Und wenn dich das Irdische vergass,
zu der stillen Erde sag: Ich rinne.
Zu dem raschen Wasser sprich: Ich bin.
[And if earthly life has passed you by,
to the tranquil earth declare: I’m flowing.
To the rushing water say: I am.]
(Muzot, February19/23, 1922)
Rainer Maria Rilke: The Sonnets to Orpheus48
For a year I have been trying on death. … I don’t
want to die, I want not to be.
Marina Tsvetaeva: An Entry of 1940 (her italics)
Although Russia has historically possessed a religious culture, she has produced few, if any, mystic poets.49 Marina Tsvetaeva is the exception.
For Tsvetaeva the poetic process was always primarily a special kind of intuitive love reaching out for nature and the eternal. This is why the poets she felt closest to were Konstantin Balmont and Maksimilian Voloshin, Boris Pasternak and Alexander Blok, Goethe and Pushkin, and especially Rainer Maria Rilke.50 That is also why the symbolist poet Valery Briusov was alien to her for, in her eyes, his poetic work was labour without love, work without inspiration.51 As she put it even more pointedly: “Balmont and Briusov. One
48 My translation. See “The Mystic Way in Blok and Rilke,” in my The Spiritual Geography of
Modern Writing. Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation, and Transcendence
(Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA, 1997), pp. 77-80, here p. 79. The translations of Tsvetaeva’s prose
and poetry are mine, unless otherwise indicated.
49 See “The Mystic Dimension in Russian Poetry,” in my In the Shadow of the Holocaust &
Other Essays (Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA, 1998), pp. 75-97.
50 See her essays written between 1922 and 1933 in Marina Tsvetaeva, Izbrannaya proza v
dvukh tomakh. 1917-1937, Compiled and Edited by Alexander Sumerkin, Preface by Joseph
Brodsky (2 vols; NewYork, 1979), I, 135-48, 171-75, 221-41, 251-73, 367-406; II, 7-79,
247-79. Further references to this edition will be given as Izbrannaya Proza.
51 See “Geroy truda (zapisi o Valerii Bryusove), (1925), in Izbrannaya proza, I, 176-220.