Speaking In Tongues
Scribbling In Voices

Chingis Aytmatov


Translated by Alec Vagapov

A great poet cannot be a spoilt child of fortune, much less a spoilt child of public; he cannot be a self-complacent lucky man, not even when known by millions of readers.
I am saying it because Yevgeny Yevtushenko's artistic fate is unique, and the way he faced it is also unique and edifying.
People of my age remember how sudden and impetuous Yvtushenko's emergence in the literature of the 50-ties was: an awkward and daring youngster, a man of outrageous and delicate talent, a thirsty child of the war time, a rowdy looking fellow was somehow cast onto the skating-rink of literature where his first steps, his vertiginous verses resembling the jumps and turns of a figure-skater sliding on glittering skates of rhymes immediately attracted the reader's attention. He slid on, with a swing, making "rollicking figures" to excessive whistles and jeers from the joyful audience which was carried away by his courage, the audience that applauded him heeding and rejoicing in his loud fresh voice, or was irritated, unwilling to accept the unusually open, uninhibited rhymes; but amidst this ballyhoo and hubbub one could hear, louder and louder, the music of Russian poetry, the music of the immortal Russian style, the music of the present, picked up by the young poet from the lips of men in the street and from the pages of high classics. He became a new poet of the post-war generation. Many of those belonging to that generation have now grown or are growing to be gray-haired masters.
His name appeared on playbills all around, he became 'poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko', and the danger was that he was exceedingly famous and almost as popular as a film-star. Besides, there were some who were not very friendly to him. But it only enhanced his zeal and strenuous effort, sometimes challenging, to set the sails of his poetical boat right, in the blowing wind, on the way to the changeable horizon of art devoutly wishing to be heard and recognized for, obviously, he had grounds for it.
Meanwhile, his fame, like a wave, was moving towards him in the country where 'a poet is more than just a poet'. However, everybody knows of the countless shipwrecks that have occurred in the storms of fame. No one can be of any help here, and only one's own mind can be the pilot.
To Yevtushenko's credit be it said, he managed to get over these seeming storms; he could tell the real thing from a sham, he managed to maintain the good health of his exorbitant talent, and being an innovator, he managed to become firmly established in the literary traditions, and although his boat, breaking through the violent waves of life, was not always steadfast, being torn by most complicated spiritual contradictions now and then, he would play around trying to be both an apostle and a rebellion at the same time. Yevgeny Yevtushenko has grown to be a big figure, a famous poet, a favorite.
It is a fact, and there is no denying it! When I say 'he has grown' I dod not only mean his gradual development, which, incidentally, is not a natural law in literature, but I also mean one of the most amazing traits of Yevtushenko and that is his ability of continuous self-perfection, continuos enrichment and cognition of new facets of human essence, constant renovation of feelings and perception of the world, and, consequently, of content and form of his creative work. As a man of art Yevtushenko always looks upon the world with the thirst of a discoverer; each time he appears to be capable of depicting the complexity of every day life and his anticipatory vision of the future. I cannot help remembering the assertion that literature in one of its manifestations is designed to slow down the time which runs by destroying everything in passing.
Great poetry makes our world eternally up-to-date, for how else can we account for these thousand year old lines of Avicenna's ? When you read them, you have a feeling as if they were written to-day, as if they concerned you personally, as if they the referred to the time you live in and, oddly enough, to your neighbors and acquaintances. That is why Pushkin is eternally young and indispensable for our heart and soul for we cannot imagine the harmony of the present world without Pushkin's literary style. As for Goethe, he is near and dear to us like no one else for the reason that he left us the wise image of old Europe in the best samples of its poetry and philosophy of art. And I think that if some day people would like to know our life through poetry e. i. to know it from the inside through our emotional experiences and our feeling of civic duty, through our shocking experiences and moments depicted in poems as excerpts of our fast flowing and fast changing life, through the instrumentality of our words, eyes, our arms and dreams, our reproaches and objects of our admiration in order to know what we were like as people, what we were inspired by in this unknown path, about our strong points and our weak points, then, our ancestors will turn to the works of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, along with those of the brightest representatives of soviet poetry, as a bright token of the period because Yevtushenko is a most up-to-date artist, the flesh and blood of our reality; his poetry has gone through and is marked by our time, and the time has, in its turn, been marked by him.
Civic duty and lyric are the two carriers and two criteria by which we have always measured and will measure the value and the global significance of poetry, including the author's personal experiences and feelings, his ideology, the epic and the national character of his creative work.
From this point of view Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a poet of extraordinarily wide scale and capacity. Surprisingly, his poetry contains the description of street life and also something imperceptible, something of celestial mechanics, and, amazingly, a contemporary individual is presented in his rhymes from the inaudible "rustle of soul" to his global cosmic tossing when he, like the figures of Michael Angelo creating the world, seeks support in heaven and earth, when he is a working man, a creator, when he is just a tired man... There is room for all that in the poetry of a great poet.
Poetry must be beautiful and that is what makes it specific. Poetry must be as courageous as a soldier, and that is what makes it steadfast and unflinching. Poetry must be musical and that is what makes it fascinating for there is no limit to the embodiment of man's spiritual life. This comes to my mind when I read great poets, and it makes me extremely happy when I find my contemporaries in this consonance. I should apologize for saying "I ,me, mine" repeatedly but there is no poetry which is not for "me" because art is only effective if it is with us, and only poetry relating to the lives of people and attracting people can be of real value. It is not popularity that we talk about, it's something more important, though something less sensational.
The loud period of Yevtushenko is gone, though it is still something to be reckoned with, and if you asked me what I like better, the early Yevtushenko or the Yevtushenko of later period, I should say I prefer the later Yevtushenko of course, wise, somewhat more tragic, if you like, though the nostalgia of his early works will suddenly make me cry, perhaps because we were young then.
And now we see the Yevtushenko of to-day who has the experience of modern master of poetic style, a poet who has come to deep comprehension of the world through self-struggle, through the foundation of national culture of Pushkin, Nekrasov, Mayakovsky and Tvardovsky through the experience of world literature and art, where we see the influence, direct or indirect, of the best that the XXth cntury has given the world: Picasso, Gorky, Hemigway, Shostakovitch, Neruda, Eisenstein, Fellini, Louis Aragon, Thomas Mann... For great art is always the kind of art that is common to all mankind...
If Thomas Mann was right in saying that "literature is humanism plus politics" then the best example of it should be Soviet literature and, in particular, the creative work of Yevtushenko.
The works of the poet reflect our knowledge and our convictions. And not only do we appreciate what concerns us, our society, our problems and cares, but we also highly value what is part and parcel of his humane creative work, we value his ability to absorb the anxieties of the world and the fact that the radars of his spirit are always in the stand by mode, searching sensitively the world space...
This feeling of comradeship, this position of spiritual blood transfer from man to man is one of the most important result of man's cognition.
The main purpose of modern art consists in the ability to awaken in man thoughts and feelings which make the world a matter of personal anxiety for each of us. That is how we can save the world from the nuclear disaster.
In our days art is becoming a weapon in peace struggle, and many of Yebvtushenko's poems are directly turned to this subject showing him as a tribune and a writer.
Yevtushenko is a poet of Russia, and that is what makes him a happy man...