Borís Pasternak quotes

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Borís Pasternak

Birthdate: 10. February 1890
Date of death: 30. May 1960

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was a Soviet Russian poet, novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russian, Pasternak's first book of poems, My Sister, Life , is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language. Pasternak's translations of stage plays by Goethe, Schiller, Calderón de la Barca and Shakespeare remain very popular with Russian audiences.

Outside Russia, Pasternak is best known as the author of Doctor Zhivago , a novel which takes place between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the First World War. Doctor Zhivago was rejected for publication in the USSR. At the instigation of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Doctor Zhivago was smuggled to Milan and published in 1957 and distributed with the help of the CIA in the rest of Europe. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, an event which both humiliated and enraged the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which forced him to decline the prize, though his descendants were later to accept it in his name in 1988.

Photo: Unknown / Public domain

Works

Doctor Zhivago
Borís Pasternak

„The idea that underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because it is meaningful.“

—  Borís Pasternak, book Doctor Zhivago

Book One, Ch. 2 : A Girl from a Different World, § 10, as translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari (1958)
Variant translations:
I think that if the beast dormant in man could be stopped by the threat of, whatever, the lockup or requital beyond the grave, the highest emblem of mankind would be a lion tamer with his whip, and not the preacher who sacrifices himself. But the point is precisely this, that for centuries man has been raised above the animals and borne aloft not by the rod, but by music: the irresistibility of the unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has been considered up to now that the most important thing in the Gospels is the moral pronouncements and rules, but for me the main thing is that Christ speaks in parables from daily life, clarifying the truth with the light of everyday things. At the basis of this lies the thought that communion among mortals is immortal and that life is symbolic because it is meaningful.
Book One, Part 2 : A Girl from a Different World, § 10, as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (2010)
I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats of any kind, whether of jail or retribution, then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer, not the prophet who sacrificed himself.... What for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but the irresistible power of unarmed truth.
Paraphrase of the 1958 translation, as quoted in The New York Times (1 January 1978)
Doctor Zhivago (1957)
Context: I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats — any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death — then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself. But don’t you see, this is just the point — what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the powerful attraction of its example. It has always been assumed that the most important things in the Gospels are the ethical maxims and commandments. But for me the most important thing is that Christ speaks in parables taken from life, that He explains the truth in terms of everyday reality. The idea that underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because it is meaningful.

„I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats — any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death — then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself.“

—  Borís Pasternak, book Doctor Zhivago

Book One, Ch. 2 : A Girl from a Different World, § 10, as translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari (1958)
Variant translations:
I think that if the beast dormant in man could be stopped by the threat of, whatever, the lockup or requital beyond the grave, the highest emblem of mankind would be a lion tamer with his whip, and not the preacher who sacrifices himself. But the point is precisely this, that for centuries man has been raised above the animals and borne aloft not by the rod, but by music: the irresistibility of the unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has been considered up to now that the most important thing in the Gospels is the moral pronouncements and rules, but for me the main thing is that Christ speaks in parables from daily life, clarifying the truth with the light of everyday things. At the basis of this lies the thought that communion among mortals is immortal and that life is symbolic because it is meaningful.
Book One, Part 2 : A Girl from a Different World, § 10, as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (2010)
I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats of any kind, whether of jail or retribution, then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer, not the prophet who sacrificed himself.... What for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but the irresistible power of unarmed truth.
Paraphrase of the 1958 translation, as quoted in The New York Times (1 January 1978)
Doctor Zhivago (1957)
Context: I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats — any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death — then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself. But don’t you see, this is just the point — what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel but an inward music: the irresistible power of unarmed truth, the powerful attraction of its example. It has always been assumed that the most important things in the Gospels are the ethical maxims and commandments. But for me the most important thing is that Christ speaks in parables taken from life, that He explains the truth in terms of everyday reality. The idea that underlies this is that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because it is meaningful.

„Don't sleep, don't sleep, artist,
Don't give in to sleep.
You are eternity's hostage
A captive of time.“

—  Borís Pasternak

Poem "Night" (Ночь), from When the Weather Clears (Kogda razgulyaetsya, 1957) — as quoted in One Less Hope: Essays on Twentieth-century Russian Poets (2006) by Constantin V. Ponomareff, p. 130

„Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune.“

—  Borís Pasternak, book Doctor Zhivago

As quoted in "Boris Pasternak" in I.F. Stone's Weekly (3 November 1958), § "Words Which Apply to Us As Well As Russia"; later in The Best of I.F. Stone (2006), p. 43
Doctor Zhivago (1957)
Context: The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn't just a fiction, it's part of our physical body, and our souls exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in the mouth. It can't forever be violated with impunity.

„Snow, snow over the whole land
across all boundaries.
The candle burned on the table,
the candle burned.“

—  Borís Pasternak, book Doctor Zhivago

As translated by Richard McKane (1985)
Doctor Zhivago (1957)

„They don’t ask much of you. They only want you to hate the things you love and to love the things you despise.“

—  Borís Pasternak

On Soviet bureaucrats, in LIFE magazine (13 June 1960)

„What is laid down, ordered, factual is never enough to embrace the whole truth: life always spills over the rim of every cup.“

—  Borís Pasternak

As quoted in Bridges to Infinity : The Human Side of Mathematics (1983) by Michael Guillen

„My own heart would have concealed it from me, for failure to love is almost like murder and I would have been incapable of inflicting such a blow on anyone.“

—  Borís Pasternak, book Doctor Zhivago

Мое собственное сердце скрыло бы это от меня, потому что нелюбовь почти как убийство, и я никому не в силах была бы нанести этого удара.
Doctor Zhivago (1957)

„And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…“

—  Borís Pasternak, book Doctor Zhivago

И вот оказалось, что только жизнь, похожая на жизнь окружающих и среди нее бесследно тонущая, есть жизнь настоящая, что счастье обособленное не есть счастье...
As quoted in The Reporter, Volume 19, 1958
Doctor Zhivago (1957)

„I love you wildly, insanely, infinitely.“

—  Borís Pasternak, book Doctor Zhivago

Variant: I love you madly, irrationally, infinitely.
Source: Doctor Zhivago (1957)

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