Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Homesickness” is a lyric about the poet’s alienation from society, and about Tsvetayeva’s alienation from society in particular. Tsvetayeva often takes a broad theme that has been traditional to lyric poetry and personalizes it. She was very familiar with the Western European literary tradition as well as the Russian tradition. The theme of the poet as an émigré from all nations is common in Romantic poetry, in which the poet is considered to be a visionary. The poet essentially is different from other human beings. In that respect, the poet is isolated from society.

Tsvetayeva herself reiterates this idea in the essay “Poet i vremia” (1932), or “The Poet and Time.” She writes that “every poet is essentially an émigré, even in Russia.” Tsvetayeva, however, personalizes this theme by expressing her own alienation as well. Not only is she isolated from others by her status as a poet, but she is essentially exiled from her homeland. She felt—although her poetry actually did have many admirers—that her poetry was not accepted or understood among the Russians living in emigration and, in later years, that there was no place for her poetry in the Soviet Union either. Tsvetayeva sought escape in her poetry, which, in effect, isolated her to an even greater extent.

Her conception of the poet in exile differs from that of other Romantic poets in an important respect. Even though she often seems proud of the way in which she stands out from the crowd, Tsvetayeva also admits that her role is a burden to herself and to others. The Symbolists, who were also writing while Tsvetayeva was active, saw poets as prophets in an almost religious sense. Tsvetayeva may have considered the poet’s role to be like that of a prophet, but she emphasized the loneliness and misery rather than the glory of the poet.