Analysis of the Poem "Babi Yar"


In the poem, Babi Yar, Yevgeny Yevtushenko does a wonderful job of 
paying tribute to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. He does this by 
portraying the history of the Jewish people. Yevtushenko also uses 
various literary devices to heighten the sentiment of the poem. 

 The poem is told in the first person, by the author of the poem. 
In the poem it is also apparent that he is addressing all Russian
citizens when he writes "O Russian people". In this manner Yevtushenko 
is able to eulogize the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in front of a 
wide audience. This technique also allows him to speak directly to the 
Russian people and tell them of their wrongs at the end of the poem. 

 Through usage of the first person he is able to place himself in 
the various situations of anti-Semitism in history. He takes us
from Egypt, to the cross; from the Dryfus affair to the pogroms; from 
Anne Frank's dark room to the massacre of Babi Yar. Through all this 
Yevtushenko proclaims that "I" was there. This gives the reader a 
sense of being trapped in the middle of these horrifying events. The 
first person gives an eerie description that a third person 
description could not give. 

 After he finishes his recitation of past events he begins 
addressing the Russian people of the present. He tells them that in
general the Russians are a good hearted people. But, he goes on to say 
that there are a minority of Russians who ruin the good name of the 
whole. Yevtushenko contends that these people call themselves "The 
union of the Russian people". However, he then goes on to directly 
contradict their self-proclaimed name with clever uses of diction. He 
claims that the Internationale, or the Russian "union" song, will only 
be sung after these same anti-Semites are dead. In the last lines of 
the poem he admits that although he is not a Jew he demands to "let me 
be a Jew". Only when he is a Jew can he then go on to "call myself a 
Russian". What he means by all this is that the Russian people are not 
a group of Jew-haters, but rather a country of people who feel for
the sorrows of the Jewish people. 

 The first stanza is an introduction that tells us the occasion of 
the poem. It claims that "There are no monuments on Babi Yar, A
steep ravine is all, a rough memorial." He then goes on to devote the 
rest of the poem as a eulogy to the Jews killed by the Russians. 
Therefore, this first stanza gives us the reason why he wrote the 
poem. This poem would in fact be the memorial for Babi Yar. The first 
stanza also does a terrific job of setting the gloomy tone for the 
rest of the poem. He also seems to hint at the fact that the 
anti-Semitism that began with the Christians is the same exact 
anti-Semitism that has continued to the present date. The 
anti-Semitism of Egypt remained in "her ancient days", but he insists 
that "I perish on the cross, and even now I bear the red marks of 
nails." His usage of the words "even now" contend that that specific 
anti-Semitism continues to the present date. 

 In the next few stanzas sound plays a critical role. In the first 
line of the second stanza there is a repetition of the letter "d" in
"Dryfus, detested, denounced". This sound conjures something 
approaching from behind you, like a march. Although, this stanza only 
affects one man, Dryfus, but there is the image of something 
approaching in the "d" sound. The second line of the third stanza 
reads "I seam to see blood spurt and spread". Here we have the 
repetition of the "s" sound. This sounds like air escaping from 
something, getting ready to explode. Then all of a sudden there are 
"The rampant pogrom roars". Things are getting worse. In the following 
stanza is a "translucent twig". The repeated "t" sound is like the 
ticking of a time bomb. Immediately after this one reads of the 
"pounding", or the final explosion. The explosion creates a "silent" 
sound and an "endless soundless" because "thousands and thousandsof 
thousands are dead". There is hardly anyone left to attack. Almost all 
the Jews are dead. 


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