Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (
; –31 August 1941) was a Russian and Soviet poet and writer.
Early writing career
Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow.
work was not looked kindly upon by Stalin
the Bolshevik régime; her literary rehabilitation only began in the
1960s. Tsvetaeva's poetry arose from her own deeply convoluted
personality, her eccentricity and tightly disciplined use of
language. Among her themes were female sexuality, and the tension
in women's private emotions; she bridges the mutually contradictory
schools of Acmeism
Much of Tsvetaeva's poetry has its roots in the depths of her
displaced and disturbed childhood. Her father was Ivan Vladimirovich Tsvetaev, a professor of
art history at the University of
Moscow, who later founded the Alexander III Museum, which
is now known as the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
Tsvetaeva's mother, Maria
Alexandrovna Meyn, was Ivan's second wife, a highly literate woman.
also a volatile (and a frustrated) concert pianist, with some
Polish ancestry on her mother's side.
fact was to play on Marina's imagination, and to cause her to
identify herself with the Polish aristocracy.)
Marina had two half-siblings, Valeria and Andrei, who were the
children of Ivan's deceased first wife, Varvara Dmitrievna
Ilovaiskaya (daughter of the historian Dmitry Ilovaisky
). Her only full sister,
Anastasia, was born in 1894. Quarrels among the children were
frequent and occasionally violent.
There was considerable tension between Tsvetaeva's mother and
Varvara's children, and Tsvetaeva's father maintained close contact
with Varvara's family. Maria favoured Anastasia over Marina.
Tsvetaeva's father was kind, but deeply wrapped up in his studies
and distant from his family. He was also still deeply in love with
his first wife; he would never get over her. Maria, for her part,
had had a tragic love affair before her marriage, from which she
never recovered. Maria Alexandrovna particularly disapproved of
Marina's poetic inclination. She wished her daughter to become a
and thought her poetry was
In 1902, Tsvetaeva's mother contracted tuberculosis
. Because it was believed that a
change in climate could help cure the disease, the family travelled
abroad until shortly before her death in 1906. They lived for a while
by the sea at Nervi, near Genoa.
There, away from the rigid constraints of a bourgeois Muscovite
life, Marina was able for the first time to run free, climb cliffs,
and vent her imagination in childhood games.
There were many Russian émigré
revolutionaries residing at
that time in Nervi, and undoubtedly these people would have had
some influence on the impressionable Marina. The children began to
run wild. This state of affairs was allowed to continue
until June 1904, when Marina was dispatched to school in Lausanne.
Changes in the Tsvetaev residence led to several changes in school,
and during the course of her travels she acquired the Italian,
French, and German languages.
Tsvetaeva studied literary history at the Sorbonne.
During this time, a major revolutionary
change was occurring within Russian poetry: the flowering of the
, and this movement was to colour most of her later
work. It was not the theory which was to attract her, but the
poetry and the immense gravity which writers such as Andrey Bely
and Aleksandr Blok
were capable of generating.
Her own first collection of poems, Evening Album
self-published in 1910. It attracted the attention of the poet and
critic Maximilian Voloshin
Tsvetaeva described after his death in 'A Living Word About a
Living Man'. Voloshin came to see Tsvetaeva and soon became her
friend and mentor.
spending time at Voloshin's home in the Black Sea resort of Koktebel (trans.
which was a well-known haven for writers, poets and artists. She
became enamoured of the work of Aleksandr
and Anna Akhmatova
she never met Blok and did not meet Akhmatova until the 1940s.
Describing the Koktebel community, the émigré Viktoria Schweitzer
inspiration was born."
