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Selected Poems (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) Paperback – 28 Nov 1991

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Paperback, 28 Nov 1991
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (28 Nov. 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014018466X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140184662
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1 x 19.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 573,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Uneven greatness... 2 Jan. 2013
By B. Berthold - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Boris Pasternak, creative dynamo behind Russia`s greatest 20th century novel, `Dr. Zhivago,` is esteemed first and foremost in his native land as a poet. A poet whose language according to fellow poet Marina Tsvetaeva is one so singular as to be untranslatable. High praise indeed and Penguins`s `Selected Poems` makes a noble attempt at capturing the spirit of Pasternak`s rare genius.

Pasternak lived through a maelstrom of Russian history, from the decaying Tsarist Empire to the dawn of the Post-Stalin era. During this time, his poetic voice went through an equally tumultuous series of changes. His early poems as reflected in this collection are rich in allusion and imagery. Metaphor abounds on every line, some accessible, others stretched and fanciful. And everywhere sounds the rhyming four-line stanza that Pasternak stuck with throughout his life. Some of these early images are arresting and hint at even greater things to come. Rooks amidst winter branches being compared to `charred pears` or a trio of guitars to a `trident.` Other images are discordant and tend toward the abstract like `sardonic pines` or `Egyptian darkness.`

In his early poems, we see the artist making sense of the world around him and his place within it. The lines are intricate, often complicated with an excess of pictures, sounds, allusions that make meaning hard to extract. Yet, in some poems, beauty appears the sole message: `my sleeve was rolled up and night brushed my elbow.` Elsewhere the words drip over one another : `And the sky had congealed where it touched a sprig of woundwort and that staunched its flow.` Such verbosity most likely arises from the near insurmontable difficulties of translation and Pasternak`s early verses might just be beyond the pale of intelligible translation.

Later on, Pasternak`s voice matures and his style simplifies itself for the better. Images still grab the reader, `shaggy as Beethoven`s chest,` but lines become more concise, metaphors more opaque, and the historical, political allusions fewer. Pasternak`s later poems dance with folkish melody and hide their seeming simplicity behind a polished craftsmanship. Pasternak`s later poems have a Homeric directness, yet never lose their color nor their pristine sparkle.

These later poems are mostly found within the last chapters of `Dr. Zhivago` and coincide with Pasternak`s embrace of both his childhood Christian faith and the magnificence of the Russian landscape. Even the young Pasternak was not immune to the grandeur that surrounded him, the oceanic steppes and the dark continents of taiga forest. `Haystacks have lined themselves up with clouds/The cones of volcanoes cooling to grey/The boundless steppe has grown silent and damp/ It rocks you, buffets you, bears you away.` By old age, Pasternak`s nature poems are talismans of power and magic. With their folksy stride and rustic diction, these poems bring to mind Horace`s Odes. Childish innocence links hands with grand artistry. `Untidy urchins of the steppe/ Smelling of lime trees, grass, and rye/ Beet-tops and fragrant fennel/ Meadowsweet of July.`

Pasternak achieved his creative goal by the end of his life. `In everything I want to reach the very essence...foundations, roots, the very heart.` This very heart of things is present throughout his final poems, whereas his earlier works tended towards metaphoric display and coy word play. One wonders how Pasternak`s poetic journey would have faired had he abandoned his penchant for the traditional lyric stanza. Yet, these later poems show how traditional form reigned in his manic imagination and ornate syntax. Staying with the four-lined rhyming stanza, he was able to whittle his language into something otherworldly and dreamlike.
4 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful from start to finish. 29 Aug. 2007
By K. Putnam - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Pasternak's poetry transcends even language barriers. Even though he's more famous for his fiction, his poetry is truly perfection and should be added to any poet's shelf.
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