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Boris Pasternak – It Is Not Seemly to Be Famous

Boris Pasternak – It Is Not Seemly to Be Famous reads as an artist’s manifesto of the importance of inner growth over the public fame

An autograph of Boris Pasternak’s poem

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

Russian Winter in Arts: Boris Pasternak – Winter Night

Egon Schiele, Embrace (Lovers)
Marc Chagall, Green Lovers

Boris Pasternak – Winter Night

Sweeping, sweeping all earth’s corners
Came the snowstorm turning;
On the table burned a candle,
Stood a candle burning.

As in summer swarms of midges
Draw towards the flame,
From outside there flocked the snowflakes
To the window pane.

On the window circles, arrows,
Marked the snowstorm’s churning;
On the table burned a candle,
Stood a candle burning.

And across the brightened ceiling
Fell the shadows’ spate:
Arms cross-wise and legs cross-wise
In a cross-wise fate.

With a thud upon the floor
A pair of shoes fell down;
Waxen teardrops from the night-light
Dripped upon a gown.

All was lost in snowy darkness,
In the white hoar whirling.
On the table burned a candle,
Stood a candle burning.

Corner-draughts caught at the flame
As temptation’s fire
Raised a pair of angels’ wings
Like a cross afire.

All through February the snow swept:
Sometimes in its turning
On the table burned a candle,
Stood a candle burning.

Translated by Henry Kamen, 1962.

Original Russian text.

Мело, мело по всей земле 
Во все пределы. 
Свеча горела на столе, 
Свеча горела. 
Как летом роем мошкора 
Летит на пламя, 
Слетались хлопья со двора 
К оконной раме. 

Simone Lipschitz, Lovers

Метель лепила на столе 
Кружки и стрелы. 
Свеча горела на столе, 
Свеча горела. 
На озаренный потолок 
Ложились тени, 
Скрещенья рук, скркщенья ног, 
Судьбы скрещенья. 
И падали два башмачка 
Со стуком на пол, 
И воск слезами с ночника 
На платье капал. 
И все терялось в снежной мгле 
Седой и белой. 
Свеча горела на столе, 
Свеча горела. 
На свечку дуло из угла, 
И жар соблазна 
Вздымал, как ангел, два крыла 
Мело весь месяц в феврале, 
И то и дело 
Свеча горела на столе, 
Свеча горела.

Борис Пастернак, 1946. 

From Shakespeare to Wagner (via Zizek)

Before the end of this week (before Friday 13th, that is) you have the chance to vote for the 13th member of the Shakespeare Hall of Fame. The names range from Sarah Bernhardt to David Tennant, with the inclusion of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Boris Pasternak. The Russian LiveJournal users (including me) would very much like to see the Nobel Prize winning Russian author Pasternak to be included. However, as I remarked jokingly in my LJ post, if I send the link to my Italian friend, he will certainly choose Virginia Woolf.

And now there is a plenty of time to plan your visit to Leeds on March 10th. You can do this either because of Richard Wagner… or because of Slavoj Žižek. In the talk and on-stage interview, chaired by Professor Derek Scott of the University of Leeds, Prof Žižek is going to delight his listeners with the talk titled “Brunhilde’s act, or, why was it so difficult for Wagner to find a proper ending for his twilight of the gods?” The event is at the Howard Assembly Room, and tickets cost just £3. Read on for more information. Many thanks to Kishore Budha for announcing the event on Facebook.

To finish, a quote from the very end of Maugham’s Theatre, very appropriate, given our different attitudes to theatre, Žižek, Wagner, and, well, even Shakespeare:

A head-waiter came up to her with an ingratiating smile.
‘Everything all right, Miss Lambert?’

‘Lovely. You know, it’s strange how people differ. Mrs Siddons was a rare one for chops; I’m not a bit like her in that; I’m a rare one for steaks’.

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