Berlin - Prague

Ilya Ehrenburg
Sergey Efron
Konstantin Rodzevich
Boris Pasternak

1922 – 1925

Berlin 1922

Ilya Ehrenburg, 1920s

Seryozha and Alya(9), 1922

Marina and Alya, 1925

Boris Pasternak, 1920s

Marina and Alya took a taxy from the station to Ilya Ehrenburg's apartment, who had made his personal study available to them. His wife took them shopping for new clothes Three days later Marina was already reading her own and Mayakovsky's poetry at the Russian House of Literature. Ehrenburg had arranged the reading. - A couple of weeks later Marina became embroiled in a fierce literary polemic defending writers persecuted by the Cheka in Russia with Count Alexey Tolstoy, the editor of the pro-Soviet journal of Change of Landmarks. Berlin at the time was the center of Russian émigré literature. - Vladimir Nabakov spent 15 reluctant years there, and his father was assassinated in Berlin in 1922.

When Seryozha finally arrived in June, Marina was already passionately involved in the intrigues of the turbulent émigré scene in Berlin, and needlees to say, in new infatuations. They were late at the station and met him in the large hall. Alya recalls later:

Seryozha ran all the way up to us, his face distorted with happiness, and embraced Marina – who opened her arms to him very slowly, as though they had gone numb. They stood there for a long, long time in a tight embrace, and only then did they slowly move their hands down to each other's cheeks – which were wet with tears. [VS p.226]

For once Alya was not aware of the deep chasm between Marina and Sergey. Seryozha held a Czech scholarship at Prague University to study literature. Pretending that he had to be in Prague for the beginning of the new term, he left a few days later. They had agreed that Marina and Alya would live with him in Prague, but mother and daughter did not leave until August 1922.

What kept her so long in Berlin? She had no personal reasons to remain there. An affair with her publisher Visnyak had run its course. She had broken with Ehrenburg, seemingly over his disapproval of her poems on Russia. The tangle of relationsips she had created around herself were outside her control. Seryozha's abrupt departure must have added to her confusion. Her mood was one of livid despair. Standing on their balcony of the small hotel they now lived in, she contemplates her misery and once again suicide.

Ах, с откровенного отвеса -
Вниз - чтобы в прах и в смоль!
Земной любови недовесок
Слезой солить – доколь?

Балкон. Сквозь соляные ливни
Смоль поцелуев злых.
И ненависти неизбывной
Вздох: выдышаться в стих!

Стиснутое в руке комочком -
Чту: сердце или рвань
Батистовая? Сим примочкам
Есть имя: - Иордань.

Да, ибо этот бой с любовью
Дик и жестокосерд.
Дабы с гранитного надбровья
Взмыв - выдышаться в смерть!

30 июня 1922

Ach, to crash in a sheer fall -
Down - into dust on the asphalt!
The short span of earthly love
Bathed in tears- for how long?

Balcony. With their salty downpour
Come malicious kisses.
And inescapable hatred
A sigh: To expire in verses!

Squeezed into a ball in one's hand -
What: heart or handkerchief
Batiste? To such ablutions
There is a name: - Jordan.

Because this battle of love is
Merciless and savage.
To soar up from granite brows-
Is to expire in death!

June 30, 1922

At this critical moment appeared a new actor in this tragedy of errors, whose sudden entry from the wings even Seryozha may not have known about at the time. On June 27, 1922 arrived a letter from Boris Pasternak announcing a visit to Berlin. He wanted to meet her and writes that “he had been captivated by the lyric power” of Marina's collection Mileposts, which had just been published in Moscow. “Something close to me lies behind the form of these poems, perhaps there is something similar in the experiences we have undergone that formed our characters...” [VS p.232] His words were like balsam for Marina's wounds: finally a Brother in Soul! After some hesitation she replied two days later. [Tsvetaeva's letters to Pasternak can be found in the internet, in Russian.]

