A Tsvetaeva Question.

In my reading of Tsvetaeva, I’ve gotten to the first poem she wrote to Pasternak after rapturously devouring his 1922 masterpiece My Sister, Life (see this LH post, in which the word ржи [rzhi], the oblique form of рожь [rozh’] ‘rye,’ also features), and I’ve run into a simultaneous crisis of semantics and textual criticism. It’s a magnificent poem, the best she’d written in a long time (Pasternak was obviously good for her); the first two stanzas are:

Неподражаемо лжет жизнь:
Сверх ожидания, сверх лжи…
Но по дрожанию всех жил
Можешь узнать: жизнь!

Словно во ржи лежишь: звон, синь…
(Что ж, что во лжи лежишь!) — жар, вал…
Бормот — сквозь жимолость — ста жил…
Радуйся же! — Звал!

Inimitably life tells lies:
Beyond expectation, beyond the lie…
But by the trembling of all your veins
You can recognize it: life!

As though you’re lying in rye: ringing, blue…
(So what if you’re lying in a lie!) — heat, berm…
The murmur — through honeysuckle — of a hundred veins…
Rejoice! — He called!

I have ста жил “of a hundred veins,” but when I googled тишизн, the genitive plural of a nonce word тишизна ‘quietness’ (which occurs in the last stanza of this poem, in one other Tsvetaeva poem, and apparently nowhere else in Russian literature — the normal word is тишина), I wound up in Alyssa W. Dinega’s A Russian Psyche: The Poetic Mind of Marina Tsvetaeva, where on p. 97 we find it given as “sta zhal” and translated as “of a hundred bee stings.” What was going on? A Google Books search on “Бормот — сквозь жимолость — ста” (the start of the line) reveals that about half the books have жил ‘of veins’ and half жал ‘of stings.’ This is troubling.

Now, I’m reasonably sure жил is the correct reading, because it better fits the rhyme scheme of the poem and makes more sense to me, but I’d like not to have to depend on my own judgment. Is there a critical edition of Tsvetaeva’s poems that can be trusted for such things?

Comments

  1. I think you have just signed up to edit it.

  2. I don’t know the answer for “critical edition” but both the meaning and the rhyming scheme suggest “veins” IMVHO. So, posting just to to help you feel validated in your poetic sense, LH.

  3. Thank you!

  4. I was going to say that it’s a nice coincidence that рожь/ржи ‘rye’ and ложь/лжи ‘lie’ rhyme in both languages, but then I realized the Russian and English words are etymologically connected, so it’s not as much of a coincidence as it might be.

  5. keith100 says:

    There’s a discussion page which briefly goes over the rhyme scheme with “жал” as the correct variant.

    https://ru.wikisource.org/wiki/Обсуждение:Неподражаемо_лжёт_жизнь_(Цветаева)

    Not that the final recommendation to check the 1988 edition (whichever that might be – there’s at least 2 on ru.wikipedia) is valid because that could well be just reproducing the error.

  6. Interesting, thanks for finding it! I don’t understand what they mean about the rhyme scheme, though; abbb would be unlike anything else in the poem (and not characteristic of the poet either).

  7. keith100 says:

    I wonder if they meant “Ритм” rather than “Рифма”?

  8. No, they suggest rhyme, ABBB, with A cross-rhyming to the first stanza. Both of these would be one-of-a-kind patterns here, though

  9. Greg Pandatshang says:

    OT: how normal are /rʒ/ initial clusters in Russian? I mean, I guess they must be licit. But it doesn’t seem like they’re very common.

  10. languagehat says: I was going to say that it’s a nice coincidence that рожь/ржи ‘rye’ and ложь/лжи ‘lie’ rhyme in both languages

    Same in Croatian: raž (rye), laž (lie). However, what has always intrigued me is the similarity between laže (he/she/it lies) and leži (he/she/it lays/lies) in both English and Croatian. And add to that the vaguely similar: lagan (light – opposite of heavy). Coincidence, or is there something deeper going on?

  11. OT: how normal are /rʒ/ initial clusters in Russian? I mean, I guess they must be licit. But it doesn’t seem like they’re very common.

    No, not common at all. An unabridged dictionary of the Russian language will show a few dozen, but most of those are little-used compounds. There are, perhaps, a half dozen that are common, including the words for rye, rust, and neighing (i.e. the sound of a horse).

