Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak

Infobox Writer
name = Boris Pasternak
awards = awd|Nobel Prize in Literature|1958

imagesize = 150px
birthdate = OldStyleDate|February 10|1890|January 29
birthplace = Moscow, Russian Empire
deathdate = death date and age|1960|5|30|1890|2|10
deathplace = Peredelkino, USSR
occupation = poet, writer
notableworks = Doctor Zhivago

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak ( _ru. Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к) (OldStyleDate|February 10|1890|January 29May 30, 1960) was a Nobel Prize-winning Soviet Russian poet and writer. In the West he is best known for the epic novel "Doctor Zhivago", a tragedy, whose events span through the last period of Tsarist Russia and early days of Soviet Union. It was first translated and published in Italy in 1957. In Russia, however, Boris Pasternak is most celebrated as a poet. "My Sister Life", written in 1917, is arguably the most influential collection of poetry published in Russian language in the 20th century.

Early life

Pasternak was born in Moscow on February 10, (Gregorian), 1890 (Julian January 29). His father was a prominent painter, Leonid Pasternak, professor at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and his mother was Rosa (Raitza) Kaufman, a concert pianist. Pasternak was brought up in a highly cosmopolitan atmosphere, and visitors to his home included pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and writer Leo Tolstoy.

Inspired by his neighbour Alexander Scriabin, Pasternak resolved to become a composer and entered the Moscow Conservatory. In 1910 he abruptly left the conservatory for the University of Marburg, where he studied under Neo-Kantian philosophers Hermann Cohen and Nicolai Hartmann. Although invited to become a scholar, he decided against making philosophy a profession and returned to Moscow in 1914. His first poetry collection, influenced by Alexander Blok and the Russian Futurists, was published later the same year.

Pasternak's early verse cleverly dissimulates his preoccupation with Kant's ideas. Its fabric includes striking alliterations, wild rhythmic combinations, day-to-day vocabulary, and hidden allusions to his favourite poets like Rilke, Lermontov and German Romantic poets.

During the World War I, he taught and worked at a chemical factory in Vsevolodovo-Vilve, which undoubtedly provided him with material for "Dr. Zhivago" many years later. Unlike many of his relatives and friends, Pasternak did not leave Russia after the revolution. Instead, he was fascinated with the new ideas and possibilities that revolution brought to life.

"My Sister Life"

Pasternak spent the summer of 1917 living in the steppe country near Saratov, where he fell in love. This passion resulted in the collection "My Sister Life", which he wrote over a period of three months, but was too embarrassed to publish for four years because of its novel style. When it finally was published in 1921, the book revolutionised Russian poetry. It made Pasternak the model for younger poets, and decisively changed the poetry of Osip Mandelshtam, Marina Tsvetayeva and others.

Following "My Sister Life", Pasternak produced some hermetic pieces of uneven quality, including his masterpiece - the lyric cycle entitled "Rupture" (1921). Authors such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Andrey Bely, and Vladimir Nabokov applauded Pasternak's poems as works of pure, unbridled inspiration. In the late 1920s, he also participated in the much celebrated tripartite correspondence with Rilke and Tsvetayeva. [citation|last=Bayley|first=John|title=Big Three|url=|journal=The New York Review of Books| volume= 32|date= December 5, 1985|accessdate=2007-09-28]

By the end of the 1920s, Pasternak increasingly felt that his colourful modernist style was at odds with the doctrine of Socialist Realism approved by the Communist party. He attempted to make his poetry more comprehensible to the masses by reworking his earlier pieces and starting two lengthy poems on the Russian Revolution. He also turned to prose and wrote several autobiographical stories, notably "The Childhood of Lovers" and "Safe Conduct".

"Second Birth"

By 1932, Pasternak had strikingly reshaped his style to make it acceptable to the Soviet public and printed the new collection of poems aptly entitled "The Second Birth". Although its Caucasian pieces were as brilliant as the earlier efforts, the book alienated the core of Pasternak's refined audience abroad. He simplified his style even further for his next collection of patriotic verse, "Early Trains" (1943), which prompted Nabokov to describe Pasternak as a "weeping Bolshevik" and "Emily Dickinson in trousers."