At Koktebel, Tsvetaeva met Sergei (Seryozha) Yakovlevich Efron, a
cadet in the Officers' Academy. She was 19, he 18: they fell in love
instantly and were married in 1912, the same year as her father's
project, the Pushkin
Museum of Fine Arts, was ceremonially opened, an event
attended by Tsar Nicholas
Tsvetaeva's love for Efron was intense, however,
this did not preclude her from having affairs, including one with
, which she
celebrated in a collection of poems called
At around the same time, she became involved in an affair with the
poet Sofia Parnok
, who was 7 years
older than Tsvetaeva. The two women fell deeply in love, and the
relationship profoundly affected both women's writings. She deals
with the ambiguous and tempestuous nature of this relationship in a
cycle of poems which at times she called The Girlfriend
and at other times The Mistake
Tsvetaeva and her husband spent summers in the Crimea until the
revolution, and had two daughters: Ariadna, or Alya (born 1912) and
Irina (born 1917). Then, in 1914, Efron volunteered for the
front; by 1917 he was an officer stationed in Moscow with the
Tsetsaeva was to witness the Russian Revolution
first hand. On
trains, she came into contact with ordinary Russian people and was
shocked by the mood of anger and violence. She wrote in her
journal: "In the air of the compartment hung only three axe-like
words: bourgeois, Junkers, leeches
". After the 1917
Revolution, Efron joined the White Army
and Marina returned to Moscow hoping to be reunited with her
husband. She was trapped in Moscow for five years, where there was
a terrible famine.
The house where Marina lived in Moscow
She wrote six plays in verse and narrative poems, including The
(1920), and her epic about the Civil War, The
, which glorified those who fought against
the communists. The cycle of poems in the style of a diary
or journal begins on the day of Tsar Nicholas
II's abdication in March 1917, and ends late in 1920, when the
anti-communist White Army was finally defeated. The 'swans' of the
title refers to the volunteers in the White Army, in which her
husband was fighting as an officer.
The Moscow famine was to exact a terrible toll on Tsvetaeva.
Starvation and worry were to erode her looks. With no immediate
family to turn to, she had no way to support herself or her
daughters. In 1919, she placed Irina in a state orphanage,
mistakenly believing that she would be better fed there.
Tragically, she was mistaken, and Irina died of starvation in 1920.
The child's death caused Tsvetaeva great grief and regret. In one
letter, she said, 'God punished me.' During these years, Tsvetaeva
maintained a close and intense friendship with the actress Sofia Evgenievna Holliday
whom she wrote a number of plays. Many years later, she would write
the novella "Povest' o Sonechke" about her relationship with
Holliday, who ended up betraying her.
Berlin and Prague
1922, Tsvetaeva and Ariadna left the Soviet Union and were reunited
with Efron in Berlin.
There she published the collections Separation
, and the poem The Tsar Maiden
. In August 1922, the
family moved to Prague.
Unable to afford living accommodation in Prague itself, with Efron
studying politics and sociology at the Charles University
in Prague and living
in hostels, Tsvetaeva and Ariadna found rooms in a village outside
the city. In Prague, Tsvetaeva had a passionate affair with
Konstantin Boleslavovich Rodzevitch, a former military officer.
This affair became widely known throughout émigré
and even to Efron himself. Efron was devastated by the affair (this
is well-documented and supported particularly by a letter which he
wrote to Voloshin on the matter).
It was bound to end disastrously, and it did. Her break-up with
Rodzevitch in 1923 was almost certainly the inspiration for her
great 'The Poem of the End
This relationship was also the inspiration for "The Poem of the
Mountain". At about the same time, a more important relationship
began: Tsvetaeva's correspondence with Boris Pasternak
, who had stayed in the
Soviet Union. The two were not to meet for nearly twenty years, but
for a time they were in love, and they maintained an intimate
friendship until Tsvetaeva's return to Russia.
In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague for the suburbs,
living for a while in Jiloviste
moving on to Vsenory
, where Tsvetaeva
completed "The Poem of the End", and was to conceive their son,
Georgy, whom she was to later nickname 'Mur'. Tsvetaeva wanted to
name him Boris (after Pasternak); Efron would have none of it and
insisted on Georgy. He was to be a most difficult and demanding
child. Nevertheless, Tsetaeva loved him in the only way she knew,
obsessively. Ariadna was relegated immediately to the role of
mother's helper and confidante, and was consequently robbed of much
of her childhood. However, the child did not reciprocate. The older
he grew, the more difficult and obstreperous he became.
the family settled in Paris, where they
would live for the next 14 years.
At about this time
Tsvetaeva contracted tuberculosis, adding to the family's
difficulties. Tsvetaeva received a meagre stipend from the
Czechoslovak government, which gave financial support to artists
and writers who had lived in Czechoslovakia.
In addition, she tried to make whatever she
could from readings and sales of her work. She turned more and more
to writing prose because she found it made more money than
Tsvetaeva did not feel at all at home in Paris's predominantly
ex-bourgeois circle of Russian émigré
she had written passionately pro-White
poems during the Revolution, her fellow
thought that she was insufficiently anti-Soviet,
and that her criticism of the Soviet régime was altogether too
nebulous. She was particularly criticised for writing an admiring
letter to the Soviet poet Vladimir
. In the wake of this letter, the émigré
paper The Latest News
, to which Tsvetaeva had been a
frequent contributor, refused point-blank to publish any more of
her work. She found solace in her correspondence with other
writers, including Boris Pasternak
Rainer Maria Rilke
, the Czech
poet Anna Teskova
, and the critics
and Aleksandr Bakhrakh
Husband's involvement with espionage
Meanwhile, Tsvetaeva's husband was rapidly developing Soviet
sympathies and was homesick for Russia. He was, however, afraid
because of his past as a White soldier. Eventually, either
out of idealism or to garner acceptance from the Communists, he
began spying for the NKVD, the forerunner of
shared his views, and increasingly turned against her mother. In
1937, she returned to the Soviet Union.
Later that year, Efron too had to return to Russia. The French police had
implicated him in the murder of the former Soviet defector Ignaty Reyss in September 1937, on a country
lane near Lausanne.
After Efron's escape, the police
interrogated Tsvetaeva, but she seemed confused by their questions
and ended up reading them some French translations of her poetry.
The police concluded that she was deranged and knew nothing of the
murder. (Later it was learned that Efron possibly had also taken
part in the assassination of Trotsky
Tsvetaeva does not seem to have known that her husband was a spy,
nor the extent to which he was compromised. However, she was held
responsible for his actions and was ostracised in Paris because of
the implication that he was involved with the NKVD. World War II
had made Europe as unsafe and
hostile as Russia. Tsvetaeva felt that she no longer had a
Return to the Soviet Union
In 1939, she and her son returned to the Soviet Union. She could
not have foreseen the horrors which were in store for her. In
's Russia, anyone who had lived abroad
was suspect, as was anyone who had been among the intelligentsia
before the Revolution.
Tsvetaeva's sister had been arrested before Tsvetaeva's return;
although Anastasia survived the Stalin years, the sisters never saw
each other again. Tsvetaeva found that all doors had closed to her.
She got bits of work translating poetry, but otherwise the
established Soviet writers refused to help her, and chose to ignore
her plight; Aseyev, who she had hoped would assist, shied away,
fearful for his life and position.
Efron and Alya were arrested for espionage. Alya's fiancé, it
turned out, was actually an NKVD
agent who had
been assigned to spy on the family. Efron was shot in 1941; Alya
served over eight years in prison. Both were exonerated after
Stalin's death. In 1941, Tsvetaeva and her son were
evacuated to Yelabuga, while most families of the Union of Soviet writers were
evacuated to Chistopol.
Tsvetaeva had no means of support in
Yelabuga, and on 24 August 1941 she left for Chistopol desperately
seeking for a job. On 26 August, Marina Tsvetaeva and poet Valentin Parnakh
applied to the Soviet of
Literature Fund asking for a job at the LitFund's canteen. Valentin Parnakh
was accepted as a doorman,
while Tsvetaeva's application for a permission to live in Chistopol
was turned down and she had to return to Yelabuga on 28 August.
August 1941, while living in Yelabuga, Tsvetaeva hanged herself.
She was buried in
Yelabuga cemetery on 2 September 1941, but the exact location of
her grave remains unknown. There have always been rumours that
Tsvetaeva's death was not suicide. On the day of her death she was home
alone (her host family was out) and, according to Yelabuga residents, NKVD agents came to her house and forced
her to commit suicide.
These rumours remain
town of Yelabuga, the Tsvetaeva house museum can be visited, as well
as a monument to her.
In the museum, Tsvetaeva's farewell
note, written just before her death, can be seen.
From a poem written by Tsvetayeva in 1913, in which she
displays her propensity for prophecy
- Scattered in bookstores, greyed by dust and time,
- Unseen, unsought, unopened, and unsold,
- My poems will be savoured as are rarest wines -
- When they are old.
