A love letter to Marina Tsvetaeva

Obsessions in poetry

“No more passionate voice ever sounded in Russian poetry of the 20th century,” Joseph Brodsky writes of Marina Tsvetaeva. And yet Western readers are only now starting to discover what Tsvetaeva’s Russian audience has already recognized, “that she was one of the major poetic voices of the century” (Tomas Venclova, The New Republic).

Poetry is something I find great pleasure in since childhood. Since I learned how to read properly, really. There is something comforting and soothing in connecting with the rhythmic phrases of strangers and being able to express your own emotions through their words. For me, poetry made everything I felt (and especially everything I felt too lonely in feeling) valid, real, powerful even.

The first poetess that I became deeply familiar with and not only read for pleasure but attempted to analyze (with the help of my teacher) — was Russian poetess Marina Tsvetaeva. I was 16. Since then, I discovered many more brilliant poets and poetesses and dived much deeper into the world of literature in general. Still, for me, Tsvetaeva remains one of the best in poetry. She uses language in an almost magical way and comes close to describing everything that’s fundamentally indescribable. Her words feel sharp, bloody, alive, and electric. She manages to capture powerful but peculiar emotions that mostly tend to slip away from the language completely. She uses words to express things that the language seems unable to grasp. Not only through poetry but also in her prose and letters.

When I and my boyfriend started dating, I gifted Tsvetaeva’s book to him (English translation) with my handwritten quote by another brilliant poetess, Emily Dickinson. This quote describes perfectly, how Tsvetaeva’s words make me feel:

Later, when I wrote him a long letter on his birthday and tried to express deeper emotions, again, I turned to Tsvetaeva and used her words:

As mentioned by the translator Veronika Krasnova, outside of Russia, as a translated poet, Tsvetaeva is mostly known for her romantic poetry. Only a very small part of her work (mainly early writings) is translated. But It is crucial to highlight, as Krasnova claims, that Tsvetaeva was much more than simply a romantic poet.

In her diaries, Tsvetaeva mentions: “there are books so alive that you’re always afraid that while you weren’t reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river. While you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away. No one has stepped twice into the same river. But did anyone ever step twice into the same book?” I return to her books over and over again, mostly when I feel too deeply about something but am unable to express even half of it. And every time, I find deeper meanings in her words. Every single time, she has something new and more powerful to offer.

Here are some of her poems that I love and have loved throughout many years: