Authors: Marina Tsvetayeva

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian poet

Author Works


Vecherny albom, 1910

Volshebny fonar, 1912, 1979

Iz dvukh knig, 1913

Versty I, 1922

Stikhi k Bloku, 1922, 1978

Razluka, 1922

Psikheya, 1923

Remeslo, 1923

Posle Rossii, 1928 (After Russia, 1992)

Lebediny stan, 1957 (The Demesne of the Swans, 1980)

Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, 1971

Poem of the End: Selected Narrative and Lyrical Poetry, 1998


Konets Kazanovy, pb. 1922

Fortuna, pb. 1923

Metel, pb. 1923

Priklyuchenie, pb. 1923

Tezey, pb. 1927 (also known as Ariadna)

Fedra, pb. 1928


Proza, 1953

Izbrannaia Proza v Dvukh Tomakh: 1917-1937, 1979

A Captive Spirit: Selected Prose, 1980

Art in the Light of Conscience: Eight Essays on Poetry, 1992


Izbrannye proizvedeniya, 1965 (selected works)


Marina Tsvetayeva (tsvih-TAH-yuh-vuh) benefited greatly from having educated, artistic parents. Her mother, Maria, a talented pianist, and her father, Ivan, a respected art history professor at the University of Moscow and the founding director of Russia’s first fine arts museum, gave her a love of music and literature and an appreciation of tradition, heritage, and art. Governesses and boarding schools in Switzerland and Germany taught her poise, independence, and European languages and strengthened her determination to follow the career she had begun at age six, when she wrote her first poems. Her mother died from tuberculosis in 1906. Upon completing high school in 1909, Tsvetayeva traveled alone to Paris, where she cultivated a provocative personal style and delved into French poetry at the Sorbonne. Her privately published first book of lyric poems, Vecherny albom (evening album), won the immediate attention of such major poets as Nikolai Gumilyov, Valery Bryusov, and Max Voloshin. Voloshin became her close friend and mentor, introduced her to literary circles, and encouraged her efforts.{$I[AN]9810001631}{$I[A]Tsvetayeva, Marina}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Tsvetayeva, Marina}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Tsvetayeva, Marina}{$I[tim]1892;Tsvetayeva, Marina}

Marina Tsvetayeva

In 1912, Tsvetayeva married Sergei Efron, a military cadet from an old-line Jewish publishing family, who helped her privately publish two other collections, Volshebny fonar (the magic lantern) and Iz dvukh knig (from two books). These highly original, very personal lyrical poems–precise, sharp, fast-paced, yet deeply passionate–received high critical praise and marked her as a promising poet, confident in her creative abilities. Her daughter Ariadna (Alya), born in 1912, became the star of her poetry at that time. Tsvetayeva became close friends with Aleksandr Blok, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Boris Pasternak, all respected poets, and corresponded with Marcel Proust and Rainer Maria Rilke about art and poetry. The lyrical diary Versty I (mileposts I) records a love affair (one of many in her life) with another poet, Osip Mandelstam.

While Efron fought as an officer with the White Army during the revolutionary events of 1917 and the Russian Civil War, Tsvetayeva was stranded in Bolshevik Moscow, alone, with two small daughters. Her political sympathies, forcefully expressed in The Demesne of the Swans, a tribute to the czar and the Whites, gained her no well-wishers. The clear-sighted, futuristic poems of this period predicted dangers others optimistically dismissed, and her diaries and prose sketches suggest Tsvetayeva felt something antispiritual and antipersonal–and therefore deeply hostile–in communism.

Impractical, impoverished, and self-absorbed, Tsvetayeva put both daughters in an orphanage so they would have food during the bitter winter of 1919-1920. When Alya became seriously ill, Tsvetayeva nursed her at home; in the meantime, however, Irina died of malnutrition. In the spring of 1922, on the verge of literary acceptance in Russia, Tsvetayeva followed Efron to Berlin, then Prague. There, she wrote prolifically until 1925, when, following the birth of a son, Georgy, the family moved to Paris.

Paris was home for Tsvetayeva for the next fourteen years. She published widely, using her small literary income to support the family. Financial necessity, however, forced her to turn from poetry to prose (literary portraits, memoirs, autobiographical reminiscences, and essays on art) to earn enough to survive, for Efron’s Soviet sympathies and active politics as a secret Soviet agent had alienated Tsvetayeva from the Parisian-Russian literary cliques. Alya, converted to communism by her father, followed him to the Soviet Union in 1937; Georgy agitated to join them. Fearful of war, disturbed at émigré hostility, and eager to join her family, Tsvetayeva revised her manuscripts, collected her poetry, appended explanatory notes, and deposited these valuable possessions in various safe places as her legacy to the world in case her fears proved true.

