Marina Tsvetaeva


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Russian poet whose verse is considered amongst the greatest written in the Russian language in the twentieth century.

The daughter of a professor of art history and a pianist, Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow but spent much of her childhood travelling with her parents in western Europe. At the age of sixteen she began attending the Sorbonne in Paris. Her first collection of poems, Vecherny albom (1910; ‘Evening Album’), was well received, although it is now considered, together with her other early poetry, to be rather insipid when compared to her more mature work.

In 1912 Tsvetaeva married Sergei Yakovlevich Efron, who became an officer in the imperial army and, after the Revolution, joined the anti-Bolshevik White Army. Between 1917 and 1922 she wrote the verse cycle Lebeding stan (‘The Encampment of the Swans’), a chronicle of the civil war that eulogizes the counter-revolutionary forces. In 1922 she published a long pro-imperial verse fairy tale, Tsar-devitsa (‘Tsar-Maiden’). After the civil war Tsvetaeva left the newly formed Soviet Union and was reunited with her husband, whom she had feared dead, in Prague.

Moving to Berlin before settling in 1925 in Paris, Tsvetaeva began to produce some of her greatest verse, notably Romeslo (1923; ‘Craft’) and Posle Rossii (1928; ‘After Russia’). Living in poverty and feeling both estranged from her fellow exiles and alienated from her new surroundings, Tsvetaeva imbued her verse of this period with great nostalgia for Russia and its folk history, at the same time maintaining her experimentation with verse forms. Her husband, who had begun to cooperate with the Soviet Union, started working for the Soviet secret police and returned to the USSR, leaving Tsvetaeva ostracized by the anti-Soviet émigré community. In 1939, lonely and alarmed by the rise of fascism, which she attacked in Stikhi k Chekhii (1938–39; ‘Verses to the Czech Land’), she reluctantly returned home. During World War II Tsvetaeva was forcibly exiled from Moscow to a remote town. Isolated and friendless, she committed suicide in 1941.

Subjects: Literature — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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