The End

An Alien in the USSR

1939 – 1941

When they reached Moscow on June 18, 1939, Marina and Murg were put-up in a big, rundown dacha in the suburb of Bolshevo, where Alya and Sergey were already staying practically under house arrest. The place was rented, if not by the NKVD, then by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They shared the house with the family of another Soviet agent, who had recently returned. Marina was short-tempered and tensions were high. Efron was being paid a small sum by the NKVD but had no work. Marina and Murg had still no Soviet documents, all three were entirely helpless. Alya had a job, friends, and a lover in Moscow, she rarely came home, and when she did displayed a false gaiety, which her mother quickly unmasked. Their relatioship was at best frosty. [
VS p.350]

Eventually, Marina was allowed to visit their relatives, her former friends avoided all contact. - Except for Boris Pasternak, who had the courage to briefly meet Marina clandestinely at Elizaveta Efron's place. Marina finally understood what it meant to live in constant terror of the authories, and with her usual exaggerated sensitivity refrained from pressing herself on anyone.

The respite in Bolshevo lasted until August 28, 1939 when first Alya was suddenly arrested, and on October 10, 1939 Sergey and the other NKVD agent. Marina and Mur were ordered to leave the dacha. Elizaveta Efron put them up in her single room. Marina had become an official non-person, without papers and without a place to stay. It was at this point that Pasternak came to her aid. He put her in contact with Viktor Goltsev a writer and translator, who gave her some translation work. With this job eventally came an internal identification card and a residence permit. She was told to move to Golitsyno, an hour and a half west of Moscow (December 1939). She and Mur had to find their own room in the village, but were allowed to eat with other writers at the local “House of Creativity”.

Marina was paid the usual rate of 4 rb [rubels] per line, but worked so conscientiously slowly that in the spring of 1940 she earned a mere 770 rb per month. The meals at the House of Creativity cost 830 rb, the lodging 250 rb per month [from her notebooks, and
VS p.362]. In April she saw herself forced to buy only one meal coupon - the lion share went to Mur. She went back to her 1919-practice of begging for and occasionally stealing a piece of bread from the tables of friends she visited.

Marina Tsvetaeva, Golitsyno 1939

No intellectual imagination could have prepared Marina of what life in the USSR would be like for her. She blamed Alya for presenting a rosy picture, but what else could Alya have written? Everybody was scared of the authorities. Marina simply could not imagine the terror that reigned there. As she left for the USSR, she had abandoned all hope of writing poetry again. She was much too proud to stoop to the level of the established writers. Now she realized that she was not even tempted to write. The terminology in use had changed so much that the spoken Russian was no longer the same. But worse was the fact that old and new friends avoided her. She was lonelier than ever before – an alien in her own country.

It was not only that she had officially become “an enemy fo the people”, the wife of two political prisoners, her whole appearance was alien. Paranoia among the ordinary citizen in Moscow was still abnormally high in the 1980s, and much higher then, viz., Mikhail Bulgakov's first chapter in “Master and Margarita” where the devil in the guise of Woland undermines the sense of reality of righteous Berlioz. Who was this foreigner Marina in her outlandish clothes, with a Parisian handbag and a collection of silver bangles and rings on her arms and hands? And she, like Woland, spoke a fluent if antiquated Russian! All of this was made more suspicious by her erect hauteur, by her sharp tongue. Poor nearsighted Marina still wore no glasses and couldn't tell whom she was talking to or remember their faces. The writers in the House of Creativity fell silent, when she entered at dinner time. [
VS p. 354]

Alya and Sergey were kept imprisoned in Moscow. Marina spent endless hours waiting in line to bring clothes and food for her two family members. At least she knew that they were still alive. Early in 1940 Alya was sentenced by a special commission to ten years of hard labor – for espionage! Efron was sentenced by a military court and dissappeared. On her next routine visit to his prison, Marina was told that he was no longer there, and that she should write to Beria personally for permission to visit Sergey. Her two letters to Beria are preserved, touching examples of her naïve belief in Beria's humanitarian generosity. Marina would never see Sergey or Alya again, but she was able to send letters to Alya until her evacuation to Elabuga. – Beria, of course, never answered her appeal on Sergey's behalf. – In those days, Sergey's disappearance from the records of the prison system was equivalent to him having been sentenced to death. Sergey was shot, apparently in 1941. It is not clear when or where. As I see it, this knowledge was probably the major reason for Marina's suicide.

