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 ezza 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 ezza 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 ezza.

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