They had last met by chance at the funeral of Alexander Scriabin's widow in Moscow in April 1920. But Pasternak had vanished before she could talk to him. In her reply she recounts all their missed meetings, and begins for the first time to read his poetry in earnest. This exchange of letters was the beginning of a relationship that would last beyond the end of her life. Notwithstanding its intimacy it had been Pasternak who had initiated their correspondence not she, and he was not “a young boy with the longest eyelashes” whom she could smother like her own child. He was her equal. This may explain why Marina fled Berlin a day before Pasternak was to arrive – and that would, for one reason or another, remain the pattern of their friendship. Despite that they met only once or twice, hastily or by chance, Pasternak became her closest confidant, her twin brother.

Prague 1922 - 1925

Marina and Alya arrived in Prague on August 1, 1922. A week later they moved to the village of Mokropsy in the suburbs, where a large colony of Russian émigrés lived. Marina was offered a writer's government stipend of 1000 crowns, her main subsistence during their years in the Democratic Republic of Czechoslovakia. Sergey retained the student room in Prague which was part of his 300-crown scholarship. He only spent the weekends with his family.

Life in rural Czechoslovakia was primitive. Like in Moscow during the last years, Marina had to fetch water from a well, cook on a single-flame primus stove, and chop wood, but the first few months were peaceful. She was worn out by the whirlwind life in Berlin.

Marina blowing poetic bubbles, E. Elevna (a friend), K. Rodzevich, Lelik, standing: Seryozha and N. Elenev
Outside of Prague 1923

But in the fall Marina “crashed” into Konstantin Rodzevich, apparently a friend and co-student of Seryozha, and all her fierce destructive fires were aflame again. She directs this poem at poor Konstantin:


Между нами - клинок двуострый
Присягнувши - и в мыслях класть...
Но бывают - страстные сестры!
Но бывает - братская страсть!

Но бывает такая примесь
Прерий в ветре и бездны в губ
Дуновении... Меч, храни нас
От бессмертных душ наших двух!

Меч, терзай нас и, меч, пронзай нас,
Меч, казни нас, но, меч, знай,
Что бывает такая крайность
Правды, крыши такой край...

Двусторонний клинок - рознит?
Он же сводит! Прорвав плащ,
Так своди же нас, страж грозный,
Рана в рану и хрящ в хрящ!

(Слушай! если звезда, срываясь...
Не по воле дитя с ладьи
В море падает... Острова есть,
Острова для любой любви...)

Двусторонний клинок, синим
Ливший, красным пойдет... Меч
Двусторонний - в себя вдвинем.
Это будет - лучшее лечь!

Это будет - братская рана!
Так, под звездами, и ни в чем
Неповинные... Точно два мы
Брата, спаянные мечом!

18 августа 1923


Between us a double-edged knife
I swore – to put it there in my thoughts...
But it happens between- passionate sisters!
But it happens in brotherly passion!

This is such a confusing subject
Prairie in the wind, the edge of the abyss
Blows ... Sword, protect us
From our two immortal souls!

Sword, torment us, and, sword, pierce us,
Sword, execute us, but, sword, know,
What is the extreme
Truth, the edge of the roof...

A double-edged blade - separates?
It joins! So tear away the cloak
And bring us together, ferocious guard -
Wound into wound and grisle to grisle!

(Listen, if a star is falling ...
Not by the will of a child in a castle
And drops into the sea... Islands exist,
There are islands for any kind of love ...)

The double-edged knife, that was tempered blue
will turn red ... A double-edged
Sword – we shall plunge into each other.
This will be the best way to lie down!

This will be - a fraternal wound!
Thus, under the stars, and nothing
Innocent ... Just the two of us
Brother, with a fused sword!

August 18, 1923

Rodzevich, frightened by the elemental tidal wave of Marina's passion, could not understand. While she, for the first time contemplating a divorce from Sergey, vacillated between her insatiable need for freedom and a nagging conscience,
Rodzevich longed for a simple family life. He soon ran from the onslaught. – Marina was devastated by his rejection. Her poetry of those months runs from searing ecstasies to deep depressions bordering on madness.

Fortunately Marina had sent Alya to a Russian boarding school in Moravia; she seems to not have known about Rodzevich. But Seryozha knew. He became the true victim. The longed for stability of his marriage seemed unreachable again. His health declined, and he withdrew to his room in Prague. In his despair he wrote a long letter to Max Voloshin, but then couldn't make up his mind to send it off for over a month.

