The Poem

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Last Updated on May 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486

“Homesickness” is a short lyric poem in ten stanzas, each composed of four irregular lines. The meter of the poem is fundamentally iambic, but, as is characteristic of Marina Tsvetayeva’s lyrics, there are breaks formed by the ellipsis of verbs and nouns as well as by emotional exclamations. The rhythmical intonation creates a counterpoint to the formal metrical pattern.

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“Homesickness” was written immediately before Tsvetayeva’s return to the Soviet Union. Tsvetayeva had emigrated to Europe (first to Berlin, then Prague, and finally to Paris) in 1922. Although the title of the lyric suggests that the poet is longing to return to her homeland, it becomes clear that the poem actually expresses the poet’s ambivalence about returning to a place that may no longer be home. The title, instead, concerns the poet’s desire to find a place where she and her poetry will be understood and welcomed.

Although Tsvetayeva often projected herself in the image of mythic or literary figures, this poem is written in the first person with no distinction implied between the poet and the speaker. Tsvetayeva’s work is often noted for its intimate tone and emotional candor. Considering that most of Tsvetayeva’s work is autobiographical in nature, and often confessional, it is helpful for readers of her poetry to be aware of certain biographical details.

Tsvetayeva left the Soviet Union, like many of her contemporaries, disillusioned with the outcome of the October Revolution. The time she spent outside her country, particularly the last decade in Paris, was also difficult. She found little acceptance for her writing in either the Soviet Union or among the Russian writers in the Parisian émigré community, which made her living situation difficult for most of her life. Ultimately, Tsvetayeva chose to return to the Soviet Union, where she later committed suicide.

The first four stanzas of the poem describe the alienation she feels from society: She has no place to call her own. The next three stanzas elaborate on the isolation she feels from other human beings. She exclaims that she will be misunderstood in any language, implying that she’ll be misunderstood in Russia as well as in Europe. People with someplace to call their native land and with a nationality to serve as an identity will not understand her since she lacks this sort of “native stain.” Furthermore, she will be misunderstood because she seeks to escape everyday reality, while the nameless, faceless “they” of the poem are immersed in it.

In the seventh stanza, she explains that her soul is outside the measure of time, so she will never be understood by readers of the twentieth century. In the last two stanzas, she emphasizes her detachment from her homeland in particular. In the last two lines of the poem, however, she suggests that, if she had to call someplace home, she would choose Russia, which is symbolized by the rowanberry bush.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540

The meaning and language of Tsvetayeva’s later lyric poetry is concentrated. It is designed to frustrate the reader looking for standard poetic forms and formulae. Since experimentation in sound and rhythm is vital in Tsvetayeva’s poetry, much of the poem’s charm is lost in translation. Tsvetayeva’s experimentation with language, in combination with her unofficial status in the world of Soviet literature until the 1960’s, explains why much of her work is not yet translated into English.

Tsvetayeva’s elliptical style is striking. Because of the inflected nature of the Russian language, the omission of verbs and nouns (as well as flexibility in word order) is possible and common in everyday speech. Tsvetayeva exploits this aspect of the Russian language to experiment with new rhythms. Her language is bound closely with the expression of feeling. The feelings expressed in her poetry always seem intense because of its highly personal content.

Many of her lyrics are syntactic and thematic variations on one theme. Repetition of certain words and sounds is an important element of Tsvetayeva’s poetry. The phrase that is repeated throughout this lyric is “it’s all the same.” This repetition functions in several ways. It emphasizes the indifference of the world toward the poet, but more significantly, indicates the poet’s detachment from society. While every other person is part of a group, she remains an outsider. Other people have an identity defined by nation, yet the poet has no nationality. The repetition of “all” and “every” also emphasizes the lack of distinction between all people and places. Places and people seem to merge into one amorphous whole. The poet remains an outsider to this group.

The isolation of the poet is further emphasized by the use of plurals and the images of the crowd. While the rest of society is compared to a group of trees, she is the log that is left behind. Other people are “readers of newspapers,” signifying not only their uniformity but also their attachment to the reality of present time. In contrast to this group, she is a poet who lives in all centuries.

Tsvetayeva’s employment of plurals to describe people with whom she shares nothing in common and places to which she does not belong seems to present a dehumanized world. Houses are no longer homes. Instead, they are described as hospitals or barracks. People are not human. They have become “readers of newspapers” or part of a forest. Tsvetayeva’s portrayal of herself is also dehumanized but in the sense that she is not part of the human world. She describes herself as a “captive lion.” She adds that while her body may be trapped in this century, her soul is beyond time. The poet seems to be the only one with a soul and with an individual identity.

Notably, only one another image that does not directly refer to the poet is mentioned. The one thing that emerges out of the uniformity is the rowanberry, a bush indigenous to Russia and significant in the Russian literary tradition. Even though she does not truly feel a part of any society, Russia is the closest thing to a home that is possible for her in this world.

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Themes