The Snowstorm Themes
by Marina Tsvetayeva

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The basic situation of the play is taken from the work of the Russian Symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok, whom Tsvetayeva greatly admired. In Blok’s play Neznakomka (1906; mysterious woman), as in The Snowstorm, there is a mysterious bond between an astral being and a chosen mortal. The main character in Blok’s play, however, is a poet who almost meets the embodiment of his own philosophical construction. Blok’s play takes on a rather satirical tone. He pokes fun at images from his own poetry and ideas associated with the Symbolists.

Tsvetayeva’s play, on the other hand, cannot be perceived as satirical in any way. Another significant difference lies in the fact that the genders of the protagonists are reversed in Tsvetayeva’s play. The woman is mortal while the man is the being from another plane.

The play as a whole is a work in the tradition of Russian Symbolism. The concept of escaping from an unbearable present into the world of imagination is an idea taken from the Symbolist tradition. This concept is, however, central to Tsvetayeva’s work. It seems that Tsvetayeva had a natural affinity for many of the concerns of the Russian Symbolists. Her feeling of alienation from Russian society and from the émigré society of Berlin and Paris bred a desire to escape from this world. Tsvetayeva escaped into the world of her poetic imagination.

The escapist tendency of the settings and treatments in her plays is prominent in her lyric output as well. In Tsvetayeva’s work, there is an impulse toward a fixed world of peace and transcendence. The Snowstorm exhibits a fairy-tale quality with its fantastic plot and two-dimensional characters. Tsvetayeva was a master of transforming everyday reality into myth. In other poems, she often cast herself in the roles of literary or mythic personae, such as Phaedra or Ophelia.

There has been no known attempt to produce any of Tsvetayeva’s verse dramas on stage. Tsvetayeva’s dramatic works should really be considered poems in dramatic form rather than plays. Tsvetayeva had matured as a lyric poet at the time this first drama was written, but was just beginning to experiment in dramatic forms. While this short drama in verse is not a striking contribution to the development of Russian literature of the period, it remains a significant part of Marina Tsvetayeva’s literary achievement.