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Marina Tsvetaeva: English Translations

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) ranks among the greatest Russian poets of all time. Along with Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam, she was one of the four great poets who kept their humanity and integrity through Russia's "terrible years."

Pasternak praised her "golden, incomparable genius."

Tsvetaeva lived through the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Moscow famine that followed (her daughter Irina died of starvation in 1919). Tsvetaeva lived in exile and increasing poverty from 1922 until 1939, in Paris, Berlin and Prague. Upon her return to Russia, shunned and treated as as suspect by a regime deeply suspicious of dissenters and intellectuals, Tsvetaeva's situation grew worse and worse. Her husband Sergey Efron and her daughter Ariadna (Alya) Efron were arrested for espionage in 1941. Her husband was executed; her daughter served over eight years in prison. Both were exonerated after Stalin's death. Without any means of support, gravely ill and in deep isolation, Tsvetaeva committed suicide by hanging herself in 1941. 



I Know The Truth
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I know the truth—abandon lesser truths!
There's no need for anyone living to struggle!
See? Evening falls, night quickly descends!
So why the useless disputes, generals, poets, lovers?

The wind is calming now; the earth is bathed in dew;
the stars' infernos will soon freeze in the heavens.
And soon we'll sleep together, under the earth,
we who never gave each other a moment's rest above it.



I Know The Truth (Alternate Ending)
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I know the truth—abandon lesser truths!
There's no need for anyone living to struggle!
See? Evening falls, night quickly descends!
So why the useless disputes, generals, poets, lovers?

The wind caresses the grasses; the earth gleams, damp with dew;
the stars' infernos will soon freeze in the heavens.
And soon we'll lie together under the earth,
we who were never united above it.



Poems about Moscow
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

5
Above the city Saint Peter once remanded to hell
now rolls the delirious thunder of the bells.

As the thundering high tide eventually reverses,
so, too, the woman who once bore your curses.

To you, O Great Peter, and you, O Great Tsar, I kneel!
And yet the bells above me continually peal.

And while they keep ringing out of the pure blue sky,
Moscow's eminence is something I can't deny ...

though sixteen hundred churches, nearby and afar,
all gaily laugh at the hubris of the Tsars.

8
Moscow, what a vast
uncouth hostel of a home!
In Russia all are homeless
so all to you must come.

A knife stuck in each boot-top,
each back with its shameful brand,
we heard you from far away.
You called us: here we stand.

Because you branded us criminals
for every known kind of ill,
we seek the all-compassionate Saint,
the haloed one who heals.

And there behind that narrow door
where all the uncouth people pour,
we seek the red-gold radiant heart
of Iver, who loved the poor.

Now, as "Halleluiah" floods
bright fields that blaze to the west,
O sacred Russian soil,
I kneel here to kiss your breast!



Insomnia
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

2
In my enormous city it is night
as from my house I step beyond the light;
some people think I'm daughter, mistress, wife ...
but I am like the blackest thought of night.

July's wind sweeps a way for me to stray
toward soft music faintly blowing, somewhere.
The wind may blow until bright dawn, new day,
but will my heart in its rib-cage really care?

Black poplars brushing windows filled with light ...
strange leaves in hand ... faint music from distant towers ...
retracing my steps, there's nobody lagging behind ...
This shadow called me? There's nobody here to find.

The lights are like golden beads on invisible threads ...
the taste of dark night in my mouth is a bitter leaf ...
O, free me from shackles of being myself by day!
Friends, please understand: I'm only a dreamlike belief.



Poems for Akhmatova
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

4
You outshine everything, even the sun
   at its zenith. The stars are yours!
If only I could sweep like the wind
   through some unbarred door,
gratefully, to where you are ...
  
to hesitantly stammer, suddenly shy,
   lowering my eyes before you, my lovely mistress,
petulant, chastened, overcome by tears,
   as a child sobs to receive forgiveness ...



This gypsy passion of parting!
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This gypsy passion of parting!
We meet, and are ready for flight!
I rest my dazed head in my hands,
and think, staring into the night ...

that no one, perusing our letters,
will ever understand the real depth
of just how sacrilegious we were,
which is to say we had faith,

in ourselves.



The Appointment
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I will be late for the appointed meeting.
When I arrive, my hair will be gray,
because I abused spring.
And your expectations were much too high!

I shall feel the effects of the bitter mercury for years.
(Ophelia tasted, but didn't spit out, the rue.)
I will trudge across mountains and deserts,
trampling souls and hands without flinching,

living on, as the earth continues
with blood in every thicket and creek.
But always Ophelia's pallid face will peer out
from between the grasses bordering each stream.

She took a swig of passion, only to fill her mouth
with silt. Like a shaft of light on metal,
I set my sights on you, highly. Much too high
in the sky, where I have appointed my dust its burial.

 

Rails
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The railway bed's steel-blue parallel tracks
are ruled out, neatly as musical staves.

Over them, people are transported
like possessed Pushkin creatures
whose song has been silenced.
See them: arriving, departing?

And yet they still linger,
the note of their pain remaining ...
always rising higher than love, as the poles freeze
to the embankment, like Lot's wife transformed to salt, forever.

Despair has arranged my fate
as someone arranges a wedding;
then, like a voiceless Sappho
I must weep like a pain-wracked seamstress

with the mute lament of a marsh heron!
Then the departing train
will hoot above the sleepers
as its wheels slice them to ribbons.

In my eye the colors blur
to a glowing but meaningless red.
All young women, at times,
are tempted by such a bed!



Every Poem is a Child of Love
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Every poem is a child of love,
A destitute bastard chick
A fledgling blown down from the heights above—
Left of its nest? Not a stick.
Each heart has its gulf and its bridge.
Each heart has its blessings and griefs.
Who is the father? A liege?
Maybe a liege, or a thief.

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