During the great purges of the later 1930s, Pasternak became progressively disillusioned with Communist ideals. Reluctant to publish his own poetry, he turned to translating Shakespeare ("Hamlet", "Macbeth", "King Lear"), Goethe ("Faust"), Rilke ("Requiem für eine Freundin"), Paul Verlaine, and Georgian poets. Pasternak's translations of Shakespeare have proved popular with the Russian public because of their colloquial, modernised dialogues, but critics accused him of "pasternakizing" the English playwright. Although he was widely panned for excessive subjectivism, Stalin is said to have crossed Pasternak's name off an arrest list during the purges, saying "Don't touch this cloud dweller."Fact|date=June 2007Another version of Stalin's remark, possibly on a separate occasion, is "Leave that Holy Fool alone!"

His cousin, Polish poet Leon Pasternak, was not so lucky. As a result of his political activities in Poland — writing satirical verses for socialist revolutionary periodicals - he was imprisoned in 1934 in the Bereza Kartuska detention camp.

"Doctor Zhivago"

Several years before the start of the Second World War, Pasternak and his wife settled in Peredelkino, a village for writers several miles from Moscow. He was filled with a love of life that gave his poetry a hopeful tone. This is reflected in the name of his autobiographical hero Zhivago, derived from the Russian word for "live". Another famous character, Lara, is said to have been modeled on his mistress, Olga Ivinskaya. [cite news|title=Today in Literary History|url=|work=Salon|date= May 30, 2002|accessdate=2007-09-28]

As the book was frowned upon by the Soviet authorities, "Doctor Zhivago" was smuggled abroad by his friend Isaiah Berlin and published in an Italian translation by the Italian publishing house Feltrinelli in 1957. The novel became an instant sensation, and was subsequently translated and published in many non-Soviet bloc countries. In 1958 and 1959, the American edition spent 26 weeks at the top of "The New York Times"' bestseller list. Although none of his Soviet critics had the chance to read the proscribed novel, some of them publicly demanded, "kick the pig out of our kitchen-garden," i.e., expel Pasternak from the USSR. This led to a jocular Russian saying used to poke fun at illiterate criticism, "I did not read Pasternak, but I condemn him". "Doctor Zhivago" was eventually published in the USSR in 1988. [ [ Contents] of Novy Mir magazines ru icon]

The screen adaptation, directed by David Lean, was of epic proportions, being toured in the roadshow tradition, and starred Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Concentrating on the romantic aspects of the tale, it quickly became a worldwide blockbuster, but wasn't released in Russia until near the time of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Nobel Prize

Pasternak was named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. On October 25, two days after hearing that he had won, Pasternak sent the following telegram to the Swedish Academy:

Immensely thankful, touched, proud, astonished, abashed.

However, four days later came another telegram:

Considering the meaning this award has been given in the society to which I belong, I must refuse it. Please do not take offense at my voluntary rejection.

The Swedish Academy announced:

This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place.cite book
title = Literature 1901-1967
author = Frenz, Horst (ed.)
series = Nobel Lectures
year = 1969
publisher = Elsevier
location = Amsterdam
(Via cite web
url =
title = Nobel Prize in Literature 1958 - Announcement
accessdate = 2007-05-24
publisher = Nobel Foundation

Reading between the lines of Pasternak's second telegram, it is clear he declined the award out of fear that he would be stripped of his citizenship were he to travel to Stockholm to accept it. After struggling a lifetime to avoid leaving Russia, this was not a prospect he welcomed.

Despite turning down the Nobel Prize, Soviet officials soured on Pasternak, and he was threatened at the very least with expulsion. However, it appears that the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru, may also have spoken with Khrushchev about this.cite book
last = Pasternak
first = Boris
others = trans. Jon Stallworthy and Peter France
year = 1983
title = Pasternak: Selected Poems
publisher = Penguin
isbn = ISBN 0-14-042245-5
] , and Pasternak was not exiled or imprisoned.

Despite this, a famous Bill Mauldin cartoon at the time showed Pasternak and another prisoner in Siberia, splitting trees in the snow. In the caption, Pasternak says, "I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?" The cartoon won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1959. [ [ Bill Mauldin Beyond Willie and Joe] (Library of Congress)]

The Nobel medal was finally presented to Pasternak's son, Yevgeny, at a ceremony in Stockholm during the Nobel week of December 1989. [ [ Boris Pasternak: The Nobel Prize. Son's memoirs.] (Pravda, December 18, 2003)] At the ceremony, the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich played a Bach serenade to honor his deceased countryman.

