"Babi Yar" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko: An Analysis

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