The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571

The Snowstorm is a short play that Marina Tsvetayeva subtitled “dramatic scenes in verse.” It is the first of Tsvetayeva’s dramatic works and was written in Moscow in December, 1918. Tsvetayeva’s early dramatic works are written in a neoromantic style. Although Tsvetayeva is not generally considered as one of the Russian Symbolist writers, or as a member of any group of poets writing during what is known as the Silver Age of Russian poetry, this play is noticeably influenced by the Symbolists.

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The play takes place at an inn in Bohemia on New Year’s Eve. A group of travelers is caught in a snowstorm. As is typical of a Symbolist play, the characters are types. They do not have individual identities, but instead represent a certain group of characteristics. An Innkeeper, a Huntsman, a Trader, an Old Woman, and a Lady in a Cape are gathered. The Old Woman is described as representing the essence of the eighteenth century. The Lady in the Cape remains aloof from the rest of the group, and her identity remains a mystery until near the end of the play. The three men seem merely to provide a backdrop of vulgarity to contrast with the action in the final scene. In that respect, they function as a chorus.

After defending the Lady from the sarcastic comments of the three men, the Old Woman gives the Lady a diamond ring that was once given to her by the king. It is understood that she must have the ring, but no explanation is offered. When the ring is given, sleigh bells are heard. A Gentleman in a Cape appears who introduces himself as Prince of the Moon, Chevalier of the Rotonde, and Knight of the Rose.

The Lady in the Cape turns out to be the Countess Lanska, who has suddenly realized that she no longer loves her husband and has set out in the snowstorm, not knowing quite why she did so. She talks to the Gentleman with great intimacy, feeling sure that she has met him before. The dialogue grows increasingly fantastic as the Gentleman confesses that they knew each other in a previous existence and that theirs is a preordained encounter. He puts a spell on her, forcing her to forget the encounter, and departs while she sleeps. He then disappears at the stroke of midnight, accompanied, once again, by the ringing of sleigh bells.

This drama in verse is not formally divided into acts, probably as a result of its brevity, but three scenes can be easily distinguished. The first scene consists of the arrival of the travelers at the inn and the ensuing conversation of the Trader, the Huntsman, and the Innkeeper. The second scene includes the soliloquy of the Old Woman and the cryptic exchange between the Old Woman and the Lady. The final scene is the mystical conversation that occurs between the Lady in the Cape and the mysterious Gentleman.

While the play does preserve the the unities of time, place, and action thought to be essential to classical dramatic works, the plot, in the neoromantic vein of the Symbolists, is minimal. The action of the play gradually ascends from the vulgarity of the three men to the archaic speech of the Old Woman and finally to the mystical meeting of the Gentleman and the Lady. The action progresses from the real world to a world of higher forms.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 496

In this drama, Tsvetayeva experiments with the elliptical style that is characteristic of her later verse. As in her lyrics, the verses begin in a regular metrical pattern and then gradually vary in rhythm. Tsvetayeva varies her style according to each character, although the style of writing remains essentially her own. In fact, Tsvetayeva is often noted for her ability to sustain different tones within the same collection of verse. In the first section of the play, the elliptical style lends a quality of colloquial speech to the opening conversation of the three men.

The exchange between the Lady and the Gentleman in the last section is modeled on Aleksandr Blok’s style, as is Tsvetayeva’s later “Verses to Blok.” Repetition of the first word of the stanza is prominent in this section, lending an incantatory quality to the conversation. It is reminiscent of the singsong quality of a prayer. The speech of the Old Woman and the Gentleman is marked by archaisms and the longer lines characteristic of eighteenth century Russian versification. Although the repetitive patterning and archaisms are reminiscent of Blok, they are successfully assimilated into Tsvetayeva’s lyric poetry. Tsvetayeva’s later poetry is characterized by a mixture of colloquial and archaic diction. She also experimented with the repetition of sounds and roots of words in her mature verse as well as simply the repetition of certain words.

The similarities in the characterization of the Gentleman in the Cape and the Lady in the Cape are another significant aspect of Tsvetayeva’s work as a whole. The main characters in her longer, epic poems often have qualities associated with the opposite sex; she often pairs male and female characters to represent two halves of the whole. This seems to be true of the Lady and Gentleman in The Snowstorm.

The play is couched in imagery typically found in Symbolist poetry. The most important of these images is the snowstorm itself. In the romantic tradition, the poet was considered to have a special bond with nature. Nature often reflected the inner world of the poet. In Symbolist verse, nature has a mystical function. It often creates a passageway to a spiritual realm. For the Russian Symbolists, this higher world was embodied in the form of a woman, the Divine Sophia.

Tsvetayeva, in her mature verse, tends to transform the external world into an inner reality. Images of nature are not very prominent in most of her poetry. In this particular work, however, she uses the image of the snowstorm in a way that is similar to that of the Symbolists. The snowstorm obscures everyday reality. By obscuring this world, it allows passage to a higher, but still mysterious, form of reality. Only a chosen few are able to catch a glimpse of it. The Lady in the Cape leaves the world of everyday reality—and her husband—in the storm and then passes into the magical world of the Gentleman in the Cape.

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Themes