In actuality, Tsvetayeva's poetry was much admired by many esteemed
poets such as Valery Bryusov
, Osip Mandelstam
, Boris Pasternak
, Rainer Maria Rilke
, and Anna Akhmatova
. Later, that recognition was
also expressed by the poet Joseph
, pre-eminent among Tsvetaeva's champions. Tsvetaeva was
primarily a lyrical poet, and her lyrical voice remains clearly
audible in her narrative poetry.
Her lyric poems fill ten collections; the uncollected lyrics would
add at least another volume. Her first two collections indicate
their subject matter in their titles: Evening Album
(Vechernii al'bom, 1910) and The Magic Lantern
fonar', 1912). The poems are vignettes of a tranquil childhood and
youth in a professorial, middle-class home in Moscow, and display
considerable grasp of the formal elements of style.
The full range of Tsvetaeva's talent developed quickly, and was
undoubtedly influenced by the contacts she had made at Koktebel,
and was made evident in two new collections: Mileposts
(Versty, 1921) and Mileposts: Book One
(Versty, Vypusk I,
Three elements of Tsvetaeva's mature style emerge in the Mileposts
collections. First, Tsvetaeva dates her poems and publishes them
chronologically. The poems in Mileposts: Book One
example, were written in 1916 and resolve themselves as a versified
journal. Secondly, there are cycles of poems which fall into a
regular chronological sequence among the single poems, evidence
that certain themes demanded further expression and development.
One cycle announces the theme of Mileposts: Book One
whole: the "Poems of Moscow." Two other cycles are dedicated to
poets, the "Poems to Akhmatova" and the "Poems to Blok", which
again reappear in a separate volume, Poems to Blok (Stikhi k
, 1922). Thirdly, the Mileposts
demonstrate the dramatic quality of Tsvetaeva's work, and her
ability to assume the guise of multiple dramatis personae
The collection Separation
(Razluka, 1922) was to contain
Tsvetaeva's first long verse narrative, "On a Red Steed" (Na
krasnom kone). The poem is a prologue to three more
verse-narratives written between 1920 and 1922. All four narrative
poems draw on folkloric plots. Tsvetaeva acknowledges her sources
in the titles of the very long works, The Maiden-Tsar: A
and "The Swain", subtitled "A Fairytale" ("Molodets: skazka",
1924). The fourth folklore-style poem is "Byways" ("Pereulochki",
published in 1923 in the collection Remeslo), and it is the first
poem which may be deemed incomprehensible in that it is
fundamentally a soundscape of language.
The collection Psyche
, 1923) contains
one of Tsvetaeva's best-known cycles "Insomnia" (Bessonnitsa) and
the poem The Swans' Encampment (Lebedinyi stan, Stikhi 1917-1921,
published in 1957) which celebrates the White
Subsequently, as an émigré, Tsvetaeva's last two collections of
lyrics were published by émigré presses, Craft
, 1923) in Berlin and After Russia
, 1928) in Paris. There then followed the
twenty-three lyrical "Berlin" poems, the pantheistic "Trees"
("Derev'ya"), "Wires" ("Provoda") and "Pairs" ("Dvoe"), and the
tragic "Poets" ("Poetry"). "After Russia" contains the poem "In
Praise of the Rich", in which Tsvetaeva's oppositional tone is
merged with her proclivity for ruthless satire.
Tsvetaeva wrote "Poem of the End", which details a walk around
Prague and across
its bridges; the walk is about the final walk she will take with
her lover Konstantin Rodzevich.
In it everything is
foretold: in the first few lines (translated by Elaine Feinstein)
the future is already written:
- A single post, a point of rusting
- :tin in the sky
- marks the fated place we
- :move to, he and I
Again, further poems foretell future developments. Principal among
these is the voice of the classically-oriented Tsvetaeva heard in
cycles "The Sibyl," "Phaedra," and "Ariadne." Tsvetaeva's beloved,
ill-starred heroines recur in two verse plays,
(Tezei-Ariadna, 1927) and Phaedra
(Fedra, 1928). These plays form the first two parts of an
incomplete trilogy Aphrodite's Rage
The satirist in Tsvetaeva plays second fiddle only to the
poet-lyricist. Several satirical poems, moreover, are among
Tsvetaeva's best-known works: "The Train of Life" ("Poezd zhizni")
and "The Floorcleaners' Song" ("Poloterskaya"), both included in
After Russia, and The Rat-catcher (Krysolov, 1925-1926), a long,
folkloric narrative. The target of Tsvetaeva's satire is everything
petty and petty bourgeois. Unleashed against such dull creature
comforts is the vengeful, unearthly energy of workers both manual
and creative. In her notebook, Tsvetaeva writes of "The
Floorcleaners' Song": "Overall movement: the floorcleaners ferret
out a house's hidden things, they scrub a fire into the door...