I reproduce the letter in its full length [quoted by Viktoria Schweitzer in her Tsvetaeva biography,
VS p.241-243] because he describes, beyond his own agonies, Marina like nobody else could.

My dear Max,
I received your splendid, affectionate letter long ago and have been
unable to reply all this time. You are of course the only person to whom I
could say all this, but it's not easy to say it even to you - for me, in matters
like this, saying something seems to make it happen. Not that I have any
hope, I was just held back by human weakness. Once I have said
something, this needs to be followed by definite action - and I am quite
lost. My weakness and complete helplessness, Marina's blindness, my pity
for her, my feeling that she's got herself stuck in a hopeless dead end, my
inability to help her clearly and decisively, the impossibility of finding any
satisfactory way out - it's all moving towards a standstill. Things have
reached the stage where every exit from a crossroads could lead to disaster.

Marina is a woman of passions. Considerably more than in the past -
before I left. Plunging headfirst into her hurricanes has become essential for
her, the breath of life. It no longer matters who it is that arouses these
hurricanes. Nearly always (now as before) -- or rather always – everything
is based on self-deception. A man is invented and the hurricane begins. If
the insignificance and narrowness of the arouser of the hurricane is soon
revealed, then Marina gives way to a hurricane of despair. A state which
facilitates the appearance of a new arouser. The important thing is not what
but how. Not the essence or the source but the rhythm, the insane rhythm.
Today - despair, tomorrow - ecstasy, love, complete self-abandon; and
the following day - despair once again. And all this with a penetrating,
cold (maybe even cynically Voltairian) mind. Yesterday's arousers are
wittily and cruelly ridiculed (nearly always justly). Everything is entered
in the book. Everything is coolly and mathematically cast into a formula.
A huge stove, whose fires need wood, wood and more wood. Unwanted
ashes are thrown out, and the quality of the wood is not so important. For
the time being the stove draws well - everything is converted to flame.
Poor wood is burnt up more quickly, good wood takes longer.

It goes without saying that it's a long time since I've been any use for
the fire.

When I travelled to Berlin to join Marina, I immediately felt that I had
nothing to give her. A few days before I arrived the stove had been lit by
someone else. For a while. Then everything whirled round again and
again. The final stage - the most difficult for both of us - was her meeting
with a friend of mine from both Constantinople and Prague, someone quite
alien to her and whom she had always ridiculed. My unexpected departure
served as a pretext for the beginning of a new hurricane.

I found out about it myself by chance, though her friends had been
informed by letter. It became necessary to put an end to our absurd life
together, nourished as it was by lies, clumsy conspiracies and other
poisons. That was my decision. I would have done it before, but I kept
thinking that I might be exaggerating the facts, that Marina couldn't lie to
me, and so on.

This last affair brought out into the open a whole string of previous
meetings. I told Marina about my decision that we should separate. For
two weeks she was in a state of madness. She rushed from one person to
another (she had moved in with friends for a while), she didn't sleep at
night, and she became very thin - it was the first time I had ever seen her in
such despair. Finally she informed me that she was unable to leave me
since she was unable to enjoy a moment of peace - let alone happiness -
with the thought of me being somewhere or other on my own. (That -
alas! - is what I knew would happen.) If Marina had ended up with
someone I trusted, then I would have been firm. But I knew that the other
man (a little Casanova) would abandon her in a week, and with Marina in
her present state that would have meant death.

Marina longs for death. The ground long ago disappeared from
beneath her feet. She talks about this incessantly. And even if she didn't, it
would be obvious enough to me. She has come back. All her thoughts are
with him. His absence inflames her feelings. Now it's her poems to him that
she lives on. With regard to me - total blindness. An inability to come near
me, very frequent irritation, almost malice. I am at one and the same time
both a lifebelt and a millstone round her neck. It is impossible to free her
from the millstone without tearing away the only straw she still has to
clutch. My life is utter torment. I am in a fog. I don't know what action to
take. Each succeeding day is worse than the one before. Solitude a deux is a

My immediate sense of life is destroyed by pity and a sense of
responsibility. Maybe it is just my own weakness? I'm too old to be cruel
and too young to be both present and absent at once. But today my today is
just putrefaction. I'm so completely defeated that I feel a revulsion
towards everything in life, as though I had typhoid. It's a kind of slow
suicide. What can I do? If only, from a distance, you could direct me back
onto the true path! I haven't written anything about Marina's life in
Moscow. I don't want to write about that. I can only say that on the day of
my departure (and you know what I left for), at the end of a brief stay in
Moscow during which I looked at everything "for the last time" Marina
shared her time between me and someone else whom she now laughingly
calls a fool and a rascal.

