MARINA TSVETAEVA from AFTER RUSSIA translated by Mary Jane White

Mary Jane White, 2017 PSP participant

Translator’s note from Mary Jane White:

These translations were finished in Prague, where they were originally written by Tsvetaeva in 1922, during a period of exile from Russia.

In exile — in the daily world of the mundane — Tsvetaeva struggled with the demands of life in the small villages surrounding Prague where for the most part and for most of her time in Czechoslovakia she found herself to have washed up into considerable poverty with her young daughter and dependent-student-war-veteran husband, with the addition in 1925 of an infant son.  The family was supported by Tsvetaeva’s writing, small refugee pensions to herself and her husband from the Czech government, supplemented by direct gifts from Czech literary friends like Anna Teskova, and various older women friends

During my stay in Prague I was able to visit several of the homes where Tsvetaeva lived in Prague and in the nearby villages along the railroads, including the landscapes described in “Brooks.”



A sibyl scorched, a sibyl:  like a standing snag.

Every bird extinct, but the god is near.


A sibyl drained, a sibyl:  like a dry spell.

All my veins run dry:  but the man is eager!


A sibyl gone, a sibyl:  like a yawning maw

Of what is come and gone!  — A tree among virgins.


Like a single, sovereign tree in a bare forest —

Like a tree, the fire begins to stir.


Then, under my eyelids — taking flight, unexpectedly,

Out of those dry rivers, the god rises up.


And abruptly, breaking off his search overhead:

His heart and voice go weak:  in me!


A sibyl:  who speaks!  A sibyl:  like an arc of sky!

So an Annunciation comes to pass at this


Deathless hour, so in the bleached grasses

A perishable virgin becomes the grotto


For a marvelous voice . . .

— so out into the starry vortex

A sibyl:  is gone, no longer among the living.

(5 August 1922)



Grey blocks of stone,

Broken faith with our age.

Your body — a grotto

For your voice.


Depths — of night, into your blind

Eyelids, blind loopholes.

A deaf and dumb fortress

Above the various reapers.


Heavy rains stream down

Your shoulders, fungus molds.

A thousand years lap at

Your foot of stunned blocks.


Mountain of sorrow!  Under your heavy

Eyelids, in prophetic swarms —

The clay shards

Of kingdoms and the rising dust


Of battles . . .

(6 August 1922)




Latch on

To my breast, my newborn:

Birth — is a falling into days.


From those cliffs beyond the clouds, from nowhere,

My newborn,

How low you are fallen!

Who were spirit, who are become dust.


Cry, my little one, for them and for us:

Birth — is a falling into time!


Cry, my little one, in the future, and again:

Birth — is a falling into blood,


And into dust,

And into time . . .


Where does the shining of its miracle lie?

Cry, my little one:  born into your weight!


Where do the veins of its treasure lie?

Cry, my little one, born into your numbers,


And into blood,

And into sweat . . .


But you will come to rise up!  For what all the world calls

Death — is a falling into the firmament.


And you will come to see!  That what all the world — sees

As eyelids close — is a birth into light.


From this day —

Into eternity.


Death, my little one, is not to sleep, but to rise up,

Not to sleep, but to return.


Swim, my little one!  Already the step you push yourself away from

Is fallen behind you. . .

— Rising into the day.

(17 May 1923)



Roaring with prophesies,

With the unrepentant violinist’s

Pizzicatos . . . Like scattered beads!

With his Paganinian “Nailed it!”

Overturned . . .

Notes, planets —

In a downpour!

— Bring it up!!!

— The end . . . To naught . . .

With the untold silences

Speaking garrulously of life:

With Stradivariuses in the nights

The high-water brooks.

(4 May 1923)



Like a necklace, broken

Into a thousand pieces of brass —

Like Zingara in her gold

The village in its brooks.


Awash — in its necklaces!

The hill as it slopes

Skimming like a boat

Into the brooks’ honeysuckle.


Like necklaced-harnesses . . .

(Of long-strung shadows

Like necklaces!  Like harnesses

Of vanishing horses . . .)


Like necklaced-beads . . .

(Of long-strung coins

Like necklaces!  Like beads

Of vanishing planets . . .)


Along cliffs, along hollows,

Both over the face, and into the lap —

Like Zingara in her stolen finery —

The village in its brooks.


To be celebrated in song!

Darkly, passionately

Stealing down on every side

The wandering, gypsy brooks.

(6 May 192)

[1] This poem is moved here from the future as it seems to belong here. An original footnote by Tsvetaeva.

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