As with any poet, it is difficult to separate form from content, and in Tsvetayeva’s case such an attempt at separation would be not only difficult but also ill-advised: Her distorted or elliptical syntax, her verbal inventiveness, her startling punctuation, her magnetic, almost hypnotic incantations—all of these embody the very way she thought. Tsvetayeva is known for her technical brilliance, her virtuoso use of a whole array of poetic devices, but for her these were never (as they were for some of her contemporaries) ends in themselves.
The lyrics in this selection span more than twenty years, and during those twenty years Tsvetayeva’s voice changes several times. Yet there are always certain constants. First, her voice is always an assertion, a defining and re-defining of the self. Even in the longer poems there is always the impression of direct speech; the speaker urges, reproaches, praises, harangues. Early in her career, Tsvetayeva declared that her poetry was a lyric diary, “a poetry of proper names.” She later qualified that statement in a letter of 1923: “The choice of words is first of all the choice and purging of emotions. Not all emotions are equally valid, believe me; here, too, work is required.” Therefore, Tsvetayeva’s poetry of proper names is not confessional poetry as such. Instead, it is mythmaking—the transformation of emotion and experience into a different reality.
The different reality—a transcendent, spiritual reality versus the reality of everyday life—was just one of a whole set of varied but opposing notions that runs throughout Tsvetayeva’s work. Flesh/spirit, art/conventional morality, chastity/promiscuity, male/female—these and other paradoxes of human existence shape Tsvetayeva’s self and world. What is peculiar to Tsvetayeva is that these antitheses never resolve (or dissolve) into a synthesis, and one-half of the pair never entirely triumphs; they continue to exist as paradoxical complements. In a sense, Tsvetayeva is defining herself (and her characters) by...
(The entire section is 836 words.)