Monday, July 30, 2007

"Tomorrow's Wind" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Preface: this is the second poem for bookwookey's challenge. See the caveat from the post below re: my lack of analytical skills!

Tomorrow's Wind" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Why am I without joy,
achieving everything,
but grasping
nothing at all?
I dream of the wind
that has overtaken me,
the wind
that has leaped over me.
It shreds
all the telephone lines that sag
from unending chatter,
and all that’s wasted,
all that’s turned sour
it catapults
into oblivion.
All sorts of butwhatifers,
shaking,
like jelly in jackets,
whirled up in a vortex,
like fallen leaves,
shout down indignantly:
"How come?"
Where there’s no wind,
there’s no faith.
Let clammy red pencils
be strewn
among the reeds,
scattered madly
by tomorrow’s wind.
Wind
does not crawl
before idols,
it swirls scraps
of newspapers and posters,
yesterday’s glories,
turning somersaults
over warped roofs.
As if it had swilled
the Decembrists’ hot punch,
tipsy,
the wind flings upward
all the important little papers
that press us down
to the ground.
The wind
showers
under constellations
the garbage
in which the world is bogged down:
automobiles,
which have ridden over people,
furniture,
which has sprawled on us.
The wind
pulls away from sticky screens
all the bewitched
simpletons and fools,

and without thinking
plants them
like shashlik
on the spike of their beloved TV tower...
Timid youth,
I am preaching to you:
Charge forward,
headlong into the epoch,
without wasting
the wind of history
either on fads
or the flimsy.
Each
new generation
must create
a special wind.
If it doesn’t shake
bits of dust,
young people
should send
an SOS.
Youth
is the age for a fresh airing.
In old age
it’s harder to be precocious,
if you put off
being young
in your youth.
Is it possible for you
all to be unfit?
Suck in the time
with a feverous mouth.
The calm will be
inhaled by you,
by the wind
exhaled
afterward.
And the wind,
making a gift of itself
to the universe,
is born,
sprawling
in a burst,
and structures
built on sand
rightfully will crumble.
And I, having reared
these structures not a little,
will look on happily,
blaming no one,
as it withdraws,
arching its mane,
the wind
that has leaped over me.


So, I'm going to be a little more freewheeling in this response!

First, when I was reading through, I thought I'd clarify a couple words for people who might not have much experience with Russia. The Decembrists were a group of Russian noble officers who all fought in the Napoleanic wars. They spent time in Paris after Napleon's defeat, and there they were exposed to Enlightenment ideas. Coming back to imperialist Russia, they formed a secret society to talk about the possibility of reforms. When Tsar Alexander I died, there was confusion over the succession. The Decembrists took advantage of the confusion to take a stand in favour of a constitutional monarchy; when gathered in Palace Square to swear allegiance to the new tsar (Nicolas), they instead demanded Nicolas make reforms. It didn't go too well; Nicolas ended up executing a few of the leaders and sent most into exile in Siberia. In Russia, they've always been a symbol of honour, sacrifice, and reform. :) The other word is shashlik. This is much easier to explain-it's the Russian version of a meat kebab.

I loved this poem, because it seems to combine the hope and despair of the Soviet era. Yevtushenko is considered one of the greatest living poets; this poem certainly shows that. The way he structured the poem, like words were being blown by gusts of wind, was pretty awesome (as is Dewey for telling me the html tag that keeps it that way!). My favourite part is the sentence that begins "Wind does not crawl before idols" and the one that follows it. In this, we see his condemnation of Soviet heros (esp. Stalin and Lenin, whose statues you could find everywhere) and Soviet bureaucracy: "all the important little papers/that press us down/into the ground." But there's also his celebration of democracy with "the Decembrist's hot punch" and "scraps/of newspapers and posters." He celebrates both kinds of democracy: the top-down reforming leaders as well as the bottom-up grassroots change.

Yevtushenko has some incredibly strong images: he makes kebabs out of "simpletons and fools" on their "TV tower," and calls for the youth to "suck in the time/with a feverous mouth." Since the former image is immediately followed by an appeal to youth, it seems like he's showing his frustration at people who fritter their lives away, refusing to step out of their living rooms. His almost sexual description of the youth rising up is matched by a description of the wind being born, "sprawling/in a burst". He portrays the whole process of revolution to be an act of creation; then he addes images of destruction, "structures/built on sand/will rightfully crumble." While this is destructive, it's not violent, the way we might usually imagine revolution.

Alongside this active call to the youth, there's a considerable amount of nostalgia. In Yevtushenko's world, phone lines "sag/from unending chatter," there are "butwhatifers" and the poet argues that "in old age/it's harder to be precocious" (I loved that line as well). There's a sense that he feels he's too old, that it's time to pass the mantle on to the next generation.
Edited to add: the more I think about it, the more I think there's a certain amount of shame tinging his discussion of his own generation. It's interesting...some of my older profs in Russia displayed this type of shame; the kind of, how could we have let this happen to our country? And perhaps the source of his exhortion to the youth-his belief that the people *could* have done something about it. In actuality, though, I'm not sure that they could have. Russia had so many autocratic institutions in place, so when the Soviets took over they could merely expand things. I mean, obviously it wasn't destiny. But right after the revolution, many of the privileged Russians fled, while others stayed. The ones who stayed always blamed those who left. Perhaps they blamed themselves as well.

The way that Yevtushenko blends all of these emotions, and creates the kind of images that stay with you, shows his artistry. He has an exquisite sense of timing and balance that makes reading his poetry a true joy.

4 comments:

Ted said...

Great post, Eva. I love the passion of Yevtushenko. He, unlike many of his contemporaries, remained in Russian and this poem was written in 1977, which makes his inciting the students to Democracy pretty incendiary - no?

Eva said...

Ted, by the late 1970s, it was a little safer to write poems like this (he never explicitly named democracy, although the Decembrists was still a slap in the face), but he still took a risk. There's actually debate over whether Yevtushenko was really challenging the Soviet government, or if he only went as far as the government let him. I don't know enough to know the truth; I suspect it's somewhere in the middle. I mean, I'm sure that his goal was to walk the fine line without being arrested. But I highly doubt he was a Soviet pet!

Sarah said...

Thank you. This totally made my day. I haven't read as much Yevtushenko as I should and now, I need to go buy some. Great post. :)

Eva said...

Sarah, thanks for the kind words! They made my day. :D Yevtushenko actually visited my college, and went out to lunch with the Russian language students, while I was studying abroad in Russia. Incredibly depressing!