Marina (Ivanovna) Tsvetaeva (Efron) 1892–1941
(Also transliterated as Tsvetayeva, Cvetaeva, and Zwetaewa.) Russian poet, essayist, dramatist, critic, and autobiographer.
Tsvetaeva is recognized as one of modern Russia's "poetic quartet," along with Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Boris Pasternak, who acted as poet-witnesses of the country's changing values in the early decades of the twentieth century. Their lives and art were influenced by one another and by the cataclysmic political and social upheavals occurring in Russia at the time. Tsvetaeva is often likened to her three contemporaries—to Pasternak for an intense love of Moscow, to Akhmatova for shared feminist concerns, and to Mandelstam for tumultuous emotions. Her central interest as a poet was language, and she used a terse, often verbless construction, with an energy described as taut and virile. Her experiments with syntax and rhythm are considered a unique contribution to Russian literature.
Tsvetaeva grew up in Moscow, a member of an artistic, scholarly, upper-middle-class family. She privately published her first volume of verse, Vecherny albom (Evening Album), in 1910. This collection received unexpected attention when it was reviewed by the prominent critic Max Voloshin and the poets Nikolay Gumilyov and Valery Bryusov, all of whom wrote favorably of Tsvetaeva's work. In 1911 Tsvetaeva was married to Sergei Efron and the following year published a second collection of poetry, Volshebny fonar (The Magic Lantern). During the Russian Civil War, which lasted from 1918 to 1921, Tsvetaeva lived in poverty in Moscow while her husband fought in the Crimea as an officer of the Czarist White Army. Although she wrote prolifically during this time—composing poetry, essays, memoirs, and dramas—the anti-Bolshevik sentiments pervading many of these works prevented their publication. During a famine in 1919 the younger of her two children died of starvation, and in 1922 Tsvetaeva emigrated with her surviving child, Ariadna, to Germany to join Efron after five years of wartime separation. While the Efrons lived in Berlin and Prague, Tsvetaeva began publishing the products of her previous decade's labor; these found critical favor with émigré writers and publishers. Moving to Paris, Tsvetaeva continued her poetic writing in times marked by physical and emotional hardship. She was unable to sustain her early acceptance by other émigré writers because of her marked independence, her emotional intensity, and the political sympathies of her husband, who had become involved with the Communist party. Tsvetaeva refused to adopt the militant anti-Soviet posture of many émigrés. In the late 1930s Tsvetaeva's son entreated her to
follow her husband and daughter who had already returned to Russia. The poet and her son arrived in Moscow in 1939 to an extreme political situation of totalitarian dictatorship. Artists and intellectuals were automatically suspect and Tsvetaeva was especially endangered by the political activities of her husband, who had been arrested and executed. When German troops attacked Moscow in 1941 Tsvetaeva and her son were evacuated to the village of Elabuga in the Tartar Republic. Tsvetaeva, denied the right to publish, was unable to find acceptable work there or in nearby Christopol where a colony of writers had gathered. Three weeks after her evacuation, she took her life.
Tsvetaeva's first two volumes of verse, composed almost entirely before she was eighteen years old, are considered works of technical virtuosity, and their occasionally immature themes do not obscure Tsvetaeva's mastery of traditional Russian lyric forms. Departing sharply from her earlier romantic style, Vyorsty I marks the beginning of her mature verse. In this collection, which shows a development in rhythmic control and restraint, she experimented with unusual meters and paranomasia, a technique of associating words with the same or similar roots. Remeslo (Crafts), the last volume of poetry Tsvetaeva completed before her emigration, is praised for its metrical experiments and effective blending of folk language, archaisms, and Biblical idioms. Although she generally rejected the practices of contemporary poetic schools, Tsvetaeva did share the Russian Symbolists' refined poetic craftsmanship and the passion for clarity and detail practiced by such Acmeist poets as Mandelstam and Akhmatova.
In the early 1920s Tsvetaeva experimented with narrative verse, adapting traditional Russian folktales in Tsardevitsa and Molodets (The Swain). Although she continued to write lyrics, her most significant works in the following years were long poems, such as her satire "Krysolov" ("The Pied Piper"). Tsvetaeva developed a new classical style in her verse drama Ariadna, and in the volume Posle Rossii (After Russia), which Simon Karlinsky has called "the most mature and perfect of her collections," she fused her early romanticism with colloquial diction. While she based her poems predominantly upon personal experience, she also explored with increased detachment such philosophical themes as the nature of time and space. As the 1930s progressed, Tsvetaeva devoted more energy to prose than to poetry. In such memoirs as "Plennyi dukh" ("Captive Spirit") and "Moy Pushkin" ("My Pushkin"), she recorded her impressions of friends and poets. In a prose style characterized by stream-of-consciousness narrative technique and poetic language, Tsvetaeva expressed her views on literary creation and criticism in such essays as "Iskusstvo pri svete sovesti" ("Art in the Light of Conscience") and "Poet o kritike" ("A Poet on Criticism").
After her initial critical success and popularity, Tsvetaeva was largely neglected because of her experimental style and her refusal to assume either a pro- or anti-Soviet stance. However, her works eventually gained a wide audience in the Soviet Union during the post-Stalinist "thaw" of the 1950s. International scholarly interest in Tsvetaeva increased during the 1960s, leading to a heightened appreciation for her technical inventiveness, emotional force, and thematic range. Recent critics regard her works as among the most innovative and powerful Russian poetry of the twentieth century.