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Babi Yar


There are very few people in the world who are willing to
go against the popular trends and do what they feel in
their hearts is correct; Yevgeny Yevtushenko is one of
those people. In his poem Babi Yar, he tells the story of
the modern persecution of the Jews, focusing on atrocities
like those of the massacre at Babi Yar and the pogroms at
Beilostok, and also the general anti-Semitism that killed
men like Dreyfus and pervades the entire Russian people.
The poem uses many literary devices, such as graphic
imagery and contrasts, while painting a very clear picture
of the scenes of pure horror.
Babi Yar is written in many different voices; all of which,
however, have the same message. The author starts off with
his own perspective, then goes on and describes certain
people in modern Jewish history whose lives will forever be
remembered as symbols of the time. At the end of the poem
the author comes back and speaks in his own voice. Yet,
this time, he delivers a message to his people about how
they have committed a large number of these crimes against
the Jews, and thought that such actions are pure and good
for Russia. By switching from the voices of those who were
so afflicted by the persecution to a voice of accusation,
the author effectively points out how foolish the arguments
of the Russians are when they try to point out any validity
in killing millions of Jews. 

The poem starts out with a description of the ravine at
Babi Yar. However, all it says is that there is nothing to
describe. It calls the steep ravine, which is the grave
sight of one hundred thousand people, the only memorial
that is there. This frightens the author, because the
massiveness of the tragedy deserves at least some
recognition. Then Yevtushenko realizes that fear is a part
of Judaism, something that is as old as them, and therefore
originating with them. 

He says that he too must be a Jew for he is afraid of what
his people and his society have become. Many years ago, in
the "ancient days," it would not be such a shock to see the
Jews enslaved in Egypt or crucified as a means of torture
and death, but even in modern times the same things are
going on-he still has the marks from where the nails
pierced him. The author has used classical examples of
Jewish persecution which every one knows is gone in the
physical sense, but show how they still exist in the
theoretical aspect, as the persecution is still occurring.
In the next three stanzas, the poem takes the standpoint of
three figures whose stories are pertinent examples of what
Yevtushenko is trying to rely in this poem. First the voice
of Dreyfus is used, and the stanza describes how horribly
and unfairly he was treated, and how the country and its
leaders turned their backs on him. 

There are two important literary devices used in this
section. First the author puts the word "pettiness" on a
line by itself. This is used as a declaration of what the
author feels anti-Semitism is based on. It is because of
pettiness that Dreyfus was accused and further because of
pettiness that he was not pardoned when it was proven that
he had not committed any crime. The next important device
is the description of ladies with their umbrellas. This is
an image to the wealthy aristocracy of France, who not only
turned their backs on Dreyfus and did not help him, but
also increased the effort to have him punished

The next Jewish figure whom the author singles out is a boy
from the town of Bielostok, where one of the most horrible
pogroms ever took place. The entire stanza focuses on the
image of how bad the people were who participated in the
pogrom. Using graphic images of blood spurting all around
and of victims pointlessly begging for mercy, the author
clearly shows how wrong the pogroms were and wrong his
countrymen were for allowing them to occur. A device the
author uses in this stanza is contrast, as in one line he
writes how the participants were crying that the pogrom was
to "Save Russia," and on the next line says that these same
participants were beating up his mother, whose existence
obviously was not harming the country.
Anne Frank is the next figure whom the poem highlights. The
poet calls her "a translucent twig of April." He is using
the image of something small and fragile which can so
easily be broken. By this he is showing how weak and frail
she was. She was definitely undeserving of the events that
she had to live through, but in addition to that she was
only a small weak child, as weak as a twig. Even more so he
shows how good of a person she was that she was so full of
love, yet could not even experience the sky or trees, only
sit in a dark room. 

After these narratives the poet starts the next section of
the poem. In his own voice, he asks his people not to fear
love. If everyone just got along, then everything would be
nice and happy. He says it will be like spring, which is
the usual metaphor for new and better times. This stanza is
a general plea to non-Jews that everyone should just be
friends and then the process of world harmony will be sped

This is contrasted to the following stanza where the author
again remembers the tragedy of Babi Yar and the Holocaust.
Using imagery of bare trees and howling winds, the poem
makes a description of winter, which is a metaphor for bad
times. So the author contrast the two seasons of winter and
spring showing how right now hatred is keeping everyone in
winter, but once there is peace then spring can start and
life will get better.
The rest of the poem focuses on what the Russian people
must do to change their attitude about Jews. First the
author criticizes them for acting so shamelessly, and then
he says that Jews must be accepted by all Russians who can
honestly call themselves that. This is compounded when it
says that one can truly be a Russian only when he undergoes
the same treatment that the Jews go through, only when they
experience the same type of hatred. This final statement is
a reversal of the general view of the Russian people, and
it reaffirms how Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a person who is not
afraid to go against the popular opinion in order to make
life better.


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