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This article is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

Wherefore Poets in Destitute Times Angela Livingstone

I.
IMPRESSIVE through the whole of Pasternak's work is his confidence in poetry. Never-despite all losses of personal self-confidence, despite troubles (a broken marriage, prolonged insomnia, public rejection and persecution, illness, age) did he lose his certainty of the necessity of poetry and of his power to make it. . Hölderlin asked "Wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?" Russian poets don't ask this. They live "in a needy age" all right, but they think of art as wealth itself, not of paper but gold, more valid than the whole public currency of abstraction (the art-hating Soviet establishment) even when the abstraction-dealers seek them out to kill them. Pasternak was of course not killed, only silenced for a decade or so, with rude and cruel things said to him. But his friends were killed, among them the two fine Georgian poets Titian Tabidze and Paolo Yashvili, and one would think he had every reason to collapse inwardly from the fierceness of helplessness.

The fact of his not collapsing is the immense fact to be stressed. His confidence as an artist, his mysteriously indestructible love of life, seems as strong as religion must have been to passionate Christians before Christianity became eccentric, and it is from this that those of us who have "grown stale of heart from waiting" (to quote from the text below) can learn how to live with the death of God. Moreover, for Pasternak it is precisely the "neediness of the time" that impels art ...


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