She had returned to Russia, to be near and care for her family members. That long-standing promise to herself had come to an end. She was no longer needed by anyone. There was only Mur. She had been able to find a school for him, but she felt that she increasingly stood in his way of becoming a Soviet citizen. She was in a terribel state of depression. Her life-long thought of committing suicide grew more urgent by the month.

At this point Germany invaded Russia, -
her Germany! It was a terrible blow to her dearest childhood values. She had already suffered for the Czechs, now Russia seemed to collaps at an alarming rate to the German onslaught. The invasion had an immediate effect: On August 17, 1941 she and Murg were evacuated from Moscow to Elabuga, a remote town on the river Kama in the Tatarstan Republic. She wrote three last letters recommending Mur to the care of various people. – On August 31, 1941, two weeks after her arrival in Elabuga she hanged herself.

Last photograph of Marina Tsveteava
Moscow-Kuntsevo, June 18, 1941

The idea of suicide is disturbing to people. Not surprisingly her suicide has generated various explanations for its ultimate reasons. Immediately after her arrival in Elaburga Marina wrote a letter to the Writers Union requesting employment as a translator. And on August 26 she wrote a brief note to the Council of the Literary Fund in Chistopol, the seat of the administration of the region, asking to be employed as a dishwasher. But as Viktoria Schweitzer notes, “Tsvetaeva had no wish to translate or wash dishes, she was determined to do away with herself.” Schweitzer gives an account of her last months [
VS p.374-378]. It is based on personal interviews and a wealth of information, which I do not feel entitled to reproduce here.

In 1943 BorisPasternak wrote a belated requiem for his friend

Памяти Марины Цветаевой

Хмуро тянется день непогожий.
Безутешно струятся ручьи
По крыльцу перед дверью прихожей
И в открытые окна мои.

За оградою вдоль по дороге
Затопляет общественный сад.
Развалившись, как звери в берлоге,
Облака в беспорядке лежат.

Мне в ненастьи мерещится книга
О земле и ее красоте.
Я рисую лесную шишигу
Для тебя на заглавном листе.

Ах, Марина, давно уде время,
Да и труд не такой уж ахти,
Твой заброшенный прах в реквиеме
Из Елабуги перенести.

Торжество твоего переноса
Я задумывал в прошлом году
Над снегами пустынного плеса,
Где зимуют баркасы во льду.

Что сделать мне тебе в угоду?
Дай как-нибудь об этом весть.
В молчаньи твоего ухода
Упрек невысказанный есть.

Всегда загадочны утраты.
В бесплодных розысках в ответ
Я мучаюсь без результата:
У смерти очертаний нет.

Тут все - полуслова и тени,
Обмолвки и самообман,
И только верой в воскресенье
Какой-то указатель дан.

Зима - как пышные поминки:
Наружу выйти из жилья,
Прибавить к сумеркам коринки,
Облить вином - вот и кутья.

Пред домом яблоня в сугробе.
И город в снежной пелене -
Твое огромное надгробье,
Как целый год казалось мне.

Лицом повернутая к Богу,
Ты тянешься к нему с земли,
Как в дни, когда тебе итога
Еще на ней не подвели.

Декабрь 1943

In Memoriam of Marina Tsvetaeva

A gloomy day with bad weather.
Inconsolably rivulets run
Down the porch in front of the doorwayl
And through my open windows.

Behind the fence along the road
The public gardens are flooded.
Like wild beasts the clouds,
Sprawl in shaggy disarray.

In such rainy weather I dream of a book
On the beauty of the land.
I draw a forest of chimeras
For you on the title page.

Oh, Marina, your fate took a long time,
And my labor is long overdue.
Your abandoned ashes should be moved
From Elabuga by a requiem written for you.

All your triumph of your homecoming
I considered last year
Near a snow-covered stretch of the river,
Where boats winter locked in ice.

What can I do to please you?
Give anything in exchange for news.
For the silence of your going
Has left my reproachss unexpressed.

A loss is always mysterious.
In vain am I looking for clues
I torment my brain with no result:
Death has no form.

Everything - hints and shadows,
Slips of the tongue and self-deceptions,
And only faith in resurrection
Can give the semblance of a sign.

Winter – like a lavish funeral:
Outside my house
Adds currants to the dusk,
Pours wine – and there is a cake.

Outside an apple stands in a snow drift.
And the snow-shrouded town has been-
A monument to your memory,
What a long year it seems to me.

With your face turned to God,
You're reaching for him from the land
Like in the days when you walked on it
Where you will yet be appreciated.

December 1943