Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Marina Tsvetayeva is one of the four great Russian poets of the twentieth century. The other three, all Tsvetayeva’s contemporaries—Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, and Anna Akhmatova—are better known in the West, not least because of the almost insurmountable difficulties of translating Tsvetayeva’s peculiar poetic genius. Her poetry is difficult not because it is obscure or esoteric—on the contrary, it is passionate and direct speech—but because much of its expressiveness relies on verbal association, on sound compressed, contracted, and then released with tremendous energy. Although she was established and acknowledged as a major talent by the time she left Russia in 1922, Tsvetayeva never easily fit into any school or movement.

Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva is a small volume intended to give the English-speaking reader some sense of Tsvetayeva’s life’s work. Poet and novelist Elaine Feinstein has based her versions on literal, nonpoetic translations done by Russian-speaking scholars and translators, and out of an enormous body of work (Tsvetayeva wrote more than two thousand lyric poems) has chosen mostly shorter lyrics and arranged them in chronological order. Although Tsvetayeva’s precocious adolescent verses, first published in 1908, own praise and recognition even during the literary boom of Russia’s prewar years, Feinstein begins with her more mature work of 1915 and 1916. Moving from old themes (her own...

(The entire section is 493 words.)