Sofia Parnok

Koktebel and Moscow

1914 -1916

Marina Tsvetaeva, 1914

Sofia Parnok, Koktebel ,1914

In Koktebel in the fall of 1914 Marina met the poet Sofia Parnok,“Sonya”, nine years older then she. The encounter grew into a lesbian affair that lasted two years. What were Marina's motives is not clear. Why did she tempt her happiness, her relationship with Seryozha, with Alya in this fierce fire? Was it the emotional plateau she had reached, the tranquility offered by Seryozha's quiet temperament? A flood of new poems of an as yet unexpressed intensity, erupted like a volcano from her soul. Sofia Parnok derailed her completely. All the dormant chasms between her sensuality, her poetic sensibilities, and the guilt feelings of her upbringing were torn open. Again her poems are filled by the torments of the most exalted and darkest sides of her character.

Sofia Parnok had been briefly married and divorced. Driven by an insatiable need for freedom from all moral codes she had publicly declared herself a libertine and taken a lesbian lover. She was well known in Moscow. The fashionable woman literature of their times was full of such heroines. Asya swears that they had never read Verbitskaya or Nagorskaya, who sold thousands of their sleazy novels: “a woman should be permitted everything she craves for!” Sofia's freedom must have exerted a magnetic attraction on the “spartan child”.

In 1919-20 Marina put together a cycle of 17-stanzas to Parnok: “Poems to a Friend (female).” I include a few of these in my poems section.

Her first poem, written in July 1914, is an ecstatic evocation of their first meeting:

Я видела Вас три раза,
Но нам не остаться врозь.
- Ведь первая Ваша фраза
Мне сердце прожгла насквозь!

Мне смысл ее так же темен,
Как шум молодой листвы.
Вы - точно портрет в альбоме, -
И мне не узнать, кто Вы.

Здесь всё - говорят - случайно,
И можно закрыть альбом...
О, мраморный лоб! О, тайна
За этим огромным лбом!

Послушайте, я правдива
До вызова, до тоски:
Моя золотая грива
Не знает ничьей руки.

Мой дух - не смирён никем он.
Мы - души различных каст.
И мой неподкупный демон
Мне Вас полюбить не даст.

- "Так что ж это было?" - Это
Рассудит иной Судья.
Здесь многому нет ответа,
И Вам не узнать - кто я.

13 июля 1914

I saw you three times,
But we cannot stay apart.
- After your first sentence
My heart burned through!

I feel it in the same darkness,
Like the trembling of young leaves.
You - just a portrait in an album -
And I do not know who you are.

If everything – as they say – happened by chance,
You can close the album ...
Oh, this marble brow! Oh, the mystery
Behind your huge forehead!

Look, I was true
Before the call, to longing:
My golden mane
Did not know anyone's hands.

My spirit - has not humbled anyone.
We - souls of various castes.
My incorruptible demon
Will not let me love you.

- "So what was it?" - This
Passes judgement on the other judge.
There are many no answers,
And you do not know - who I am.

July 13, 1914

Я Вас люблю. - Как грозовая туча
Над Вами - грех -

- хоть разорвись над гробом! -
Уж не спасти!

16 октября 1914

I love you - like a storm cloud
Above you - lies sin ..
- even facing the grave!
I could not be saved!

October 16, 1914

She writes on October 16 and a few days later describes the state she is in.

За эту дрожь, за то - что - неужели
Мне снится сон? -
За эту ироническую прелесть,
Что Вы - не он?

Под лаской плюшевого пледа
Вчерашний вызываю сон.
Что это было? - Чья победа? -
Кто побежден?

Всё передумываю снова,
Всем перемучиваюсь вновь.
В том, для чего не знаю слова,
Была ль любовь?

Кто был охотник? - Кто - добыча?
Всё дьявольски-наоборот!
Что понял, длительно мурлыча,
Сибирский кот?

В том поединке своеволий
Кто, в чьей руке был только мяч?
Чье сердце - Ваше ли, мое ли
Летело вскачь?

И все-таки - что ж это было?
Чего так хочется и жаль?
Так и не знаю: победила ль?
Побеждена ль?

23 октября 1914

This trembling, for what really,
Am I longing in my dreams? -
For the ironic charm
that is yours - not his?

Under your caresses' lush plaid
Yesterday's dream.
What was it? - Whose victory? -
Whose defeat?

Rethinking everything once more,
I am torturing myself again.
In fact, I do not know the words for,
Was it love?

Who was the hunter? - Who – the prey?
All devilishly-around!
Did I recogniize that long-purring,
Siberian cat?

In that duel of willfulness
Who, in whose hands was the ball?
Whose heart - yours or mine, was
Flying at a gallop?

And yet - what was it?
What do I want?
I still do not know: Oh, did I win?
Or was I conquered?

October 23, 1914

What was it? - I venture to suggest that Marina had one of her crushes on Sofia, and when Sofia, attracted by her obvious inexperience, took advantage of that – a deep kiss? caresses? - Marina discovered a hitherto unexplored erotic world that left her reeling. Her love of Seryozha was one between two lonely, deeply wounded children. They were both equally innocent, and in her poems to her “shining guard” she kept this innocence throughout her life. Erotic allusions never entered her poems to him. Sofia introduced her to the sensations of an entirely more consuming way of loving.

Pra and Max Voloshin, who disliked Sofia, were truly afraid for Marina and her marriage. However, practical Pra, in a letter to Seryozha (
VS. p.102) realizes that nothing could be done about “the spell this Sonya has put on her.” - It had to burn itself out.

Meanwhile World War I had broken out. Marina inserted one poem into a cycle to Pyotr Efron, Seryozha's brother. It shows her indifference to the mundane world. Pyotr Efron was dying, she was renting their house on Tryokhprudny Lane, the Tsar's quarrels did not affect her. The war would not turn their lives up-side down for another 2 years.

Война, война!- Кажденья у киотов!
И стрёкот шпор.
Но нету дела мне до царских счетов,
Народных ссор.

На кажется-надтреснутом канате
Я - маленький плясун.
Я - тень от чьей-то тени.
Я - лунатик
Двух тёмных лун.


War, war! - burn incense before the icons!
And the clatter of spurs.
But the Tsar's proclamations do not concern me,
Neither do the poeople's quarrels.

I seem on a frayed tightrope
I – a tiny dancer.
I - a shadow of someone's shadow.
I – a sleepwalker
Of two dark moons.


Marina and Sofia spent the winter of 1914/15 in Moscow. The storm was still raging. Sofia took her to parties, Sofia in expensive pants, Marina in a showy dress. The guests made fun of them. Chain smoking, sleigh rides, shopping sprees, bangles and earrings, lazing around, laughter... Sofia's life as a socialite was alien to Marina. Slowly she distances herself.

Повторю в канун разлуки,
Под конец любви,
Что любила эти руки
Властные твои

И глаза - кого-кого-то
Взглядом не дарят! -
Требующие отчета
За случайный взгляд.

Всю тебя с твоей треклятой
Страстью - видит Бог! -
Требующую расплаты
За случайный вздох.

И еще скажу устало,
- Слушать не спеши! -
Что твоя душа мне встала
Поперек души.

И еще тебе скажу я:
- Все равно - канун! -
Этот рот до поцелуя
Твоего был юн.

Взгляд - до взгляда - смел и светел,
Сердце - лет пяти...
Счастлив, кто тебя не встретил
На своем пути.

28 апреля 1915

I repeat on the eve of parting,
Towards the end of loving,
How I loved those
Possessive hands of yours

And those eyes – upon whom
Did they not deign to rest! -
Demanding a reckoning
For every casual look.

All of you and your accursed
Passion - God knows! -
Requires reckoning
For the occasional sigh.

Again I say wearily,
- Don't hasten to listen! -
That your soul has come to a stand still
Across my soul

And I'll tell you:
- All the same – on that evening! -
Before this kiss of yours, this mouth
was young.

Appearance - look bold and bright,
Heart - five years old ...
Happy is he who has not met you
On his life's path.

April 28, 1915

A few weeks later Marina gets even more explicit.

Есть имена, как душные цветы,
И взгляды есть, как пляшущее пламя...
Есть темные извилистые рты
С глубокими и влажными углами.

Есть женщины. - Их волосы, как шлем,
Их веер пахнет гибельно и тонко.
Им тридцать лет. - Зачем тебе, зачем
Моя душа спартанского ребенка?

Вознесение, 1915

There are names, like suffocating flowers,
And their glances are like dancing flames ...
They have dark twisted mouths
With deep and wet corners.

There are women. - Their hair like helmets,
They are wrapped in a subtly fatal smell.
She is thirty years old. - Why do you want, why need
My soul of a Spartan child?

Ascension Day 1915

Finally she tells her quite rudely to go away.

....И идите себе... - Вы тоже,
И Вы тоже, и Вы.

Разлюбите меня, все разлюбите!
Стерегите не меня поутру!
Чтоб могла я спокойно выйти
Постоять на ветру.

6 мая 1915

....And now go ... - You, too,
And also you, and you.

Cease loving me, all of you stop loving me!
Don't keep an eye on me in the morning!
So that I may safely leave
To stand in the wind.

May 6, 1915

Marina's infatuation had burned itself out. The final break between them came in February 1916. They parted with hard feelings. It took Marina six years to understand what had happened and open up her poems to others. She never engaged in another lesbian relationship. Fully conscious of her “sin” she doesn't hide it, doesn't write confessions like Akhmatova, doesn't write to shock like Mayakovsky or withhold herself like Mandelstam. She bares her soul, often at the risk of estranging her readers.

The affair with Sofia marks the final end of her childhood. The “soul of a Spartan child” is a thing of the past. Her poetry will never return to the interiors of Tryokhprudny Lane or the landscapes of Tarussa. She turnes into a “vagabond”, a “beggar”, or a “gipsy” roaming a world of darkness, wind, sleeplessness and yes – stealing when necessary. She tried to do her best to be a reasonable house keeper, a mother to Alya and wife to Seryozha.

A few months after Sofia had actually “gone away” in anger, she wrote a poem to her husband begging for his forgiveness and help.

At a black midnight hour I came to you
For the last time seeking your help.
I am a vagrant with no memory of kin
A sinking ship.
By imposters and predatory dogs
I was plundered to the end.
At our palace, veritable king,
I stand – a beggar!
VS p.104)

Seryozha with Alya, Marina aside, 1916

And Seryozha, how did he survive this purgatory? During the height of the affair he just held still – stunned? Some people see him as having had a weak character incapable of resisting or fighting for her. He was not in good health, tubercolosis outbreaks came and went. He had finished his Gymnasium diploma in Feodosia and worked as a medical orderly. Eventually he was drafted to work on a hospital train and was absent for several months during 1915-1916. Konstantin Rodzevich told Viktoria Schweitzer (VS p.103): “He just got out of the way and gave her the freedom she craved for.”