Reading my collected Tsvetaeva along with her biography hasn’t provided the immediate rewards Pasternak’s did; with him I was blown away from the beginning, but with her the early verse was well made, sometimes vigorous, but not thrilling. But that all changed with the end of the year 1915 and the collapse of her mad romance with the poet Sophia Parnok; the first poem in her next book, «Вёрсты» [Mileposts, 1922], written in January 1916, plunges the reader at once into a drastically new style, condensed, full of savagery and mystery, ripped out of the light-filled drawing rooms of the earlier books and thrown in rags onto the dark, storm-tossed heath, like mad Lear. There’s no equivalent in English for the folk-lament style of this poem, «Отмыкала ларец железный…», and there’s no way I can convey the black magic of it, but I’ll do my best to provide some sort of Englishing so you can get an idea of what she’s up to:
I unlocked the iron casket
and took out the tearful gift —
a little ring with a large pearl,
a large pearl.
I stole out onto the porch like a cat,
and exposed my face to the wind.
The winds blew, the birds flew,
swans to the left, to the right ravens…
Our roads go in different directions.
You’ll depart with the first storm-clouds;
your path will lie through dense woods,
through burning sands.
You’ll shout out your soul,
you’ll cry out your eyes.
But over me shall the owl call,
but over me shall the grass hiss.
I’m suddenly excited about the hundreds of pages of poems that lie before me.