1922 – 1925
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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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
was written in 1922-23, and several large cycles of “Poema”:
of the Mountain”, “Poem
of the End”, “The
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:
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.
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!?
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
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! -
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.