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Babi Yar - Analysis of the Poem


 Yevtushenko speaks in first person throughout the poem. This 
creates the tone of him being in the shoes of the Jews. As he says in 
lines 63-64, "No Jewish blood is mixed in mine, but let me be a Jew . 
. . " He writes the poem to evoke compassion for the Jews and make 
others aware of their hardships and injustices. "Only then can I call 
myself Russian." (lines 66-67). The poet writes of a future time when 
the Russian people realize that the Jews are people as well accept 
them as such. If you hate the Jews, he asks, why not hate me as well? 
True peace and unity will only occur when they have accepted everyone, 
including the Jews.

 Stanza I describes the forest of Babi Yar, a ravine on the 
outskirts of Kiev. It was the site of the Nazi massacre of more than
thirty thousand Russian Jews on September 29-30, 1941. There is no 
memorial to the thirty thousand, but fear pervades the area. Fear that 
such a thing could occur at the hands of other humans. The poet feels 
the persecution and pain and fear of the Jews who stood there in this 
place of horror. Yevtushenko makes himself an Israelite slave of Egypt 
and a martyr who died for the sake of his religion. In lines 7-8, he 
claims that he still bars the marks of the persecution of the past. 

There is still terrible persecution of the Jews in present times 
because of their religion. These lines serve as the transition from 
the Biblical and ancient examples he gives to the allusions of more 
recent acts of hatred. The lines also allude to the fact that these 
Russian Jews who were murdered at Babi Yar were martyrs as well. 

 The next stanza reminds us of another event in Jewish history 
where a Jew was persecuted solely because of his religious beliefs. 
The poet refers to the "pettiness" (line 11) of anti-Semitism as the 
cause of Dreyfus' imprisonment. Anti-Semitism is his "betrayer" (line 
12) when he is framed, and anti-Semitism is his "judge" (line 12) when 
he is wrongly found guilty. Lines 13-14 claim that even the fine and 
supposedly civilized women of society shun Dreyfus because he is a Jew 
and fear him like they would fear an animal. 

 In stanza III, Yevtushenko brings himself to the midst of the 
pogroms of Bielostok. He gives the readers the image of a young
boy on the floor being beaten and bleeding while he witnesses others 
beat his mother. In line 24, he gives the reader the rationale of the 
Russians who are inflicting such atrocities on the Jews. "'Murder the 
Jews! Save Russia!'" They view the Jews as the curse of Russia; 
a Jewish plague that must end in order to save their country from 
evil. In a way they think that they are acting in patriotism. 

 The poet transports us to Anne Frank's attic in the fourth stanza. 
He describes to the reader the innocent love that has blossomed 
between Anne and Paul. Her love of the world and life and spring has 
been denied her (line 30). Yet, she manages to find comfort for her 
loss in the embrace of her beloved. In line 33, Yevtushenko shows the 
reader Anne's denial of what is going on around her. She tries to 
drown out the noise of the Nazis coming to get her. When her precious 
spring comes, so do the war and the Nazis to take her to her death. 

 Stanza V brings us back to the ravine of Babi Yar. In line 40, the 
poet chooses to personify the trees. They "stare down" on him in 
judgement as G-d would. Line 41 is oxymoronic. There is a silent 
mourning for the martyred Jews by the air; a force in nature. The air 
around Babi Yar howls for the massacre it has witnessed. The poet 
himself claims to be "an endless soundless howl/ over the buried" 
(lines 43-44). He is a mourner for the thirty thousand, but there is 
nothing that can be said. He writes that e is every one of thirty 
thousand and feels their pain and injustice. "In no limb of my body 
can I forget." (line 57). His physical body feels their pain. "Limbs" 
depicts an image of mangled bodies in the mass grave of Babi Yar. 

 Stanza VI begins with Yevtushenko reminding the Russian people of 
their ability to be good hearted and moral. He speaks of "men with 
dirty hands" (lines 52-53). Fascists, Nazis whose hands are covered in 
the blood of the innocent, come to Russia and cause the Russians to 
close their magnanimous hearts. The tone of lines 52-54 is cruel and 
harsh like the actions of the Nazis. These hateful people claim to 
bring "the union of the Russian people" (line 59). He makes a point of 
referring to these people as "anti-Semites" (line 57) because the Jews 
are Russians, too. The Nazis in effect have turned Russian against 
Russian - hardly a "union." 

 In the last stanza, the poet calls for world unity which will only 
occur when anti-Semitism has ended. He is not a Jew, yet he equates 
himself to one. If all Russians are people, then the Jews are no less 
Russian or less human than he himself. If this is the way you treat 
these Russian people, he is trying to express, then treat me, a "real" 
Russian, as you have treated the Russian Jews. Only then will all 
Russians truly be united and equal.

 Yevtushenko is a supporter of the Jewish plight. He sees the 
injustice that they have been subject to and feels responsible for it
in a way. He tries to rationalize why his people, the Russians, have 
acted so immorally and blames their actions on the influence of 
others. He calls to his people to reform; simultaneously urging the 
Jews not to blame them entirely for their actions and to show that 
they do have natural goodness within them.


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