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Selected Poems


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Marina Tsvetaeva (also Tsvetayeva and Cvetaeva) was born in Moscow in 1892. Her father was a professor and founder of the Museum of Fine Arts, and her mother, who died of tuberculosis when Marina was 14, was a concert pianist. At the age of 18 she published her first collection of poems, Evening Album. Tsvetayeva's life coincided with turbulent years in Russian history. She married Sergei Efron in 1912; they had two daughters and later one son. Efron joined the White Army, and Tsvetayeva was separated from him during the Civil War. She had a brief love affair with Osip Mandelstam, and a longer relationship with Sofia Parnok. During the Moscow famine, Tsvetayeva was forced to place her daughters in a state orphanage, where the younger, Irina, died of hunger in 1919. In 1922 she emigrated with her family to Berlin, then to Prague, settling in Paris in 1925. In Paris, the family lived in poverty. Sergei Efron worked for the Soviet secret police, and Tsvetayeva was shunned by the Russian expatriate community of Paris. Through the years of privation and exile, poetry and contact with poets sustained Tsvetayeva. She corresponded with Rainer Maria Rilke and Boris Pasternak, and she dedicated work to Anna Akhmatova. In 1939 Tsvetayeva returned to the Soviet Union. Efron was executed, and her surviving daughter was sent to a labour camp. When the German army invaded the USSR, Tsvetayeva was evacuated to Yelabuga with her son. She hanged herself there on 31 August 1941. Bloodaxe publishes two editions of her work: David McDuff's translation, Selected Poems, first published in 1987 (when Tsvetayeva was the preferred transliteration), and Angela Livingstone's translation of her essays, Art in the Light of Conscience, first published in 1982 and republished by Bloodaxe in 2010 (as Tsvetaeva).


Tsvetayeva is one of the great poets of the century and David McDuff's translations are very good. This is all the more remarkable because, like the poems they translate, they rhyme. There are overlaps with Elaine Feinstein's excellent but unrhyming translations of the same poet, but not too many. McDuff conveys Tsvetyeva's commitment to poetry's musical force, Feinstein substitutes a beautifully nuanced syntax for music; Tsvetayeva shines and appals in both. -- Martin Dodsworth * Guardian *
It must be said right away that those who want to have an inkling of what Tsvetayeva is actually like, and that includes her form, her rhyme, and the tone of that accompanies form and rhyme, will have to go to McDuff. His diligence with metre and rhyme is remarkably successful, and is the only proper tribute to the poet's linguistic virtuosity. Readers may find that Feinstein comes across more fluently, but that fluency is not Tsvetaevan. McDuff has caught her abruptness, her veering and tacking, and has tried to show something of the curious modern music this produces - "modern" not through free verse but by dint of straining traditional patterns to breaking point * Cencrastus *

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