She blamed the death of Irina (Alya's sister) on my own sisters
(something she sincerely believes) and I only recently found out the truth
and re-established contact with L. and V. [
Lilya and Vera]. But
that's enough. Enough of today. What can I do? This cohabitation cannot
go on for long. Or it will be the end of me. M. is deeper than Asya. In
personal life it's a sheer destructive impulse. All this time I have been
attempting to avoid being harsh and yet to prepare both Marina and
myself for the coming separation. But how can I do that when Marina is
trying with all her might to do the opposite? She is convinced that she has
now sacrificed her own happiness in order to forge mine. She expects to be
able to satisfy me by attempting to preserve the outward appearance of
living together. If you only knew how difficult and confused it all is. This
sense of burdensome weight doesn't leave me for one second. Everything
around me is poisoned. I don't feel one strong desire, just complete and
utter pain. The loss that has hit me is all the more terrible because during
recent years -- as you have witnessed -- it has been mainly the thought of
Marina that has kept me alive.

I loved her so strongly, and straightforwardly, and unshakeably, that I
was afraid of nothing except her death. M. has become so inseparable a part
of me that now, as I try to separate our paths, I feel a sense of such
devastation, such inner laceration, that I try to live with my eyes half-
closed. The complexity of the position is still further exaggerated by one of
my most fundamental characteristics. With me, ever since childhood, the
feeling "I can't do otherwise" has always been stronger than the feeling
"This is what I want". The static prevailing over the dynamic. Now all
my sense of the static has gone to hell. And it was my only strength. As a
result -- complete helplessness.

I await the coming days and months with horror. "The pull of the
earth" is pulling me down. I am trying with all my strength to scramble
out. But how and where?

If you were here, I know you would be able to help M. a great deal. I
hardly ever talk with her about the main thing. She has grown blind to me
and to what I say. Or maybe it's something to do with me, nothing to do
with blindness at all. But that can wait for another time.
I'm writing this letter to you alone. No one yet knows anything. (Or
perhaps everyone knows.)

The letter is undated, but a postscript, dated 22 Jan 1924, includes the passage:

"I have been carrying this letter around for a month.
Today I've made up my mind. Marina and I are continuing to live together.
She has calmed down. And I have postponed any radical solution to our
question. When there is no way out, time is the best teacher. Isn't that so?"

Nothing could fuel Marina's poetic engine like distress: She threw herself into poetry. One of her most mature poems,“Trees”, was written in 1922-23, and several large cycles of “Poema”: “Poem of the Mountain”, “Poem of the End”, “The Ratcatcher”.

In the tenth stanza of “Poem of the End” she voices, no, practically shouts her anguished answer to Sergey's demand for a separation. The poem is also an example of Marina's “cool and mathematical” reasoning. Even in her most distressed moments she is able to sharply express her pain:

...Не довспомнивши, не допонявши,
Точно с праздника уведены...
— Наша улица! — Уже не наша... —
— Сколько раз по ней... — Уже не мы... —

— Завтра с западу встанет солнце!
— С Иегóвой порвет Давид!
— Что мы делаем? — Расстаемся.
— Ничего мне не говорит

Сверхбессмысленнейшее слово:
Рас — стаемся. — Одна из ста?
Просто слово в четыре слога,
За которыми пустота.

Стой! По-сербски и по-кроáтски,
Верно, Чехия в нас чудит?
Рас—ставание. Расставаться...
Сверхъестественнейшая дичь!

Звук, от коего уши рвутся,
Тянутся за предел тоски...
Расставание — не по-русски!
Не по-женски! Не по-мужски!

