These were the thoughts running through Pasternak’s mind in 1956, two years before when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature that he had to decline due to political outrage it caused in the Soviet Union. It quite runs against the grain of “personal branding” concept and “overnight fame” culture of the recent years, widely propagated thanks to the Internet. Even today Boris Pasternak – It Is Not Seemly to Be Famous reads as a manifesto of the artist’s task to focus on his inner growth instead of making a public image.
It is also interesting to note some parallels between Pasternak’s poem and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Der Schauende that Pasternak translated into Russian. The central theme of Rilke’s poem is the futility of a man’s pursuit of worldly fame in favour of the more superiour gifts from God. Likewise, Pasternak beseeches an artist to lead such life that makes him “loved by wide expanses and hear the call of future years“. “But you yourself must not distinguish Your victory from your defeat” is another debt to Rilke’s poem, its latter part where the German poet compares the artist’s true quest to an Old Testament’s image of Angel of God who wins over a person in order to help the person grow. We need to submit ourselves to the force that better knows out potential, otherwise we cannot grow. Pasternak, in his turn, refines the point by reminding that a man, especially an artist, should not indulge in his achievements and remember that every victory may have a defeat lurking underneath, and vice versa.
You may find interesting:
Boris Pasternak at Academy of American Poets
Boris Pasternak’s Poetry at RuVerses
Boris Pasternak – It is not seemly to be famous… (1956)
It is not seemly to be famous:
Celebrity does not exalt;
There is no need to hoard your writings
And to preserve them in a vault.
To give your all-this is creation,
And not-to deafen and eclipse.
How shameful, when you have no meaning,
To be on everybody’s lips!
Try not to live as a pretender,
But so to manage your affairs
That you are loved by wide expanses,
And hear the call of future years.
Leave blanks in life, not in your papers,
And do not ever hesitate
To pencil out whole chunks, whole chapters
Of your existence, of your fate.
Into obscurity retiring
Try your development to hide,
As autumn mist on early mornings
Conceals the dreaming countryside.
Another, step by step, will follow
The living imprint of your feet;
But you yourself must not distinguish
Your victory from your defeat.
And never for a single moment
Betray your credo or pretend,
But be alive-this only matters-
Alive and burning to the end.
Translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater