Friday, August 31, 2012

Heroic Poet

The Russian poet and playwright Marina Tsvetaeva committed suicide on this day in 1941, perhaps forced to it by the secret police. Her work is considered among some of the greatest in twentieth century Russian literature. She lived through and wrote of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Moscow famine that followed it. In an attempt to save her daughter Irina from starvation, she placed her in a state orphanage in 1919, where she died of hunger. As an anti-Bolshevik supporter of Imperialism, Tsvetaeva was exiled in 1922, living with her family in increasing poverty in Paris, Berlin and Prague before returning to Moscow in 1939. Shunned and suspect, Tsvetaeva's isolation was compounded. Both her husband Sergei Efron and her daughter Ariadna Efron (Alya) were arrested for espionage in 1941; Alya served over eight years in prison and her husband was executed. 
The story of Tsvetaeva’s life is a tumultuous and tragic one of dislocation, starvation, denied love, espionage, persecution, execution, censorship and more. At the end, she was so branded and blacklisted by the Stalinists that when she applied to the Soviet LitFund for help she was denied work even as a dishwasher in their canteen.  Without means of support and in deep isolation during or just after a visit from agents of the NKVD, Tsvetaeva committed suicide.  As a lyrical poet, her passion and daring linguistic experimentation mark her as a striking chronicler of her times and the depths of the human condition.


I need a miracle, Christ, My Lord! 
Here, now, before the sun can rise! 
O, let me pass on, while the world 
Is like a book before my eyes. 

No, You are fair and will not judge: 
“It’s not your time, and so live on.” 
For You have given me too much! 
I long to take all roads - in one! 

I crave it all: With a gypsy’s passion, 
To raid and loot, singing a song, 
And hearing organs, feel compassion, 
And rush to war, - an Amazon; 

Wish on the stars, up in the dungeon, 
Lead kids through shadows on the way, 
Turn yesterday into a legend, 
And suffer madness every day! 

I love this cross and this silk veil, 
My soul is but a moment’s gleam... 
You’ve made my youth a fairytale, - 
Now, let me die - at seventeen! 

September 26, 1909 


Amy said...

What an achingly poignant poem, given the later events of her life. You want to hug that 17-year-old and tell her not to be so open to life--to be on guard, and ready to flee. It's terrible in its innocence.

James said...

Thanks for your comment - how true. What a poet!