People by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

This was copied by a stranger on the back of a paper wrapper, passed on to me by a friend during class. That was in 2004. The note said, “Of course I find you pretty,” but I don’t think it was for me. The poem though—I was meant to read it.

People
Yevgeny Yevtushenko

No people are uninteresting.
Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

Nothing in them is not particular,
and planet is dissimilar from planet.

And if a man lived in obscurity
making his friends in that obscurity
obscurity is not uninteresting.

To each his world is private,
and in that world one excellent minute.

And in that world one tragic minute.
These are private.

In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery.
Whose fate is to survive.

But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.

Whom we knew as faulty, the earth’s creatures
Of whom, essentially, what did we know?

Brother of a brother? Friend of friends?
Lover of lover?

We who knew our fathers
in everything, in nothing.

They perish. They cannot be brought back.
The secret worlds are not regenerated.

And every time again and again
I make my lament against destruction.

Here is another version, from a book I bought years later:

“No people are…”
Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Translated by Albert C. Todd

To S. Preobrazhenski

No people are uninteresting.
Their destinies are like histories of planets.
Nothing in them is not particular,
and no planet is like another.

And if someone lives in obscurity,
befriending that obscurity,
he is interesting to people
by his very obscurity.

Everyone has his own secret, private world.
In that world is a finest moment.
In that world is a tragic hour,
but it is all unknown to us.

And if someone dies
there dies with him his first snow,
and first kiss, and first fight.
He takes it all with him.

Yes, books and bridges remain,
and painted canvas and machinery,
yes, much is sentenced to remain,
but something really departs all the same!

Such is the law of the pitiless game.
It’s not people who die, but worlds.
We remember people, sinful and earthly.
But what did we know, in essence, about them?

What do we know of brothers, of friends?
What do we know of our one and only?
And about our own fathers,
knowing everything, we know nothing.

They perish. They cannot be brought back.
Their secret worlds are not regenerated.
And every time I want again
to cry out against the unretrievableness.

This is from The Collected Poems: 1952-1990 by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, published by Henry Holt and Company, 1991.

Updated on 1 May 2013, to include the back story of how I came upon this poem, and why it was incomplete, as pointed out from a comment below (I have since added the missing stanzas). This is an old entry written almost seven years ago, so my deepest thanks to J. for bringing me back to this. I took this as an opportunity to include another version, which is from a collection of poems by Yevtushenko, which I own.

6 Comments

  1. I have found another version online at PoemHunter.com with 5 more stanzas after “Not people die but worlds die in them”:

    Whom we knew as faulty, the earth’s creatures
    Of whom, essentially, what did we know?

    Brother of a brother? Friend of friends?
    Lover of lover?

    We who knew our fathers
    in everything, in nothing.

    They perish. They cannot be brought back.
    The secret worlds are not regenerated.

    And every time again and again
    I make my lament against destruction.

    Any idea why these were left out? I once found a Bowdlerized version of William Blake’s “The Clod and the Pebble” on a blogger’s page (they left out the pebble stanza) and when I asked why, they said they only liked the first stanza – which completely misrepresented Blake’s poem. Its worse than those people who misread Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as an anodyne piece of Hallmark greeting card verse. If you at least have the whole poem, you can apply your intelligence to precisely what the poet wrote. Having said that, I don’t think these missing 5 stanzas substantially alter the first 8 stanzas published here. I’m just curious. ;-)

  2. I think it amazing we can receive this poem in English like a ramrod to the heart in a velvet glove the way it was intended with all the force and tenderness the poet intended. My God we should never take translators for granted, those lovers of language whose stewardship allows this kind of understanding and sharing and authenticity.

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