Saturday, March 2, 2013

Selected Poems – Marina Tsvetaeva (trans. Elaine Feinstein)

A madness rushes through the poems of Tsvetaeva, an uncontrollable and passionate energy that hurdled her through hundreds of pages and into an early grave when she committed suicide at 48 in 1941.
                Her life is legendary. She was good friends with Rainer Maria Wilke, Anna Akhmatova, and Boris Pasternak. She was married to the legendary Russian poet Sergei Efron. Their doomed love is a prominent theme in Tsvetaeva’s poetry. After some early halcyon days they struggled under the grind of Soviet life, facing years of separation, exile, and poverty. At one point Tsvetaeva was so poor she was forced to put her two daughters into state care, where one died of malnutrition. Sergei suffered from severe tuberculosis. He also worked as a spy and was executed only two months after Marina’s death.
Tsvetaeva poured the ashes of her tragic life into her poetry. Her jerky phrasing, rushing imagery, and deeply passionate impulses all make this clear. Her poems reach out from the page invite you into her world of tragedies, love affairs, and exile.
Feinstein’s translation is beautiful; the poems leap off the page with insistent passion. I am a big fan of Russian poetry and this volume was one of my favorites.  The darkness, the mingling of death and love and life all spoke to me. Tsvetaeva is not one to be unheard.
The poems in this book are arranged chronologically, and I must admit I am a bigger fan of her earlier short works than the long multi-part pieces that she produced later in life. However I tend to have a nasty little habit of being impatient with long poems anyway. Either way, Tsvetaeva is highly under-read and under-appreciated  I’d like to share with you just a few scattered lines of her poetry to illustrate the power she had:
“the storm of stars in the sky will turn quiet./And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we/who never let each other sleep above it.”
“but I do not long for your spirit./Your way is indestructible./And your hand is pale from holy/kisses, no nail of mine.”
And my personal favorite:
“like ivy       like a tick inhuman       godless to throw me away like a thing, when there is/no thing I ever prized in this empty world of things. /Say this is only a dream, night still and afterwards morning //an express       to Rome? Granada? I won't know myself as I push off the Himalayas of bedclothes.”

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