Tsvetaeva’s Aspro Stil Nuovo.

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.

Comments

  1. equivalent in English for the folk-lament style

    Wikipedia links ru Причитания and en Keening. Maybe under the influence of Brodsky’s rendering of Tsvetaeva’s Муза плача for Akhmatova?

  2. Well, причитание is more general and cross-cultural; I was thinking of заплачка, which is a specifically Russian tradition of female lament — interestingly, at both weddings and funerals.

  3. “So our roads split apart too”
    (Like ravens and swans, like humans)?

    BTW I am a fan of her super early verses. Of course they are adolescent, but they also much more than high school poetry. The bio pages of those years, Crimea, other uncovered mystery poets of the same project like de Gabriak was quite fascinating to read too.

  4. I am a fan of her super early verses. Of course they are adolescent, but they also much more than high school poetry.

    Oh, absolutely! I didn’t mean to put them down, just to say that she made a great leap forward. But the early stuff is wonderful in its own way.

  5. The verses from the Podruga/Girlfriend cycle have a bit unusual path in typical Russians consciousness too, having been pretty well suppressed- and then appearing in a cult following movie as a super popular song without attribution to either the author or the setting. I think most people remember the stanzas now, at least the closing line which also rhymes вороны …. стороны …. and most have no clue where it came from, to this day.

  6. Huh! That’s weird.

  7. I’m not sure why Dmitry insists on calling Tsvetaeva’s early poems “adolescent” – she was in her early 20s then and from a technical point of view, her output was already very good in 1914. What’s amazing about Tsvetaeva’s generation (born around 1890) and the next one is that relatively young people produced some exceptional poetry.

  8. This definitely sounds like keening, but keening is an English word for a non-anglophone thing: it represents a Gaelic rather than a natively English ritual.

  9. What’s amazing about Tsvetaeva’s generation (born around 1890) and the next one is that relatively young people produced some exceptional poetry.

    Yes indeed. And what a chronology: Akhmatova 1889, Pasternak 1890, Mandelstam 1891, Tsvetaeva 1892, Mayakovsky 1893!

  10. @John Cowan: In some versions of Dungeons & Dragons (only some versions, though; there’s a story about why which is only of interest to serious RPG history nerds), “keen” is used as a technical term for the instant-death vocal attack of a banshee.

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