Boris Pasternak

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A candle burned on the table, a candle burned ... he whispered to himself — the beginning of something confused, formless; he hoped that it would take shape of itself. But nothing more came to him.

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak [Борис Леонидович Пастернак] (10 February 189030 May 1960) Russian poet and writer famous for his novel 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.
    • On Soviet bureaucrats, in LIFE magazine (13 June 1960)
  • Poetry is a rich, full-bodied whistle, cracked ice crunching in pails, the night that numbs the leaf, the duel of two nightingales, the sweet pea that has run wild, Creation’s tears in shoulder blades.
    • LIFE magazine (13 June 1960)
  • It is no longer possible for lyric poetry to express the immensity of our experience. Life has grown too cumbersome, too complicated. We have acquired values which are best expressed in prose.
    • Interview in Writers at Work, Second Series (1963) edited by George Plimpton.
  • Work is the order of the day, just as it was at one time, with our first starts and our best efforts. Do you remember? Therein lies its delight. It brings back the forgotten; one’s stores of energy, seemingly exhausted, come back to life.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (1 January 1978)
  • 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.
    • As quoted in The New York Times (1 January 1978)

Nobel Prize

  • Like a beast in a pen, I’m cut off
    From my friends, freedom, the Sun.
    But the hunters are gaining ground;
    I’ve nowhere else to run.
  • Am I a gangster or a murderer?
    Of what crime do I stand
    Condemned? I made the whole world weep
    At the beauty of my land.
  • Even so, one step from my grave,
    I believe that cruelty, spite,
    The powers of darkness will in time
    Be crushed by the spirit of light.

Doctor Zhivago (1957)

  • Snow, snow over the whole land
    across all boundaries.
    The candle burned on the table,
    the candle burned.
    • As translated by Richard McKane (1985)
  • Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel.
  • Failure to love is almost like murder.
  • I love you madly, irrationally, infinitely.
  • "How wonderful to be alive," he thought. "But why does it always hurt?"
  • If it is so painful to love and to be charged with this electric current, howmuch more painful must it be to a woman and to be the current, and to inspire love.


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

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