  12. The seven-volume Ellis Luck/Эллис Лак edition of Tsvetaeva’s collected works (Moscow, 1994-95) has “ста жил” and doesn’t comment on any textological issue.

  13. However, what has always intrigued me is the similarity between laže (he/she/it lies) and leži (he/she/it lays/lies) in both English and Croatian. And add to that the vaguely similar: lagan (light – opposite of heavy). Coincidence, or is there something deeper going on?
    Coincidence – laže – lies (= “says something that isn’t true”) go back to a PIE root *leugh-, while leži – lies / lays go back to a PIE root *legh- and lagan – light go back to a PIE adjective *H1leghwu-. They even don’t look like they’re related on a Pre-PIE Level.

  14. @Erik M.: “The seven-volume Ellis Luck/Эллис Лак edition of Tsvetaeva’s collected works (Moscow, 1994-95) has “ста жил”…”

    Yes – I’ve checked that, too – but it’s odd that the 1988 edition should have “ста жал” considering that both were edited by Anna Saakiants. (Lev Mnukhin co-edited the 1994-5 collection but I doubt he focused on textual minutiae.) Moreover, Saakiants quotes this poem in her 2002 book on Tsvetaeva, and it’s “ста жал” in there. Perhaps the 1994 version had an error.

  15. I would suppose rather that Saakiants changed her mind.

  16. keith100 says:

    The 1994 Собрание сочинений в 7-ми томах does state “Тексты печаефются со сохранением особенностей орфографии и пунктуации Марины Цветаевой”.

    I found a copy of Послѣ Россiи 1922-1925, published by IM WerdenVerlag, Berlin in 2007
    «Если когда-нибудь – хоть черезъ
    сто лѣтъ – будетъ печататься, прошу
    печатать по старой орѳографiи.»

    Неподражаемо лжетъ жизнь:
    Сверхъ ожиданія, сверхъ лжи…
    Но по дрожанію всѣхъ жилъ
    Можешь узнать: жизнь!

    Словно во ржи лежишь: звонъ, синь…
    (Что жъ, что во лжи лежишь!) — жаръ, валъ…
    Бормотъ — сквозь жимолость — ста жилъ…
    Радуйся же! — Звалъ!

    И не кори меня, другъ, столь
    Заворожимы у насъ, тѣлъ,
    Души — что вотъ уже: лбомъ въ сонъ.
    Ибо — зачѣмъ пѣлъ?

    Въ бѣлую книгу твоихъ тишизнъ,
    Въ дикую глину твоихъ «да» —
    Тихо склоняю обломъ лба:
    Ибо ладонь — жизнь.

    8 го іюля 1922 г.

    Not sure if this confirms anything as there are no reference to the sources.

  17. Nick Karayev says:

    Very interesting.

    First, the rhyming pattern argument is not permanent. The third stanza gives ABAB, the fourth is ABBA, so there is no clear pattern here. Thus if the first two stanzas can have either ABBA ACCC or ABBA ACBC, both are not quite symmetrical.

    The rhymes themselves are problematic: if столь is rhymed with сон in the third stanza, then жизнь can rhyme with жил in the second, but it’s unlikely since we already have much more percievable rhyme for синь twice in the first stanza.

    “Жил” in the second stanza would suggest that Tsvetayeva repeats the same rhyme twice in the different stanzas. Meanwhile we already have one repetition, “жизнь”, but this is symmetrical and in the first stanza only, so it emphasizes the word in a way. The repetition of “жил” can be the same, of course.

    Lastly, the meaning. I see why “жил” seems to be obvious, but “жал” is as obvious and even more so: жилы are inside, and жала are outside, so their murmur can be heard сквозь жимолость. Otherwise there’s a very, ahem, poetical logic 🙂

  18. @zyxt: However, what has always intrigued me is the similarity between laže (he/she/it lies) and leži (he/she/it lays/lies) in both English and Croatian. And add to that the vaguely similar: lagan (light – opposite of heavy). Coincidence, or is there something deeper going on?

    They all derive from similar Indo-European roots, but deeper history is only a speculation (this is from Derksen):

    lagati / lie < PIE *lugh-
    leći / lie down < PIE *legh-

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