Марина Цветаева

Marina Tsvetaeva

(1892 - 1941)


Considered one of the greatest Russian poets of the 20th century, Marina Ivanova Tsvetaeva wrote poetry born of great pain. Her poetry is lyrical, linguistically inventive and complex, and deeply philosophical. From the time that she was a child to the end of her life she struggled, but the traumas of her life found expression in her writing. Born into the upper class to an art historian father and a musician mother, from an early age Marina was exposed to the leading intellectuals of Moscow. Her mother wanted her to be a great musician, but Marina's talent was for writing, not for music. To try to discourage her early interest in poetry, Marina's mother destroyed all her work, but Marina kept at it despite the lack of support, and once her mother died, Marina gave up music and focused on her writing. She was an accomplished linguist in Russian, French, and German. Her first book of poems was published in 1910, and the book's success brought her acceptance among the members of the Russian literary circle. She married and moved to the Crimea with her husband. But once the Russian Revolution began, Marina was caught up in its consequences. Her husband fought on the wrong side, supporting the White Army against the Bolsheviks. Marina moved back to Moscow with her children, in the hope of meeting her husband there, but she had no way to support her family and instead found herself in the midst of a famine that claimed the life of one of her daughters. During her five-year separation from her husband, Marina wrote a series of political poems called The Demesne of the Swans and also wrote several plays for her friend, the actress Sofia Gollidey, but existence was difficult and unpredictable. She finally heard from her husband who had escaped to Berlin, and Marina joined him there in 1922. During their exile, the family lived in increasing poverty in Germany, Prague, and finally Paris, remaining there until 1939. Marina continued to write both poetry and prose, and through letters developed a lasting friendship with Russian author Boris Pasternak. But a number of factors were at work that would eventually lead her to disaster. Her husband became a Soviet spy and eventually had to flee France to escape indictment for the murder of another Soviet agent. Although by all accounts Marina had no idea that her husband was a spy, the Paris intelligentsia blamed her for his actions and turned their backs on her. So with remarkably bad timing and judgment, Marina returned to Russia during the height of the Stalin terror. Her husband was arrested and executed (his attempt to gain Communist acceptance with his spying activities had failed), and she was totally ostracized and prevented from supporting herself and her son (Marina's other daughter had deserted her in Paris and returned to Russia where she was imprisoned). When Germany attacked Russia, Marina's son joined the army and was lost at the front. Marina was evacuated from Moscow to the Tartar Autonomous Republic where penniless, alone, and unknown, she hanged herself in 1941. Marina was born on October 9, 1892.



Мне нравится, что вы больны не мной,
Мне нравится, что я больна не вами,
Что никогда тяжелый шар земной
Не уплывет под нашими ногами.
Мне нравится что можно быть смешной
- Распущенной - и не играть словами,
И не краснеть удушливой волной,
Слегка соприкоснувшись рукавами.

Мне нравится еще, что вы при мне
Спокойно обнимаете другую,
Не прочите мне в адовом огне
Гореть за то, что я не вас целую.
Что имя нежное мое, мой нежный, не
Упоминаете ни днем, ни ночью - всуе...
Что никогда в церковной тишине
Не пропоют над нами: аллилуйя!

Спасибо вам и сердцем и рукой
За то, что вы меня - не зная сами! -
Так любите: за мой ночной покой,
За редкость встреч закатными часами,
За наши не-гулянья под луной,
За солнце, не у нас над головами, -
За то, что вы больны - увы! - не мной,
За то, что я больна - увы! - не вами!

3 мая 1915




I'm glad that I long not for you

That the heavy sphere of Earth

Does not flow under our feet

I am glad that it's allowed to be funny--

--spoiled--and waste no words for games;

And not to be chocked by a wave of blushing

When our sleeves touch ever so slightly. 




I also like that in my presence undisturbed

Your arms surround another woman,

That you don't ask me to burn in poisoned

Flames when I am kissing not you;

That, sweetheart, you don't call my sweet name

Any day nor night, at any time,

That in the calm of an Eastern Church

They'll never sing for us: hallelujah!  




I thank you with my heart and hand

For your--unknown to you!--love of me,

For my peace at night, for the seldomness

Of our meetings at the sunset hour;

For our non-walks under the moon,

For the sun not over our heads,

For your longing--alas!--not for me,

For my longing--alas!--not for you.











Идешь, на меня похожий,
Глаза устремляя вниз.
Я их опускала - тоже!
Прохожий, остановись!

Прочти - слепоты куриной
И маков набрав букет,
Что звали меня Мариной
И сколько мне было лет.

Не думай, что здесь - могила,
Что я появлюсь, грозя...
Я слишком сама любила
Смеяться, когда нельзя!

И кровь приливала к коже,
И кудри мои вились...
Я тоже была прохожий!
Прохожий, остановись!

Сорви себе стебель дикий
И ягоду ему вслед, -
Кладбищенской земляники
Крупнее и слаще нет.

Но только не стой угрюмо,
Главу опустив на грудь,
Легко обо мне подумай,
Легко обо мне забудь.

Как луч тебя освещает!
Ты весь в золотой пыли...
- И пусть тебя не смущает
Мой голос из под земли.

3 мая 1913


You're me in the way. I used to

Walk so, without looking up.

Stop, passerby! Don't refuse to.

I beg and I pray you -- stop!


You'll read, as you lay the glowing

Red blossoms on the mound of grass:

Marina. And then more slowly:

The dates -- of my birth and death. 



Yes, there is a grave, but leave it

And hount you I won't, no fear.

I too, you can well believe it,

Once laught in the midst of tears.



The blood through my veins coursed freely,

The locks curled around my face.

Stop, passerby! Can't you feel it?

I too, passerby, once was.  




A strawberry. Pluck it, eat it!

It's there, near the very ground.

No berries are ever sweeter

Then those in a graveyard found.  




But only no gloom, no tightly

Closed lips, do not brood or fret.

Think lightly on me, and lightly

My name, passerby, forget.  




The sun's dust-like beams caress you,

Your shoulders and head they lave.

Please don't let the voice distress you

That cames to you from grave.  









Это пеплы сокровищ:
Утрат, обид.
Это пеплы, пред коими
В прах - гранит.
Голубь голый и светлый,
Не живущий четой.
Соломоновы пеплы
Над великой тщетой.
Беззакатного времени
Грозный мел.
Значит Бог в мои двери -
Раз дом сгорел!
Не удушенный в хламе,
Снам и дням господин,
Как отвесное пламя
Дух - из ранних седин!
И не вы меня предали,
Годы, в тыл!
Эта седость - победа
Бессмертных сил.

27 сентября 1922

Cinzas dos tesouros.              (*)

Das perdas, ofensas.

Cinzas ante as quais

O granito é pó.


Pombo nu e claro,

Sozinho, sem par.

De Salomão as cinzas

Sobre a grande vaidade.


Cal ameaçando

O tempo sem ocaso.

Deus passou-me à porta –

Já que a casa ardeu!



Livre da tralha velha,

O espírito, chama recta,

É amo de sonhos, dias

E do – precoce encanecer!



Não foram os anos quem

Me traiu na retaguarda!

Cabelo branco é a vitória

Dos poderes imortais.


27 de Setembro de 1922



Поэт — издалека заводит речь.
Поэта — далеко заводит речь

Планетами, приметами... окольных
Притч рытвинами... Между да и нем
Он, даже размахнувшись с колокольни,
Крюк выморочит... Ибо путь комет —

Поэтов путь. Развеянные звенья
Причинности — вот связь его! Кверх лбом —
Отчаятесь! Поэтовы затменья
Не предугаданы календарем.

Он тот, кто смешивает карты,
Обманывает вес и счет,
Он тот, кто спрашивает с парты,
Кто Канта наголову бьет,

Кто в каменном гробу Бастилий
Как дерево в своей красе...
Тот, чьи следы — всегда простыли,
Тот поезд, на который все
          — ибо путь комет —

Поэтов путь: жжа, а не согревая,
Рвя, а не взращивая — взрыв и взлом, —
Твоя стезя, гривастая кривая,
Не предугадана календарем!

8 апреля 1923




O poeta – começa a falar de longe.

Ao poeta – a fala leva-o longe.


Por planetas, agoiros, buracos de fábulas

Sinuosas… Entre sim e não, mesmo

Ao lançar-se do campanário fará

Um rodeio… Porque a roda dos cometas –


É a rota dos poetas. Com os elos dispersos

Da causalidade – se liga! Com a fronte

Virada ao alto – te desespera! Não constam

Do calendário os eclipses do poeta.


É aquele que baralha as cartas, ilude

O peso e a medida, o que faz perguntas

Interrompendo a professora, é aquele

Que desbarata o Kant.


É ele quem, no pétreo caixão das Bastilhas,

Se ergue como árvore em toda a sua beleza.

Aquele de quem se perdem sempre as pegadas,

É aquele comboio que toda a gente


                Porque a rota dos cometas


É a rota dos poetas: queimando sem calor,

Arrancando sem semear – explodir, romper –

O teu rumo, a tua curva de crinas,

Não consta do calendário!


8 de Abril de 1923



(*)Tradução de Nina Guerra e Filipe Guerra, Marina Tsvetáeva, Depois da Rússia, 1922-1925, Relógio de Água, Novembro de 2001.


Some sites about Marina Tsvetaeva:

Poems: http://www.stihi-rus.ru/1/Cvetaeva/
Poems: http://slova.org.ru/cvetaeva/index/
Russian: http://www.richardboffin.com/poets/index.html
Andrey Kneller - Translations into English: http://home.comcast.net/~kneller/tsvetaeva.html
Kirjasto: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/tsveta.htm




by Marina Tsvetayeva; introduced by James Crews

Published: 22 May 2012


Marina Tsvetayeva came of age in Moscow during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the famine that followed. She published her first collection of poems, Vechemy Albom (Evening Album) in 1910, at the age of eighteen; her Selected Poems were translated into English, by Elaine Feinstein, in 1971, followed by translations of A Captive Spirit (1994), and Earthly Signs: The Moscow diaries, 1917–1922, which appeared last year. Throughout her career, Tsvetayeva drew on the work of Boris Pasternak, Rainer Maria Rilke and Anna Akhmatova, among others, but she bore more than her share of grief, too. During the Moscow famine in 1919, she attempted to save her younger daughter, Irina, from starvation by placing her in a state orphanage; the child died soon after. Her husband, Sergei Efron, who had worked for the Soviet secret police, was executed in 1939, while her surviving daughter, Ariadna, was sent to a labour camp. On August 31, 1941, not long after the German army invaded the Soviet Union, Tsvetayeva hanged herself.

Her poetry, verse plays and collected prose still speak for the voiceless of that time, particularly the young women and mothers driven to desperate measures. “Rails”, as translated by Feinstein, quietly captures the chaos of those “departing, deserting” a country they had once called home. In the first lines of the poem, Tsvetayeva compares the railroad tracks to a bed with “tidy sheets”, a place of comfort, before switching to a metaphor in which “parallel tracks ruled out / as neatly as staves” resemble sheets of music instead. One imagines how the musical qualities of verse often soothed the poet’s sorrows. Yet “Rails” asserts that that no amount of hope can muffle “the note of pain always rising / higher than love”; only acceptance of pain might help us to transcend our suffering. “Despair”, which she compares to an “arranged marriage”, may come, but may also lead to transformations. Even as the speaker becomes “Sappho with her voice gone” – perhaps contemplating the loss of her own muse – she seems to rejoice. She becomes “a simple seamstress”, then “a marsh heron”, able to rise above the scene, to contemplate it from a distance. She will see the train move along the tracks “and slice through them like scissors”. The last lines of the poem are cutting, too, with their allusions to both suicide and marriage at once. “Rails” shows us a poet at the height of her creative powers, yet powerless to halt the division and destruction that shaped her life and the lives of so many others.