Не по-божески! Чтó мы — овцы,
Раззевавшиеся в обед?
Расставание — по-каковски?
Даже смысла такого нет,

Даже звука! Ну, просто полый
Шум — пилы, например, сквозь сон.
Расставание — просто школы
Хлебникова соловьиный стон,

     Но как же вышло?
Точно высохший водоем —
Воздух! Руку о руку слышно.
Расставаться — ведь это гром

Нá голову... Океан в каюту!
Океании крайний мыс!
Эти улицы — слишком круты:
Расставаться — ведь это вниз,

Под гору... Двух подошв пудовых
Вздох... Ладонь, наконец, и гвоздь!
Опрокидывающий довод:
Расставаться — ведь это врозь,

Мы же — сросшиеся...

Прага-Иловищи, 8 июня 1924

...Not remembering, not comprehending,
Just a lesser holiday on...
- Our street! - no longer ours ... -
- How many times we walked it - no longer will we...

- Tomorrow the sun will rise in the west!
- Jehova will break with David!
- What are we doing? - We are separating.
- That word says nothing to me.

The most senselessly inhuman word:
Se-pa-ra-ting. - Am I one of a hundred?
Just a word of for syllables,
Beyond which lies emptiness.

Wait! Is it true In Serbian or Croatian?
It means cheating in the Czech Republic.
Sepa-ration! To separate ...
Is insane nonesense!

The sound bursts deaf ears,
Beyond the edge of despair ...
Separation - is not in the Russian language!
Nor in that of women! Nor men!

Not in the language of God! What are we – sheep?
To stare at us eating?
Separation – In what language is that,
If the meaning doesn't exist?

Even the sound! Well, just empty like the
Noise of a saw, in a dream perhaps.
Separation – in the school of
Klebnikov's must mean the moan of a nightingale

- But what happened?
Like a lake of water drying into the
Air! I feel your hand's touch.
To separate – a strike of thunder

on the head ... the ocean rushing into the cabin!
The ocean's ultimate promontory!
These streets are steep:
To separate – means to go down,

Downhill ... Two heavy soles
A sigh... at last the hand gets nailed!
A discussion that turns everything upside down:
To separate - means to be turned into separate people:

We who - are One ...

Prague,-Ilovischi, June 8, 1924

They reached an armistice. Marina desisted henceforth from the temptation of new infatuations, but Seryozha would never recover his old quiet demeanor. The lure of the “Motherland” seemed like the last salvation. He abandoned his White past and became increasingly politically radicalized, which, a few years later, would deliver him into the all pervasive hands of the NKVD.

Marina and Sergey, Prague 1924

In addition to the large cycles she wrote more than 200 smaller poems between 1922 and 1924. Among these is “Euridice and Orpheus”. At first it appears enigmatic. A farewell to Rodzevich? A mythological confession of her role in her disasterous relationships: Euridice luring Orpheus into the underworld? The snakebite of immortality!?

Эвредика – Орфею

Для тех, отженивших последние клочья
Покрова (ни уст, ни ланит!..)
О, не превышение ли полномочий
Орфей, нисходящий в Аид?

Для тех, отрешивших последние звенья
Земного... На ложе из лож
Сложившим великую ложь лицезренья -
Внутрь зрящим - свидание нож.

Уплочено же - всеми розами крови
За этот просторный покрой Бессмертья...
До самых летейских верховий
Любивший - мне нужен покой

Беспамятности... Ибо в призрачном доме
Сем - призрак ты, сущий, а явь -
Я, мертвая... Что же скажу тебе, кроме:
- "Ты это забудь и оставь!"

Ведь не растревожишь же! Не повлекуся!
Ни рук ведь! Ни уст, чтоб припасть
Устами! - С бессмертья змеиным укусом
Кончается женская страсть.

Уплочено же - вспомяни мои крики! -
За этот последний простор.
Не надо Орфею сходить к Эвридике
И братьям тревожить сестер.

23 марта 1923

Euridice – Orpheus

Those condemned to their last rags
Cover (not their mouth, not their cheeks! ..)
Oh, are you not exceeding your powers
Orpheus, while descending into Hades?

hose giving up their last connection to
Earth ... On the bed of lies
I committed a great dishonesty in contemplating -
A deep sigh – an interview with a knife.

