Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

On the surface, “Poem of the End” is a journey, a simple walk along a river in Prague, but it is also a psychological journey, and this is where the meaning of the poem resides. For Tsvetayeva, who believes the poet holds an exalted position, ordinary life means death; she is incapable of conventional emotion, and it is her intensity that has caused the break with her lover. The end to which the poem refers is both the ending of the affair and the poet’s rejection of ordinary life. As the cycle moves between detailed descriptions of Tsvetayeva’s physical surroundings and her mental landscape, these endings become apparent.

The poem reveals its meaning through images of banality and death, which are introduced in the first poem. In the opening line, the poet waits for her lover beneath a sign, “a point of rusting/ tin in the sky,” and when her lover arrives, he is as “on time as death is.” In the seventh stanza, these images combine: “life is/ at death point.” This repetition of the word “point” suggests that the rusting tin signifies not just a shabby café but death as well. In the third and fourth segments of the cycle, Tsvetayeva again juxtaposes themes of death and tawdriness, this time using separate poems for each. In the third poem, the river, traditionally a symbol of life, is described as “a slab for corpses,” and references to death recur throughout the third lyric. In the next poem, the locale shifts abruptly to a...

(The entire section is 546 words.)