On June 12, 1939, with the world on the brink of World War II, she left Le Havre for Russia. After a brief respite, she entered a personal nightmare beyond her worst imagining: Her daughter and sister were sent to a gulag, Efron was executed as an enemy of the people, and she was shunned by all but a few brave friends. Upon being evacuated to Yelabuga in the Tatar Autonomous Republic to escape a German offensive, unable to bear her son’s hostility and her own loneliness, Tsvetayeva hanged herself on August 31, 1941. She was buried, unmourned, in an anonymous pauper’s grave.

Her creations are amazingly varied: ten collections of short poems, sixteen long poems, eight verse dramas, autobiography, historical-lyrical prose, essays, literary portraits, correspondence about art with famous writers and personalities, and personal diaries recording her poetic vision. Her subjects include antique mythology, Russian folk myth, European medieval legends, German romanticism, legendary historical personalities, fairy tales, and gypsy songs. Her techniques mix old orthography, tongue twisters, proverbs, bright metaphors, shifting intonations and rhythms, contrast, oxymoron, and numerous innovations. The publication of works previously unavailable in Russia has brought a deeper understanding of her contribution. Her poetry is praised for its terse diction, experimental syntax and rhythm, verbless constructions, and effective mingling of biblical idiom, classical and Russian mythology, folk stories and folk language, archaisms, and the motifs Russians have always loved: the motherland, sacrifice, art, and love.

BibliographyBrodsky, Joseph. “A Poet and Prose.” In Less than One: Selected Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986. Brodsky discusses Tsvetayeva’s prose as an extension of her poetry, employing poetic devices, such as assonance and enjambment, and following an organic rather than linear structure.Ciepiela, Catherine. The Same Solitude: Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2006. Ciepiela examines the ten-year love affair between Pasternak and Tsvetaeva, whose relationship was primarily limited to long-distance letters. Included in this volume is the correspondence between the two authors along with letters from Rainer Maria Rilke, who completed the couple’s literary love triangle. Ciepiela reveals the similarities between Pasternak and Tsvetaeva by painting a portrait of their lives and personalities. She scrutinizes their poetry and correspondence, finding significant links between them. This volume is written clearly and succinctly, making it easily accessible to all readers.Cixous, Hélène. Readings: The Poetics of Blanchot, Joyce, Kafka, Kleist, Lispector, and Tsvetayeva. Translated by Verena Andermatt Conley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991. A comparative analysis of a variety of innovative writers by a noted French feminist thinker, geared toward a scholarly audience.Feiler, Lilly. Marina Tsvetayeva: The Double Beat of Heaven and Hell. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994. This psychological biography draws on both classical and postmodernist psychoanalytic theory–Sigmund Freud’s notion of pre-Oedipal narcissism and Julia Kristeva’s concept of depression as “the hidden face of Narcissus”–to explain the contradictory impulses evident throughout Tsvetayeva’s work.Feinstein, Elaine. A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva. London: Hutchinson, 1987. A popular biography with annotation and a selected bibliography, this work draws on material from scholars and presents Tsvetayeva as a humanist and feminist interested in art, not politics.Karlinsky, Simon. Marina Tsvetaeva: The Woman, Her World, and Her Poetry. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. A revised, updated, and definitive biography based on the poetry and prose of Tsvetayeva as well as the memoirs of her relatives. Material about her life and her writing are integrated in the text. Includes an excellent bibliography and notes.Kudrova, Irma. The Death of a Poet: The Last Days of Marina Tsvetaeva. Translated by Mary Ann Szporluk. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 2004. A harrowing look at the conclusion of Tsvetaeva’s life, pieced together using KGB documents.Makin, Michael. Marina Tsvetaeva: Poetics of Appropriation. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1993. Eschewing biographical interpretation, Makin stresses Tsvetayeva’s reliance on literary antecedents. The text is well documented, contains a comprehensive source list, and provides original translations of the poetry discussed.Pasternak, Boris, et al. Letters, Summer 1926. Edited by Yevgeny Pasternak, Yelena Pasternak, and Konstantin M. Azadovsky. Translated by Margaret Wettlin and Walter Arndt. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. The correspondence between Tsvetayeva, Pasternak, and Rainer Maria Rilke during the last year of Rilke’s life. Discussion of poetry illuminated by the passion of relationship.Pierpont, Claudia Roth. Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World. New York: Knopf, 2000.Proffer, Ellendea, ed. Tsvetaeva: A Pictorial Biography. Translated by J. Marin King. Introduction by Carl R. Proffer. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1980. An excellent collection of annotated photographs of Tsvetayeva throughout her life.Schweitzer, Viktoria. Tsvetaeva. Translated by Robert Chandler and H. T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992. This biography portrays Tsvetayeva as alienated from the world since early childhood by her poetic sensibilities. The author argues that a compulsive “need to be needed” kept Tsvetaeva grounded in events of the real world. Includes bibliography, chronology, index, and biographical notes.
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