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Sally Kim

on 7 October 2014

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by Gina, Sally + Jo
picture of childhood // yevgeny yevtushenko
Yevtushenko instantly introduces the notion of 'groups' in his opening sentence "Elbowing our way, we run". This continued use of plural nouns is continued throughout his entire poem, “our felt boots. wipe our sniffles…. We saw".
The idea of belonging is explicitly presented in the poem as one of the perpetrators informally cries “Come on, youngster, get in it!” This is a blatant reference, an invitation extended to the narrator acting as temptation to belong.
“The mob wanted to settle accounts fully…
The mob was deaf with rage….
The mob grumbled at those who weren’t putting their boots in,”
The empathic “wheeze” only serves to emphasise the pathetic, victimised nature of the prosecuted. He makes an attempt to establish a connection with the aggressors, pleading that he belongs with them as a “mate” – the amicable term heightens this notion. Yevtushenko’s use of subsequent repetition of “the mob” can be seen in;
Overall, "Picture of Childhood" is a subtle but powerful examination of the politics of human relationships and patterns in their interactions, and thus in groups. Exclusion, an idea intertwined deeply with belonging, is examined through Yevtushenko's conflicting characters - one of whom is not appreciative of his exclusion, and another who makes the admirable decision not to. Yevtushenko's examination of belonging contains mixtures of populism and dictatorship.
The deceptively simple poem "Picture of Childhood" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko is an imagery-laden stark examination of the notions of belonging.
Belonging is blatantly represented through the juxtaposition of a "mob" physically abusing a single man, strikingly highlighted by an innocent group of young observers who "stood stock-still". Yevtushenko emphasises the idea of belonging being a conscious decision as the innocent onlookers easily succumb to the passive attitudes of pack-mentality.
Conversely, Yevtushenko juxtaposes the implication of community along with his explicit use of singular nouns of "he stood up…. His head pulled…"; these such ideas of individuality are often subsequently followed by negative images of "jabs, kicks, spitting, slaps."
This demonstrates his thematic concerns as the mob callously and mercilessly rejects his plea, accentuating the perception of pack mentality, as well as the ideas of refuge, and ultimately acceptance, when belonging to a “mob” or “crowd”. Additionally, the final refrain of “the spring snow that was turning into mud” alludes to the vague, ambiguous dehumanising of their “trampling something that looked like a body”.
Yevtushenko’s epitomizes the complexity and dynamism of belonging in the conclusion of his poem, as his narrator explicility states “and if a hundred are beating somebody up… I will never make one hundred and one!” This comparable and noble decisions inspired by a young character is an influential and poignant notion to the reader. Yevtushehko further heighten this notion with his subtle but powerful build-up to this idea from the start of the poem – the poem begins with an accretion of images powered by an overuse of present participles with results in an immediacy and urgency in action of “We pick up seed, racing to the uproar”.
This is continued through the fourth and fifth stanzas as Yventusheko’s states "...with relish. With ingenuity. Juicy.", and this specific placement of the full stops after each simple, stated description emphasises the words and makes the beating solemn and monotonous - almost ritualistic in diction. This tense build-up, however, eventually subsides to the fluid – and meaningful – diction with a strong beat, demonstrating the extreme power and emotion in the narrator’s final decision.
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