Marina Tsvetaeva published her cycle “Razluka” in a slender volume with the same title in Berlin in 1922. The strong musical qualities of the verse inspired Andrej Belyj, who had been suffering a writer’s block, to write a number of poems later published as Posle Razluki (Berlin, 1922). The last poem in that volume is dedicated to Tsvetaeva. She describes their Berlin friendship in her memoir of Belyj, “Plennyj dukh” (‘The Captive Spirit,’ which gave its title to J. Marin King’s fine 1980 translation of Tsvetaeva’s prose into English), so the connection between the poets is not a secret connection. Perhaps Belyj’s title, Posle Razluki, even glimmers in the title of the last volume of poetry Tsvetaeva published in her lifetime, Posle Rossii (1928).
I meant to include the final poem from Posle Razluki, the one dedicated to Tsvetavea, after my translation of “Razluka,” but the poem simply isn’t as good as hers are, and I couldn’t compel any music from it. Perhaps he was hearing an inner music as he wrote it that was not conveyed in the poem itself? His whole collection, though it picks up many of the traits of “Razluka,” is still strongly Symbolist in its thematic. (Many readers of Russian poetry find Belyj better as a reader and a theorist, or as an autobiographer, than as a poet.)
The cycle “Razluka” also appeared in Tsvetaeva’s 1923 collection Remeslo. It has always been one of my favorites, for the same things Belyj saw: musicality and a wonderful, “invincible” rhythm. The broken lines might invite comparison to that master of tonic verse Vladimir Mayakovsky (in his pre-lesenka period). The triumphant rhythm perfectly bodies forth the tumbling chains of associations, the feeling that the speaker’s words are pouring out in unmeditated haste, though in fact everything is very carefully chosen and arranged. Tsvetaeva’s intensity is precisely aimed (to borrow the military vocabulary of parts of the cycle). Multiple meanings of words like “boj” [‘striking,’ but also ‘battle’] and “val” [‘wave’ or ‘billow’ but also ‘rampart’] connect to the plight of Tsvetaeva’s husband, Sergei Efron, who was fighting in the White Army, while suggesting that the poet is a kind of warrior – as indeed emerges as we move through the cycle. These words of rich meaning also pack intensity into single syllables (the average word length in Russian is longer, more like two and a half syllables – if a half syllable counts in a poem).
The cycle moves in several directions at once: it dwells on the poet’s fear of losing Efron, from whom she had heard nothing for a worryingly long time. I feel it return to the 1920 death of Tsvetaeva’s younger daughter, Irina, of starvation; the little hands (ruchenki) would be less appropriate her older daughter Alya, who was nine in 1921. It binds the loss of Irina to the fear of losing Efron: their love is a tiny lamb and he is like Ganymede in the beak of Zeus’s eagle, another child she fears losing to death (or abandoning): she let him go to join the army, and look what happened! (He similarly shapes the miniature, pre-pubescent St. George of the cycle “Georgii,” which follows “Razluka” in the book Remeslo.) Tsvetaeva wrote that she feared Efron would no longer want her without Irina, since she had not managed to preserve both of her children. The cycle edges into imagining suicide (to join Sergei, if he is gone?), stressing her desire to leap from a tower (like Joan of Arc, one of Tsvetaeva’s favorite role models); the move “rhymes” with the poet’s hooked leap from a bell-tower in the cycle “Poet” (Joseph Brodsky connected it to Otto Lilienthal, the “glider king,” who died after a fall in 1896). Like many Tsvetaeva poems, especially from the early 1920s, the cycle treats the departure to write or even to become a poet, a mother who gives up familial connections and obligations with anguish but perhaps without regret, in order to accept inspiration. The “winged one” who stamps and neighs in the cycle’s fifth poem is Pegasus, and the poet is an Amazon. (By tradition, the Amazons had one breast cut off, to make them better archers but also as if to suggest a chosen or culturally imposed inability to nurture her children enough – again tied to the starvation of little Irina). The horse appears in an illuminated flyway; he is a fiery horse like the one in “Na Krasnom kone,” a longer poem from the same time in Tsvetaeva’s like. It also addresses the woman poet’s anxiety and fear over what the choice to be a poet might cost her and her nearest and dearest, though there it is phrased as having a cruel (male) Muse. The cycle presents a dense node of Tsvetaevan concerns and images: the Amazon and Pegasus! – which might remind us that Pegasus was born of the blood of the Medusa: woman’s blood underlies her poetics as a deep but tragic source of creativity, as of human life. Like Joan of Arc (who leapt from a tower after she was captured), the woman poet hears voices but risks a fiery death. We may consider Remeslo an especially feminist volume of poetry, given that its title was taken from a poem by Karolina Pavlova: “Moja napast’, moe blazhenstvo,/ Moe svjatoe remeslo!”
(I end this little piece with gratitude to Dr. Ol’ga Lang (1898-1992): she was a graduate of the Bestuzhev courses, a leftist, translator, teacher, scholar, and connoisseur of literature, fascinating enough to deserve a whole article of her own. From the library of books she left to Swarthmore College, I inherited the volume from which I made this translation: the 1923 Gelikon" edition of Remeslo, hard signs and all. There are secret underground connections not just between poets, but between Slavists as well.)