Category Archives: Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak – It Is Not Seemly to Be Famous

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.