В некой разлинованности нотной
Нежась наподобие простынь —
Железнодорожные полотна,
Рельсовая режущая синь!
Пушкинское: сколько их, куда их
Гонит! (Миновало — не поют!)
Это уезжают-покидают,
Это остывают-отстают.
Это — остаются. Боль как нота
Высящаяся… Поверх любви
Высящаяся… Женою Лота
Насыпью застывшие столбы…
Час, когда отчаяньем как свахой
Простыни разостланы. — Твоя! —
И обезголосившая Сафо
Плачет как последняя швея.
Плач безропотности! Плач болотной
Цапли… Водоросли — плач! Глубок
Железнодорожные полотна
Ножницами режущий гудок.
Растекись напрасною зарею
Красное напрасное пятно!
…Молодые женщины порою
Льстятся на такое полотно.
10 июля 1923




The bed of a railway cutting

        has tidy sheets. The steel-blue 

parallel tracks ruled out

        as neatly as staves of music.


And over them people are driven
        like possessed creatures from Pushkin 

whose piteous song has been silenced.

        Look, they’re departing, deserting.


And yet lag behind and linger,
        the note of pain always rising 

higher than love, as the poles freeze

        to the bank, like Lot’s wife, forever.


Despair has appointed an hour for me
         (as someone arranges a marriage): then 
Sappho with her voice gone
        I shall weep like a simple seamstress,


with a cry of passive lament –
        a marsh heron! The moving train
will hoot its way over the sleepers
        and slice through them like scissors.


Colours blur in my eye,
        their glow a meaningless red.

All young women at times
        are tempted by such a bed!



Translated by Elaine Feinstein







‘We are keeping an eye on the girls’


“What I want from all of poetry and from each line of a poem: the truth of this moment. That’s as far as truth goes. Never turns to wood – always to ashes”, Marina Tsvetayeva wrote to Rainer Maria Rilke in a love letter in the summer of 1926, which would become their last correspondence before Rilke’s death from leukemia at the age of fifty-one. “We are keeping an eye on the girls” was written in March 1916, a year before the Russian Revolution in 1917, when Tsvetayeva was a twenty-three-year-old mother and yet to suffer five terrible years of famine in Moscow before leaving the Soviet Union in 1922. “What have I seen of live? Throughout my youth (from 1917 on) – black toil”, she wrote.

First published in Elaine Feinstein’s translation in the TLS in 1970, the poem portrays the anxiety and restlessness among women in Russian homes during the early stages of the First World War. The collective “we” are making sure that the girls get the “kvass” (Russian beer) right, passing traditions safely down to the next generation. The smoke of incense “ceremoniously” fills the house, a symbol commonly used by the Church to represent the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven, but here it surrounds the speakers as soon as the “ancient whisper” of death is heard. “You‘ll rise then as smoke to the sky, / you‘ll have a grave then in the clouds”, reads Paul Celan’s Death Fugue (Celan was one of Tsvetayeva’s many admirers) – and in Tsvetayeva’s poem the incense becomes a similar threat; a cloud that “wraps [their] coals about”, turns the pigeons grey and the apples “white, like angels”.



За девками доглядывать, не скис

ли в жбане квас, оладьи не остыли ль,

Да перстни пересчитывать, анис

Всыпая в узкогорлые бутыли.


Кудельную расправить бабке нить,

Да ладаном курить по дому росным,

Да под руку торжественно проплыть

Соборной площадью, гремя шелками, с крёстным.


Кормилица с крикливым петухом

В переднике — как ночь ее повойник! —

Докладывает древним шепотком,

Что молодой — в часовенке — покойник.


И ладанное облако углы

Унылой обволакивает ризой,

И яблони — что ангелы — белы,

И голуби на них — что ладан — сизы.


И странница, прихлебывая квас

Из ковшика, на краешке лежанки,

О Разине досказывает сказ

И о его прекрасной персиянке.


26 марта 1916


We are keeping an eye on the girls


We are keeping an eye on the girls, so that the kvass
doesn’t go sour in the jug, or the pancakes cold,
counting over the rings, and pouring Anis
into the long bottles with their narrow throats


straightening tow thread for the peasant woman:
ceremoniously, the house is filled with the smoke of
incense – and we are sailing over Cathedral square
arm in arm with our godfather, silks thundering.


