Publication Date

2011

Journal

The Russian Review

Volume

70

Issue

3

Abstract

Boris Pasternak’s poemy are acutely self-conscious of their place in the epic tradition. Lieutenant Schmidt (LS) represents one attempt at exploring the parameters of the poema itself as the poet makes a “difficult” transition from “lyric thinking” to “the epic.” In this article I examine this transition against a contemporaneous example in the genre, Tsvetaeva’s Poema of the End (PE). In LS, structural elements of the poema are counterposed to those of PE. While PE amplifies the individual voice, LS muffles what is personal for the sake of the public voice. While PE is atemporal, LS is historical. While PE unfolds on symbolic planes, with elements of plot kept to a bare minimum (a single moment of separation), LS is a plot-driven account based on concrete, documentary material. Finally, while PE is an “overgrown lyric”—representing the “lyric thinking” that Pasternak hopes to transcend— LS is an exploration of the possibilities that a more traditional model of the poema can offer. Although in the present analysis I draw on several theories of poetic genres, this is by no means an exhaustive study of epic versus lyric forms of poetry. Instead, my analysis focuses on those structural and thematic features of the poema that the poets themselves perceived as central to their texts. Pasternak, for his part, develops the structure and thematics of his poema in ways that are inspired by PE, but also, as we will see, in more significant ways, contrast with it.

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