Who? Marina Tsvetaeva, Russian emigre poet with buckets of charisma, one of the Big Four of her day (easily matching her peers Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam and Boris ‘Dr. Zhivago’ Pasternak), appearing in translation by Elaine Feinstein.
What? Fifty-odd poems on her fellow poets, break-ups, the bourgeoisie, Ophelia and the Pied Piper, all balancing her rich lyricism and emotional honesty.
When? The collection draws from her pre-Revolution juvenilia to the final, refusal-laden period (see her distressed Poems to Czechoslovakia) approaching her return to the Soviet Union in 1939. It took two years of state pressure to provoke her suicide.
How? Feinstein commits to a nuanced translation of Tsvetaeva’s idiomatic style, without attempting (thank God) to re-render Tsvetaeva’s strict meter and rhyme.
Why? Tsvetaeva, as I’ve mentioned, is an extremely charismatic figure. Her work, like Akhmatova’s, is forceful, driven by passion, skirting on the right side of the intellectual, and wise. The esotericism that peeks through the verse is well-justified; unlike other Russian poetry, Tsvetaeva’s imagery is still grounded in the emotional world. This inner-reflection, perhaps linked with the strength of her personality, at times overwhelms. Every line is a drop into the pool of her raw and open emotions, and in this, it is difficult to separate her biography from her work, and so to distance ourselves from her pain as we read. Perhaps, I have missed the point, or chosen to.
Marina Tsvetaeva: Selected Poems is available as a Carcanet paperback, edited, translated and introduced by Elaine Feinstein.
28 February 2017, Pancake Day