The wet nurse has a screeching cockerel
in her apron – her clothes are like the night.
She announces in an ancient whisper that
the young man – in the chapel – is dead.


And an incense cloud wraps our coals about
under its own saddened chasuble.
The apple trees are white, like angels – and
the pigeons on them – grey – like incense itself.


And the pilgrim woman sipping kvass from the ladle
at the edge of the couch, is telling
to the very end a tale about Razin
and his most beautiful Persian girl.


Translated by Elaine Feinstein (1970)







     SEPTEMBER 11, 2018


   Poem of the Week: ‘Appointment’

    ‘Yes, I suppose I grabbed / at Spring.  And you set your hopes much too high’ – Marina Tsvetaeva 


By taking up writing as a career, Marina Tsvetaeva disappointed her mother ­  a concert pianist with musical aspirations for her daughters. Tsvetaeva insisted she was “not born a musician”, but years of rigid piano training left a residue in her pedantically punctuated poems: “Mother gave us drink from the opened vein of Lyricism”. The struggle between music and words persists in Tsvetaeva’s largely experimental oeuvre. In 1967, a TLS review of Simon Karlinsky’s biography of Tsvetaeva called her: “a poets’ poet . . . scarcely intelligible even to specialists”. Translating her work is notoriously difficult. In her translation of “Appointment” (first published in the TLS in 1980), Elaine Feinstein made sacrifices: the poet’s characteristic dashes were replaced with extra spaces or enjambment to work with the natural syntax of the English version. Feinstein realized that “some of Tsvetayeva’s abruptness had been smoothed out and the poems had gained a different, more logical scheme of development”.

Although Tsvetaeva disapproved of prying into poets’ lives, it is helpful to approach her work chronologically. “Appointment” was written in 1923, soon after the Russian Civil War ended in Bolshevik victory and Tsvetaeva joined her exiled husband, Sergei Efron, in Prague. Here she wrote some of her greatest poetry, subsequently published in the collection After Russia (1928). The collection is pervaded by a feeling of exclusion from love and life – in Prague, an intensely desired meeting with Boris Pasternak failed, sparking an obsession with “non-meetings” and her conviction that poets were doomed to solitude. At the time, Ophelia became an important figure in her poetry, standing in for the unfulfilled woman. Tsvetaeva’s was an emotionally tormented life: married, she had ruinous affairs with both men and women. “Appointment” most likely addresses her epistolary romance with Pasternak. As with Ophelia, the reticence of a potential lover in the face of a lower form of love has led the speaker to her demise: “She gulped at love, and filled her mouth with silt”.



«На назначенное свиданье…»


На назначенное свиданье
Опоздаю. Весну в придачу
Захвативши — приду седая.
Ты его высоко́ назначил!


Буду годы идти — не дрогнул
Вкус Офелии к горькой руте!
Через горы идти — и стогны,
Через души идти — и руки.


Землю долго прожить! Трущоба —
Кровь! и каждая капля — заводь.
Но всегда стороной ручьёвой
Лик Офелии в горьких травах.


Той, что страсти хлебнув, лишь ила
Нахлебалась! — Снопом на щебень!
Я тебя высоко́ любила:
Я себя схоронила в небе!


18 июня 1923



I’ll be late for the meeting
we arranged.  When I arrive, my hair
will be grey.  Yes, I suppose I grabbed
at Spring.  And you set your hopes much too high.


I shall walk with this bitterness for years
across mountains or town squares equally,
(Ophelia didn’t flinch at rue!)  I’ll walk
on souls and on hands without shuddering.


Living on.  As the earth continues,
with blood in every thicket, every creek.
Even though Ophelia’s face is waiting
between the grasses bordering every stream.


She gulped at love, and filled her mouth
with silt.  A shaft of light on metal!
I set my love upon you much too high.
And in the sky arranged my burial.



Translated by Elaine Feinstein




SOPHIA PARNOK on this site

Other pages on this poet in this site here and here