cover image Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Marina Tsvetaeva. Bloodaxe Books, $18.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-85224-025-7

Although generally less well known here than Pasternak, Akhmatova and Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva is counted by some critics as the greatest of these four major poets of postrevolutionary Russia. However, as veteran translator McDuff indicates in his introduction, the sounds of Russian poetrywhich to this day remains formally traditional in its use of rhyme and metercan never be captured in English. Further, Tsvetaeva presents a particularly difficult problem to the translator because her transcendent reputation rests precisely on the aural values of her verse. That said, McDuff must be congratulated for his brave attempt to reproduce those formal qualities. If we cannot have Tsvetaeva herself, these stand on their own as creditable English-language poems. The selection represents the entire scope of her remarkable career from her simple and charming early lyrics, first published in 1910 when she was 18, through those recounting her privations and hardships during the years of upheaval in Russia, to the poignant poems written in exile after 1922. It includes all her major long poems, such as the stunning Poem of the End. Although it is unclear whether Tsvetaeva was officially ostracized on her own account or because of the political actions of her husband Sergey Efron, her poems are heart-rending in view of her tragic life and eventual suicide. Love, the loss of youth, poetry and the Motherland are the core subjects of her poems, which are infused with high passion and a heroic tenacity of spirit. For non-Russian speakers, this volume is a new window on poetry in the Stalinist era. (May)