Friday, August 17, 2007
"Poetry is born out of indignation," said Juvenal (Roman poet, 1-2nd CE). This can be said about the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva, who used to say, "I don't believe in poetry that flows. If it bursts-- yes!" Marina Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow, Russia, on September 26, 1892, in an intelligent and highly educated family. Marina started writing poems at the age of 6, and not only in Russian, but also in French and German.
Her first collection was published at the age of 18. Very unique in her style and mature in consciousness, she wrote profusely and very passionately. The October Revolution of 1917 could not be accepted well by her, because of her 'intelligentsia' background and the bloody deeds of the Bolsheviks. So in this period she lived exclusively for the world of literature, remaning uninterested in politics and spending her days in miserable poverty. But she challenged all the norms in poetry by her new style. Her poems were like sparks from a rocket or pieces of rock thrown out of a burning volcano. She was an angry poet.
Her husband, Sergei Efron was an officer of the White Guard, which was wiped out and its remnants ejected out of Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917. She, therefore, could not see him until 1922. Meanwhile, she had a very passionate lesbian affair with the poet Sofia Parnok, which had a huge influence on her writings. Later she could not forgive herself for that but always deeply loved this woman.
She was able to reunite with Efron in 1922 when she was allowed to travel abroad. Her emigrant life in Berlin, Prague and Paris was filled with torture and in complete poverty. She could not accept the intellectual void of the emigrants and the fact of separation from the homeland. Only as an immigrant she became politically aware and started accepting the core values of the Soviet Union. She was in touch with Vladimyr Mayakovsky-- the Revolutionary poet and was greatly inspired by his work. However, her poetry was not published even by the most liberal emigrant publishers (who were anti-Soviet) and Tsvetaeva basically was in complete seclusion and loneliness. At this time she got involved in other extramarrital affairs with men, one of whom was the poet Boris Pasternak. These relationships seemed to give her inspiration and hope in her troubled days.
She wrote in bitterness, "My reader is in Russia where my poems do not even reach." But she also never lost faith in her talent, "Time will come for my poems, like valuable wine." In this state of mind, she witnessed Hitler's rise and invasion into Checkoslovakia. That was the last straw for her poetic soul. In her writings she condemned the Nazis and encouraged the Check people to be strong and fight.
Finally in 1939 she was given Soviet citizenship and was able to return to Russia, only to face Stalinist oppression and Nazi invasion. In those days, anyone from abroad and from 'intelligentsia' was viewed with irrational suspicion by Stalin's thugs. Her husband was shot in 1941. When she asked for a job from the Center of Writers (subsidized by the government), she was refused any help. Living in complete poverty and hunger, she was evacuated to a small town Yelabuga to escape the Nazi invasion. There Marina Tsvetaeva is said to have committed suicide on August 31, 1941. The cause of her death was classified until the Khruschev's thaw of the 60s. To this day it is not clear whether it was a real suicide or a set-up by Stalin's chinovnicks.
Marina's poetry reflected the horrible times she lived in and her inability to accept that reality. She loved her country and accepted the core ideology of the Soviet Union, but could not accept the excesses, the oppression of the regime and absolute absence of individual liberties. Also because of her bisexuality, she constantly felt guilty and self-stigmatized. The society with its norms and materialism poisoned her life. "Breaking on your knees of granite, I am reborn with every wave!"
Her poetry is also about a paradox, a mystery that she took up to resolve in her life and invited readers to resolve with her. She was a poet of symbolism. "What is reading but solving, interpreting, extrapolating the mysterious and remaining outside of the paper the depth of words. Reading is first of all a coauthorship."
Marina will remain one of the brightest stars in the dark and tempestuous horizon of Russian history.
(All translations here are by Zoya)