Tsvetaeva, Marina Ivanovna

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(18921941), twentiethcentury poet, playwright, translator, and essayist.

Marina Tsvetaeva, one of the most original and complex poets of the twentieth century, led a life of fierce passion, material hardship, and ostracism. Her "poetry of whirling and staccato rhythms" (Obolensky, 1965) stands outside the trends of her time, though it shares some of the mysticism of the Symbolists, the bold experimentation of the Futurists, and the directness of the Acmeists.

Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow. Her father was a professor of art history; her mother, a talented but frustrated pianist who wanted Marina to follow in her footsteps. Tsvetaeva began writing verse at age six. In 1902 the family moved to Europe to

seek tuberculosis treatment for Tsvetaeva's mother. They returned to Russia in 1905 and settled in Yalta (Crimea), where Tsvetaeva's mother died in 1906. At age eighteen Tsvetaeva wrote her first collection of poems, Evening Album (Vecherny albom ), which drew praise from critics such as Valery Bryusov and Maximilian Voloshin.

In 1912 Tsvetaeva married Sergei Efron and bore her first child, Ariadna (Alya). Her second collection, Magic Lantern (Volshebny fonar ), and a collection of her early poetry, From Two Books (Iz dvukh knig ), received lukewarm response. In her next collection, Juvenilia (Yunosheskie stikhi )-not published during her lifetime-she embarked on new forms and treated unconventional themes, including her affair with Sophia Parnok, a literary critic and lesbian. (Tsvetaeva's affairs and passionate friendships played a key role in her poetry, as did her feverish devotion to her husband.) Juvenilia was followed by Mileposts I (Versty I ), which celebrates her complex friendship with poet Osip Mandelshtam and abounds with innovation.

Tsvetaeva rejected the Russian Revolution, but her views would prove complex over time: She would come into conflict with reactionary émigré circles. At the onset of the Russian civil war, Efron joined the White Army and lost contact with the family. Tsvetaeva and her daughters spent five years of poverty in Moscow. Tsvetaeva sent her younger daughter, Irina, to an orphanage, only to learn later that she had died there. Tsvetaeva's collection Demesne of the Swans (Lebediny stan ), unpublished until 1957, expresses support for the White Army. Other work during this period includes the collections Mileposts II (Versty II ) and Remeslo (Craft ).

In 1922 Tsvetaeva and Alya emigrated to join Efron, who was in exile. They lived in Berlin, then Prague, then Paris. She gave birth to her son Georgy (Moor) in 1925. Her creative output during this period includes the poetry collections After Russia (Posle Rossii ) and Verses to My Son (Stikhi k synu ) and the plays Ariadne and Phaedra. Alienated from both her homeland and the Parisian émigré circles, Tsvetaeva suffered extreme isolation.

Efron's political sympathies shifted, and he became a spy for the Soviet Union. Alya, who shared his views, returned to the Soviet Union in 1937; Efron followed later that year. Tsvetaeva and her son joined them in 1939. Boris Pasternak helped her find translation work, but she was otherwise ostracized by the government and by established poets. In 1941 Efron was shot and Alya sent to a labor camp. Tsvetaeva and her son were evacuated to Yelabuga (Tatar Republic), where they lacked means of support. Tsvetaeva committed suicide on August 31, 1941.

See also: gulag


Feinstein, Elaine. (1987). A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetaeva. London: Hutchinson.

Karlinsky, Simon. (1985). Marina Tsvetaeva: The Woman, Her World, and Her Poetry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Obolensky, Dimitri. (1976). The Heritage of Russian Verse. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Tsvetaeva, Marina. (1993). Selected Poems, 4th ed., trans. and intro. Elaine Feinstein. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Diana Senechal

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