Form and Content
Marina Tsvetayeva was one of twentieth century Russian literature’s greatest and most singular talents. She was also one of Russia’s first major women writers. A precocious but predictable poet at eighteen, several years later she was writing some of the most powerful and unexpected poetry in the Russian language. Art in the Light of Conscience: Eight Essays on Poetry is a short collection of her essays chosen, translated, and annotated by Angela Livingstone.
Tsvetayeva began writing in short lyric forms, then gradually moved on to greater length and complexity in long poems and epics, and eventually arrived at prose. The move to prose was both natural and necessary. It was natural because, as her fellow Russian poet Joseph Brodsky said, paraphrasing military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, “prose for Tsvetaeva was nothing but the continuation of poetry by other means.” That is, her concern with intonation, with sound, with association, needed another territory to explore, and prose was all that was left. It was necessary because Tsvetayeva, who had followed her husband into emigration, was poor. She was an established, well-known poet at the peak of her powers in the mid-1920’s but she had difficulty putting bread on the table. Prose paid better, and at least for a time Tsvetayeva was a sought-after contributor to Russian-language periodicals in such centers of émigré culture as Berlin, Prague, and Paris.
In the late...
(The entire section is 560 words.)