“To Marina” is a long autobiographical free-verse poem of approximately four hundred lines devoted to the woman of the title, with whom the poet had an affair twenty-five years before. She also served as the inspiration for many of Koch’s best-known early poems, several mentioned by name or alluded to in this poem. The second-person addressee of the poem, the “you,” is Marina, and much of the poem recounts events in the long-ago lovers’ affair: who said what, when, and how the poet felt, though he cannot know exactly how Marina felt. Since the affair produced many poems by Koch, he has retained evidence of their love and of the creativity to which great love and negotiation of differences may give rise.
The fact that Marina was Russian is introduced early, via comments on her accent (in her speech, “The quiet, dry Z/ Leaped up to the front of the alphabet”), and many of the lovers’ differences arise over the question of nationality. Marina is from a nation with more direct experience of the hardships of war, and she is more serious and realistic than the younger, naïve American Koch. For the poet, these differences are exotic and exciting, suggestive of experience and providing a muse, as is indicated in an early section of the poem where Marina points out Kenneth’s naïveté, and the poet reponds with desire rendered in lyric imagery: “Oh Kenneth/ You like everything/ To be pleasant. I was burning/ Like an arch/ Made out of trees.”
(The entire section is 607 words.)