Marina Ivanovna Tsvetayeva’s birth on October 8, 1892, into an educated, artistic family, augured well for her poetic future. Her mother, a talented amateur pianist, instilled in her an appreciation for the fine arts and insisted on rigorous musical training, while her father’s respected position as a professor of art at Moscow University provided exposure to the creative community in Russia. Nicolas II himself, with his family, attended the opening of Professor Tsvetayeva’s lifelong project, the Moscow Fine Arts Museum. This august event impressed Tsvetayeva and is reflected in both her poetry and prose, possibly contributing to the unswerving loyalty she displayed toward the imperial family, even when the expression of such sympathies proved dangerous. At age six, Tsvetayeva performed at a public piano recital and tried her hand at versification. Her mother’s illness in 1902 necessitated a four-year stay abroad, during which Tsvetayeva developed her interest in literature at Swiss and German boarding schools. After the death of her mother in 1906, she reluctantly entered the Moscow gimnaziya, where she treated her courses rather casually. No longer attracted to music, she drifted in and out of schools, devoting all her time to the writing of poetry. She barely managed to complete secondary education, lagging two years behind her graduating class. A collection of poems written in her teens, Vecherny albom (evening album), was privately published in 1910 in an edition of five hundred copies. Several critics generously noted artistic promise in the volume, and the poet-painter Max Voloshin introduced Tsvetayeva to Moscow’s literary world.
Tsvetayeva’s independent, sometimes provocative demeanor—she smoked, bobbed her hair, traveled alone abroad—coupled with a budding literary reputation, brought a measure of local fame. At Voloshin’s Crimean house, which served as an artists’ colony, she met and shortly thereafter, in 1912, married the eighteen-year-old Sergey Efron, member of a prominent Jewish publishing family. In the same year, she issued her second book of verse, Volshebny fonar (the magic lantern), dedicated to her new husband. Neither this collection nor her third, Iz dvukh knig (from two books), caused much of a critical stir, with public attention diverted by an abundance of other talented writers and the imminent war. When Tsvetayeva’s daughter Ariadna was born in 1912, she immediately became a frequently mentioned star in her mother’s verse. Tsvetayeva’s writings during the next ten years, disseminated primarily through public readings and occasional journal printing, also failed to receive critical...
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