Three by Tsvetaeva

Three by Tsvetaeva
Three of the legendary Russian dissident writer's greatest poems, two autobiographical and one based on a Russian folktale, now in a new, invigorating English translation.

The three poems in this collection, "Backstreets", "Poem of the Mountain" and "Poem of the End," were all written in the few short years spanning the period immediately preceding Tsvetaeva's move from the Soviet Union to Prague in 1922. "Poem of the Mountain" and "Poem of the End" are generally considered some of her finest poems and have been translated widely; "Backstreets," initially dismissed by Russian readers as nigh unintelligible, is almost unknown in English. Andrew Davis's translation is a first, and it reveals the poem in all in its emotional intensity and poetic pyrotechnics as among Tsvetaeva's greatest achievements.

"Poem of the Mountain" and "Poem of the End" both concern the end of an affair. "Backsteets," by contrast, is a retelling of the Russian folk-tale of Dobrynya and Marinka. It is a very free retelling, however. In the original story a hero (Dobrynya) is seduced by a witch (Marinka) and turned into an aurochs, the extinct European ancestor to modern cattle. Marinka is then forced by Dobrynya's sister, herself possessed of magic powers, to restore Dobrynya to his original form. This she does, though at the same time extorting from him a promise to marry her in exchange for the restoration. He marries her, but murders her on their wedding night. Almost none of this makes it into "Backstreets," though the poem does retain the sense of magic and menace of the original. What is actually being described, is, beneath everything, a remarkable description of a highly charged erotic encounter. The poem is the clearest expression of Tsvetaeva's understanding of love and its possibilities.

Davis's versions of Osip Mandelstam's Voronezh Notebooks have been widely admired. Here he brings his talents as poet and translator to the work of a Russian poet whose achievement has loomed ever larger with the years.

Publication Date: 
July 16, 2024