Talk by Yevgeny Yevtushenko: Reading and Meditation

July 8, 2020  • Todd Breyfogle

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Talk, Yevgeny Yevtushenko


Yevtushenko wrote this poem during the early years of the Khrushchev thaw, but it bears the marks of thoroughgoing oppression. What does it say about an era where common acts of decency and integrity are considered courageous? Yevtushenko’s standard here is not extraordinary courage, but the ordinary acts by which he wills not to degrade himself or others. How is it “in so strange a time/common integrity could look like courage”? What is called courage, he suggests, is nothing more than calling a spade a spade, as we might say—refusing to denounce others for personal advantage, transparency in exposing bad thinking, seeing things as they are and saying so. Do we degrade ourselves and others in our speech or silence? Do we live a common integrity of which our children would be proud? 

Todd Breyfogle, Denver, Colorado

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