Death and legacy

Pasternak's post-"Zhivago" poetry probes the universal questions of love, immortality, and reconciliation with God. [ [ Hostage of Eternity: Boris Pasternak] (Hoover Institution)] [ [ Conference set on Doctor Zhivago writer] (Stanford Report, April 28, 2004)]

Pasternak died of lung cancer on May 30, 1960.Despite only a small notice appearing in the "Literary Gazette", thousands of people traveled from Moscow to his funeral in Peredelkino. "Volunteers carried his open coffin to his burial place and those who were present (including the poet Andrey Voznesensky) recited from memory the banned poem 'Hamlet'." The poet and bard Alexander Galich wrote a politically charged song dedicated to his memory.

A minor planet 3508 Pasternak, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina in 1980 is named after him. [cite book| last = Schmadel| first = Lutz D.| coauthors =| title = Dictionary of Minor Planet Names| pages = p. 294| edition = 5th| year = 2003| publisher = Springer Verlag| location = New York| url =| id = ISBN 3540002383]


Musical Artist Regina Spektor recites a verse from a poem written in 1912 by Pasternak in her song "Apres Moi" from her album "Begin to Hope".
Pasternak is the Russian word for parsnip.


External links

* [ 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature]
* [ Homegrown Doctor Zhivago to Debut on Russian Television]
* [ Pasternak's elegy to Tsvetaeva and short bio]
* [ PBS biography of Pasternak]
* [ Read Pasternak's interview with The Paris Review]
* [ Boris Pasternak Poem]
* [ Pasternak: biography, photos, poems, prose, critical essays]
* [ Boris Pasternak: poems, biography, photo]

NAME= Pasternak, Boris
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Pasternak, Boris Leonidovich; Борис Леонидович Пастернак (Russian)
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Russian poet and writer
DATE OF BIRTH= OldStyleDate|February 10|1890|January 29
PLACE OF BIRTH= Moscow, Russian Empire
DATE OF DEATH= death date|1960|5|30|mf=y

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Boris Pasternak — Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak (russisch Борис Леонидович Пастернак, wiss. Transliteration Boris Leonidovič Pasternak; * 29. Januarjul./ 10. Februar 1890greg. in …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Borís Pasternak — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Borís Pasternak Archivo:Pasternak.jpg Nombre Borís Leonídovich Pasternák Nacimiento 29 de enero de 1890 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Boris Pasternak — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Pasternak. Boris Pasternak Борис Пастернак Nom de naissance …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Borís Pasternak — Borís Leonídovich Pasternak (Moscú 10 de febrero 1890 31 de mayo 1960). Poeta y novelista ruso. En occidente Pasternak es conocido por su monumental novela trágica ambientada en la Rusia Soviética Doctor Zhivago, publicada por primera vez en… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Boris Pasternak — noun Russian writer whose best known novel was banned by Soviet authorities but translated and published abroad (1890 1960) • Syn: ↑Pasternak, ↑Boris Leonidovich Pasternak • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author …   Useful english dictionary

  • Boris Pasternak — n. Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890 1960), Russian writer and translator who is famous for his novel Doctor Zhivago (1957) that was banned by the Soviet authorities but was translated and published in other countries (he was compelled to refuse… …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak — Boris Pasternak (1934) Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak (russisch Борис Леонидович Пастернак, wiss. Transliteration Boris Leonidovič Pasternak; * 29. Januarjul./ 10. Februar& …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Boris Leonidovich Pasternak — Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak Boris Leonidowitsch Pasternak (russisch Борис Леонидович Пастернак, wiss. Transliteration Boris Leonidovič Pasternak; * 29. Januarjul./ 10. Februar 1890greg. in …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Boris Leonidovich Pasternak — Boris Pasternak Pour les articles homonymes, voir Pasternak. Boris Pasternak Activité(s) Poète, romancier …   Wikipédia en Français

  • PASTERNAK, BORIS LEONIDOVICH — (1890–1960), Soviet Russian poet and novelist. A son of the painter leonid pasternak , the younger Pasternak ultimately became one of the very few Soviet writers whose work is essentially Christian in spirit. Born and educated in Moscow, he also… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”