Literature Study GuidesDr ZhivagoBook 2 Part 17 Summary

Dr. Zhivago | Study Guide

Boris Pasternak

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Dr. Zhivago | Book 2, Part 17 : The Poems of Yuri Zhivago | Summary



The last chapter of Doctor Zhivago is a selection of 25 poems written by Yuri throughout the course of the book.

Poems 1–5

  • "Hamlet" is told from the perspective of an actor performing the titular role in the beloved Shakespeare play.
  • "March" describes the first days of spring, when the snow melts and the smell of fresh manure fills the air.
  • "Holy Week," another poem about spring, uses personification to describe the experiences of the trees that witnessed Jesus's death and burial.
  • "White Night" is about an evening spent in a high-rise overlooking the city. The narrator looks past the urban view to the outlying rural areas.
  • "Bad Roads in Spring," which is ostensibly about Yuri's conscription into the Forest Brotherhood, references Nightingale the Robber, an enormous bird-monster.

Poems 6–10

  • "A Final Talk" is about a woman with whom the narrator has "a passion for a clean break."
  • "Summer in Town," with its references to "sultry" weather and linden trees, is about his time in Meliuzeevo with Lara.
  • In "Wind" the narrator likens the anguish of loss to a strong wind.
  • "Hops" is about an unfortunate circumstance being seen in a new light.
  • "Indian Summer" is based on the first summer the Zhivagos spent in Varykino.

Poems 11–15

  • "A Wedding" is about a wedding, but it is also about the fleetingness of life on Earth.
  • "Autumn" is a love poem for Lara about their time together in Varykino.
  • "A Tale" is a fairytale about a knight who attempts to rescue a princess from a dragon. They all fall into a deathless sleep.
  • "August" is about the transfiguration of Jesus, which is when God reveals the deity within Jesus and foretells Christ's death and resurrection.
  • "A Winter Night" is about the meeting of two lovers. It is based on the burning candle Yuri saw in Pasha's window on the night of the fateful Christmas party.

Poems 16–20

  • "Separation" captures Yuri's feelings after Lara departs for the Far East with Komarovsky.
  • "Meeting" questions the legacy of a passionate relationship.
  • "The Star of the Nativity" is a retelling of the Magi's visit to the nativity.
  • "Dawn" is about the narrator's reawakening to Christianity.
  • "Miracle" is about Jesus's rash decision to strike down a fig tree.

Poems 21–25

  • "The Earth" is about bridging the divide between the city and the countryside.
  • "Evil Days" takes place immediately before the death of Christ.
  • "Magdalene I," told from Mary Magdalene's point of view, describes her feelings as she prepares Jesus's body for burial.
  • "Magdalene II," a continuation of the previous poem, depicts the despair felt between death and resurrection.
  • "The Garden of Gethsemane" is about Jesus's resurrection.


Pasternak was, first and foremost, a poet, so it's only natural that his main character has a knack for writing poetry as well. Medicine may be Yuri's occupation, but poetry is his passion. Yuri's poems span a variety of topics. Some are blatant reactions to experiences in his life while others have more ambiguous origins. Each of the poems, however, can be classified into one or more of three categories: poems about nature, poems about love, and poems about the plight of Jesus Christ. These three categories are dear to Yuri's heart, and he is able to express himself through poetry perhaps even better than through regular conversation.

His interest in religion, particularly the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, speaks to Yuri's belief that the suffering he endures allows him to be a better witness to the events of his lifetime. They also reflect Pasternak's own Christian reawakening. Some literary critics theorize that Yuri himself is a Christ figure, while others view his interest in the resurrection as being related to his views about life living on through art. In the novel Yuri often talks about the connection between art and immortality. As he realizes in Chapter 3, "[a]rt is always, ceaselessly, occupied with two things," life and death. His suffering, like that of Jesus, provides fodder for his art, which will live on long after he dies.

Poetry, of course, is ambiguous by its very nature, and the same poem can be interpreted in a variety of different ways depending on the context. Take "Dawn," for example. While it is commonly accepted that the poem is about Yuri's renewed interest in Christianity, it can also be read as a reaction to Tonya's correspondence after five years of silence. The poem is written in the second person, addressed to someone who "meant everything in my destiny" before the war; afterward, "for a long, long time there was/No word of you, no trace." Knowing about Yuri's past, the reader could connect these words to Yuri's relationship with Tonya before and after World War I and the Russian Civil War. That's the beauty of poetry—it means different things to different people at different times.

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