What do they flush out? Coziness, warmth, tidiness, order...
Smells: incense, piety. Bygones. Yesterday... The growing force of
their threat is far stronger than the climax."
The poem which Tsvetaeva describes as liricheskaia satira
, is loosely based on the legend of the
Pied Piper of Hamelin
Rat-Catcher, which is also known as The Pied Piper, is considered
by some to be the finest of Tsvetaeva's work. It was also partially
an act of hommage
's poem Die Wanderatten
The Rat-Catcher appeared initially, in serial format, in the émigré
journal Volia Rossii
in 1925-1926 whilst still being
written. It was not to appear in the Soviet Union until after the
death of Stalin
in 1956. Its hero is the
Pied Piper of Hamelin
saves a town from hordes of rats and then leads the town's children
away too, in retribution for the citizens' ingratitude. As in the
other folkloric narratives, The Ratcatcher's story line emerges
indirectly through numerous speaking voices which shift from
invective, to extended lyrical flights, to pathos.
Tsvetaeva's last ten years of exile, from 1928 when "After Russia"
appeared until her return in 1939 to the Soviet Union, were
principally a "prose decade", though this would almost certainly be
by dint of economic necessity rather than one of choice.
Translators of Tsvetaeva's work into English include Elaine Feinstein
and David McDuff
. Nina Kossman translated many of
Tsvetaeva's long (narrative) poems, as well as her lyrical poems;
they are collected in two books, Poem of the End
In the Inmost Hour of the Soul
. J. Marin King
translated a great deal of Tsvetaeva's prose into English, compiled
in a book called A Captive Spirit
. Tsvetaeva scholar
a number of Tsvetaeva's essays on art and writing, compiled in a
book called Art in the Light of Conscience
translation of Tsvetaeva's "The Ratcatcher" was published as a
separate book. Mary Jane White has translated the early cycle
"Miles" in a book called "Starry Sky to Starry Sky," as well has
Tsvetaeva's elegy for Rilke, "New Year's," (Adastra Press 16
Reservation Road, Easthampton, MA 01027 USA) and "Poem of the
End"(The Hudson Review, Winter 2009) and "Poem of the Hill." (New
England Review, Summer 2008).
In 2002, Yale University Press
published Jamey Gambrell's translation of post-revolutionary prose,
entitled Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922
notes on poetic and linguistic aspects of Tsvetaeva's prose, and
endnotes for the text itself.
The Russian composer Dmitri
set six of Tsvetaeva's poems to music. Later the
Russian-Tatar composer Sofia
wrote a Hommage à Marina Tsvetayeva
featuring her poems.Her poem, "Mne
Nravitsya..." ("I like that...")
, was performed by Alla Pugacheva
in the film Irony of Fate
In 2003, the opera "Marina: A Captive Spirit," based on Tsvetaeva's
life and work, premiered from American Opera Projects
in New York
with music by Deborah Drattell
libretto by poet Annie Finch
production was directed by Anne Bogart
and the part of Tsvetaeva was sung by Lauren Flanigan
minor planet 3511 Tsvetaeva, discovered in 1982 by
Karachkina, is named after her.
- Marina Tsvetaeva: Selected Poems, trans. Elaine
- The Ratcatcher: A lyrical satire, trans. Angela
Livingstone (Northwestern University, 2000) ISBN 0-8101-1816-5
- A Captive Spirit: Selected Prose, ISBN
- Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922, ed. &
trans. Jamey Gambrell
- Viktoria Schweitzer, Tsvetaeva (1993)
- Nadezdha Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope
- Nadezdha Mandelstam, Hope Abandoned
- Boris Pasternak, An Essay in Autobiography
- Tsvetan Todorov, Vivre dans le Feu