In Paradise – M. Tsvetaeva

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 5/?

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) is still considered one of Russia’s greatest twentieth century poets, although the Soviet Union and Russia heavily downplayed the fact that she had multiple same-sex attachments. She was very erudite; she studied in France, Switzerland and Italy at a time when even the Tsar’s children only dreamed of doing so, and she spent some later years of her life translating poetry including that of Federico Garcia Lorca.

Her life was one full of tragedy: she had to place both of her daughters in an orphanage and one of them starved to death there; she spent a miserable time in emigration in Paris; after her family’s return to Russia both her husband and her remaining daughter were arrested for espionage and her husband was shot while her daughter was imprisoned; and she herself finally committed suicide in 1941.

This poem dates from her first collection of poems, published when she was just eighteen, but it has the passion that sings through all of her work.

In Paradise

Memories weigh too much upon the shoulders.
Even in heaven for earthly things I’ll weep.
At our new meeting, silent words much older
I will not keep.

Where flights of angels in formation soar,
Where a child harp choir mid lilies plays,
Still, restless in the rest forevermore,
I’ll seek your gaze.

Alone among the solemn innocent maidens,
Passing heavenly sights with bitter mirth,
I’ll sing, with earth and alienness laden,
A song of earth.

Memories weigh more than my back can bear.
That hour, I won’t hide my tearing eyes.
Our meetings I don’t need, nor here nor there —
Not for meeting will we wake in Paradise!

Marina Tsvetaeva, 1910; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, July 2016

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