,

then I’ll die most happy to have lived.

So what do you think? And does the age at which you read this make a difference?

I never know when I read Prologue now if it is impacting me afresh or is it just calling to memory feelings and emotions, desires and dreams… From all those years ago.

Still love Yevtushenko’s poetry though.

[Yes, I’ll have to write soon about the impact of the translator on a poet’s work. Reavey has translated and written on Yevtushenko extensively and I’ve occasionally read other translations of Prologue and it doesn’t resonant like this version did and does.]

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