Selections from Poems to an Orphan

Excerpt from Tsvetaeva’s first letter to Anatoly von Steiger:

. . . and if I said “mother,” it is because this word is the most enclosing and embracing, the most extensive and detailed, and nothing is withheld. The word before which everything, all other words, are bound.

And whether you like it or not, I already took you within, where I take everything cherished, without even contemplation, seeing it already within. You are my capture and catch, like today’s remnant of a Roman viaduct, with the dawn that breaks through and plunges in more faithfully and more eternally than the river Loing, into which it forever gazes at itself.

Moret-sur-Loing, France
July 29, 1936


ice tiara of the mountains
framing******fleeting face
today i parted ivy
on the granite castle

i overtook the pine mill
today i grasped a tulip
*******as a child
**************by the chin

August 16-17, 1936


I embrace you
with the horizon of the mountains,
the granite crown of cliffs.
(I absorb you with conversation,
leaving your breathe free,
your slumber deep.)

The feudal castle, flanked
with downy arms of ivy –
you know the ivy embraces stone
with one hundred four hands and limbs?

I am not a honeysuckle – no, not ivy!
Even you, your hands are my blood,
not pressed – but free
to every thought of mine!

. . . Around the flowerbed, around the well,
the stone will come – gray!
Abandonment – encircling promise of
Orphanhood – orbit of mine!

(In my blonde strands are woven,
not one silver thread!)
. . . And the river, tears to two
to birth an island – to engulf.

All of Savoy and all of Piedmont,
And – tiny ridge of a crevice –
I embrace you
with the blue horizon – and my two hands!

August 21-24, 1936


Marina Tsvetaeva

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) is one of the most renowned Russian poets of the 20th century. Born in Moscow, she lived through the 1917 Revolution and subsequent Civil War. In 1922, Tsvetaeva emigrated to Berlin, then to Prague, finally settling in Paris in 1925. Shunned by the Russian expatriate society in Paris, she longed for her homeland, eventually returning to the Soviet Union in 1939, before her death in 1941.

Tara M. Wheelwright

Tara M. Wheelwright is a graduate student at Brown University. She translates prose and poetry from Russian to English.

English translation copyright (c) Tara M. Wheelwright, 2019.