Marina Tsvetayeva’s “You, walking past me,” written in 1913 but unpublished until 1976, is a short lyric poem of sixteen lines divided into four stanzas. Like many of the poems written during Tsvetayeva’s twenties, it evokes a mood of loneliness and estrangement from the world. The title of the poem, which is also its first line, addresses a stranger who is to remain largely unaware of the narrator’s state of mind. This indifferent crossing of paths sets the tone for the rest of the poem.
The first-person narrator speaks directly to an unidentified “You,” a device that Tsvetayeva uses in many of her poems. The second-person pronoun refers to a stranger walking past the narrator, but it could also easily refer to the reader. This identification of the reader with the stranger through the word “you,” which is sustained throughout the poem, gives it a special appeal, making the reader aware of his or her immutable estrangement from the poet’s condition. Like the stranger who remains untouched by the pain and loss that the narrator has experienced, the reader, although reading about this experience, will never really know the poet’s anguish.
The stranger who walks past the narrator—not toward her—merely passes through her orbit, blind to a life that has expended itself on nothing, just as he is unaware of her “dubious witchcraft.” There is an unnamed energy and intensity in her thoughts that perhaps the...
(The entire section is 571 words.)