Women in Translation Month: Marina Tsvetaeva

The age of the Russian Revolution produced some extraordinary poetry, and the women poets deserve better recognition. For spot-on quick-fire dispatches from a period of unprecedented change, try Teffi, but for poetry, try Tsvetaeva, who died 76 years ago today. Glagoslav publications has produced a pocket-sized introduction to her Essential Poetry from the decade before and after the revolution, translated by Michael Naydan and Slava Yastremski.

Tsvetaeva was a great admirer of Akhmatova. Though she didn’t get to meet her in person until 1940, she dedicated poems to her:


As the helpful notes explain, the perfect circle here refers to the way the Garden of Eden was depicted in Orthodox icons:


Tsvetaeva’s passion was certainly not restricted to her faith. One of her earliest poem cycles was dedicated to her lover and fellow poet Sophia Parnok. It turns religious imagery around in ways you don’t expect:


Tsvetaeva’s later work shows how the imperial Russia she grew up in is being torn apart, as in this extract from her long poem, The End (1924):


Tsvetaeva could not remain unaffected by the troubled times she lived in: her husband fought in the White Guard and was killed by the Bolsheviks, she was exiled to Prague and Paris, returning to the USSR in 1939 only to commit suicide two years later. She pours everything into her writing:


She did not stop there, and finally, the translations are catching up. New English editions of her notebooks from exile, After Russia, translated by Christopher Whyte, are coming out later this year and in 2018, published by Shearsman Books. As this month of reading women in translation draws to a close, that’s just one more new book to look out for. The month is almost over, but the reading is not…


Translator, editor, writer, reader

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Posted in books, gender, poetry, translation
One comment on “Women in Translation Month: Marina Tsvetaeva
  1. […] including women I’ve read to mark this anniversary year – Anna Akhmatova, Teffi, and Marina Tsvetaeva – and men I’d never quite got round to reading till now – Blok, Mandelstam, and […]

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