Boris Leonidovich Pasternak(1890 - 1960), poet and prose writer, one of the great modern masters of Russian literature. Pasternak was the elder son of artist Leonid Pasternak and pianist Rozaliya Kaufman. He was born, brought up, and lived most of his life in Moscow. His early years were spent in a richly cultural artistic atmosphere. He showed early promise in both art and music, and under the impact of Scriabin studied musical composition for six years (1903-09). Pursued by vocational doubts, however, he read philosophy at Moscow University (1908-13), and an enthusiasm for Neo-Kantianism took him to Marburg University to study under Hermann Cohen in the summer semester of 1912.
Contacts with Moscow literary circles and his reading of Russian Symbolist literature (Blok, Bely and others) and of works by Hamsun, Ibsen, Przybyszewski, and Rilke probably first stimulated Pasternak's own literary endeavors, and around 1909 he wrote translations of Rilke and pieces of autobiographically based prose and verse. Pasternak's publishing debut was in 1913 with the Lirika poetic group, and in 1914 a first verse collection Twin in the Stormclouds (Bliznets v tuchakh) appeared. The same year he joined Sergei Bobrov's moderate Futurist group, Tsentrifuga, and until 1917 published polemical articles and verse in a variety of futurist miscellanies. Topical "urban", symbolist and ego-futurist elements did not obscure the original talent and personality in Pasternak's early poetry, which was characterized by alliterative orchestration, novelty of rhyme, rhythmic and lexical variety, and by virtuosic metaphor. Pasternak met Mayakovsky in spring of 1914, and some of his wartime verse registered Mayakovsky's influence. Two prose stories "The Mark of Apelles" (Apellesova cherta 1915, published 1918) and "Letters from Tula" (Pi'sma it Tuly 1918, published 1922) reflected Pasternak's attempt to purge himself of the alien "romantic manner," and an article called "Some Propositions" (Neskol'ko polozhenii 1918, published 1922) also dwelt on the aesthetic and ethical reasons for resisting the current vogue for poetic rhetoric and self-dramatization.
Partially lamed by a childhood accident, Pasternak was rejected for military service and spent part of World War I engaged in clerical work in the Urals, only returning to Moscow after the February 1917 Revolution. An amorous affair of summer 1917, intensified by revolutionary exhilaration and experiences of a journey to the Saratov area, inspired the verses of My Sister Life (Sestra moya zhizn'). This important poetic cycle circulated widely before its publication in 1922 and earned Pasternak acclaim as a major modern poet. The cycle celebrates love and nature experience as the rapturous revelation of a creative life-force. In it luxurious and explosive imagery combines and sometimes contrasts with the disciplined quatrain form, occasional colloquial idiom and elliptical syntax. The same freshness of vision was also captured in the prose story "Zhenya Luvers' Childhood" (Detstvo Lyuvers, 1918, published 1922) in which a child's developing awareness of surrounding objects, human beings and moral concerns is evoked, transcending the arbitrariness of ordinary psychological description and subverting the orderly severity of the unpoetic adult world.
Pasternak's first marriage, to Evgeniya Lurie, broke up in 1931 after nine years, largely as a result of his new infatuation with Zinaida Neigauz, who eventually became his second wife. In summer 1931 Pasternak travelled with his new consort to the Caucasus, and new friendships blossomed with Georgian poets Iashvili, Tabidze, and Chikovani. Love lyrics and Georgian impressions loomed large in a further verse collection Second Birth (Vtoroe rozhdenie, 1932). The title evidently implied a form of renewal, and in the verses Pasternak spoke of and demonstrated his striving towards a new and "unprecedented simplicity." The poetry also hinted at a new-found optimism and reconciliation of lyrical and social elements, while still emphasising the seriousness and tragic potential of the poet's calling. But artistic rebirth was short-lived. When independent artistic groups were disbanded in 1932 and the new Union of Soviet Writers assumed control of literary affairs, one of its primary functions was to impose conformity and adherence to the principles of socialist realism. Pasternak was officially recognized as a major poetic talent, and for a time he perhaps naively showed willingness to participate in official literary life. He was a leading, though oblique and idiosyncratic speaker at the First Congress of Writers in 1934, and he was in the Soviet delegation to the Paris Conference of 1935 in Defense of Culture. But he recognized the dangers of being cast as an approved "court poet" and was privately revolted by the tyranny of Stalinism. After 1935 his flow of original writings virtually ceased, and his few recorded public statements were sharply critical of official interference with artistic freedoms. Earlier cajoling and muffled criticism of Pasternak now became openly hostile, and as colleagues and friends disappeared in the purges of the later 1930s, Pasternak resorted to poetic translation as a safer livelihood. His renderings of Georgian poets pleased Stalin and may have helped to preserve his liberty; they were followed by Russian renderings of Byron, Keats, Petofi, Verlaine, and Becher. In the years of World War II and the later 1940s he also translated the major tragedies of Shakespeare, and these remain the standard versions used for staging the dramas in Russia. Two further major translating achievements were Pasternak's versions of Goethe's Faust (1953) and Schiller's Maria Stuart (1958).
Within Russia, the war brought some ideological relaxation and concession, and a revival of morale. Some of Pasternak's earlier verse was reprinted and two new collections appeared. On Early Trains (Na rannikh poezdakh, 1943) and Breadth of Earth (Zemnoi prostor, 1945) handled patriotic themes while eschewing all hackneyed official rhetoric; in simple, unforced language Pasternak described everyday local scenes, evoking a sense of communion with common folk at work and at war. The postwar ideological clampdown of "Zhdanovism" in the arts again forced Pasternak into silence. Surrounded by terror and suspicion, he labored on with translations while working away in secret on the manuscript of a prose novel. Themes, characterizations, names, and situations from prose fragments published between 1918 and 1939 now re-emerged in the novel Doctor Zhivago which Pasternak completed in 1955.
Doctor Zhivago was rejected for publication in the USSR, but its publication (1957) and acclaim in the West, followed by the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1958) unleashed a bitter official campaign against Pasternak, forcing him to reject the award. In the late 1950s Pasternak composed a further book of transparent and reflective verse, When the Weather Clears (Kogda razgulyaetsya, 1957), and a second "autobiographical essay," Avtobiograficheskii ocherk (1957); both books came out first in the West, but were later printed in the USSR also. A historical drama, The Blind Beauty (Slepaya krasavitsa), was left incomplete at Pasternak's death; surviving extracts depict Russia's emergence from tyranny to emancipation and enlightment in the late 19th and early 20th century and suggest that the work was conceived as a form of aesopian comment on Stalinist and post-Stalinist Russia. Despite official opprobrium, Pasternak's funeral at Peredelkino writers' settlement near Moscow was attended by thousands, and his villa and grave are still places of pilgrimage.