I have paid all the same – for all this rose blood
is a spacious style to cover Immortality...
It's all the same in Lethe's head
Beloved - I need a break

Forgetfulness ... For in the ghostly house appeared
Actually - your ghost, plain and real -
I, was dead ... What should I tell you, except:
- "That you didn't notice and left!"

There is no alarm! No cause!
No hands after all! No mouth, clinging to
Lips! - Immortality, the bite of the snake
Ends female passion.

I have paid all the same – in vain my cries! -
For this last insight.
No need for Orpheus to follow Eurydice
And a brother to disturb his sister.

March 23, 1923

She sent the poem also to Pasternak – who, like Rodzevich, seems not to have understood it. Years later, in 1926 Pasternak in one of his letters to her quoted from this poem, and she realized his misunderstanding: Brothers disturb Sisters! The ghost had been Boris-Orpheus:

The turn-around of Orpheus – is the handiwork of Eurydice. ("Hand" - across the corridor Hell!) The turn-around of Orpheus - is the blindness of her love, her command (soon, soon!) - Or? - Oh, Boris, it's terrible – remember 1923, March, mountain, lines: No need to invoke Orpheus and Eurydice, and a brother to disturb his sister. Both are under orders - and lose. Everything in it is loved - the last memory, the shadow of the body, a toe of the heart, not yet touched by the poison of immortality, remember? - - - ...immortality, the bite of the snake ends female passion!
All that is echoed in her female name. As it was, he - went after her, she could not return, though she may possibly no longer have wanted to. Thus, transformation and sublime, - Do not laugh - do not be afraid.
M.Ts. - St. Gilles-sur-Vie, May 25, 1926

Oh, the mystifying vagaries of Marina's poetry! This inconspicuous poem is her farewell to all men she had lured into Hades: “soon, soon!” Pasternak was the only survivor. A meeting with him in Weimar came to naught. Even she sees the blessing in this failure. After 2 years they finally addressed each other by their first names: brother and sister in spirit. How much did Seryozha know of this correspondence?

In the relative calm of the truce between the two, Marina recovered her more earthly female aspects. She had wanted a son all her life. By the summer of 1924 she found herself pregnant. This child, Seryozha's child may have saved her life. Her erotic phantasies were transformed into an almost equally irresponsible idolization of the child she was carrying. It simply had to be a son, she had seen him in a vision already years ago! - And luckily it was!

Georgy “Mur” Efron was born on February 1, 1925. The child nearly died at birth. Over-confident of her female strength she had not consulted an obstetrician. Alone in the house at the edge of the village, in the middle of a blizzard, a woman friend and a local physician performed a difficult breach birth. The umbilical cord nearly strangled the child.

For weeks Seryozha and she argued about his name. Marina wanted to name him Boris – in honor of Pasternak, of course. - She relented in order not to have to explain her choice, and Seryozha's name of Georgy, the patron saint of Moscow, prevailed. She had addressed the growing child as “Mur” (after A. Th. Hoffmann's “The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr”) and that name remained with him for life. They had a christening on June 8. With mixed feelings Marina describes the lengthy Orthodox ritual (she, as mother, seems not to have been banned from the ceremony as is customary in Russia):

An exorcism of devils, you can feel their terrifying force, a real power struggle. And the church pushing with all its might against a dense mass, a living wall of sorcery and develry: “I forbid you! - Go away! - Depart!”

Mur was quite charming during the whole ceremony... He looked handsome. Being five months old, he wasn't totally immersed – not one of the vast Czech laundry tubs would have been big enough. A boy like him could only have been totally immersed in the sea.
[VS p. 249]

Tsvetaeva had wanted to leave Czechoslovakia for some time. She had never quite settled in rural Prague. She longed for the excitement, for the people of a lively urban environment. With the deteriorating freedom in Berlin the center of Russian émigré literature had shifted to Paris. There new literary journals were born every year.

Efron's tubercolosis had recurred, and he had spent part of the summer of 1925 in a sanatorium. He may also have been lured by the hub of Russian politics in Paris. Prague was sleeping in Lethe's backwaters. A paid invitation by a Parisian journal to read her poetry and the offer of Olga Chernova and her husband, Russian friends, to put them up sealed the decision. - Maybe she would be able to earn some real money with her writing. She managed to retain her Czech stipend – it was supposed be a temporary visit.