By Marina Tsvetaeva

Love, do my words startle you?
Parting makes us
All talk like drunks
And love solemnity . . .

You shrug—the load slips off your shoulders;
Your soul—soars.
But I will sing about sorrow:
About my hill!
Not today, nor ever tomorrow shall I be able
To fill its caldera.
And I will sing about sorrow
At the top of my hill.

My hill was the body of a recruit
Brought down by a shell.
My hill wanted the lips
Of a virgin, my hill
Expected nuptials.
–An ocean in the ear’s helix,
A sudden-bursting hurrah!—
My hill strove and stood ground.
My hill was thunder! My breast,
A prize Titans advanced upon!
(The last house on my hill—
Remember—outside town?)
My hill was—worlds!
Now God exacts his price for my world!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
My sorrow began with my hill.
My hill above town.

No Parnassus, no Sinai,
Just my bare, barracks
Hill! Right face! Fire!
Why, to my eyes, then
(As it was October, not May)
Was my hill—Paradise?

Offered on your palm:
Paradise—Don’t touch it; it’s hot!
My hill with its rutted slope
Collapsed beneath our feet.
With the paws of a Titan
With its bushes and conifers—
My hill raked our coats,
Ordering: Halt!
O, far from a veritable
Paradise—blast after blast!
My hill threw us on our backs,
Commanding: Lie there!
Dumbstruck at the onslaught,
–How? To this day, I don’t care!—
My hill, my procuress—opened
Its holy relics, pointing: Here . . .

Persephone’s pomegranate seed,
How can I forget you in these hard winter frosts?
I remember your lips, a warm bi-valve shell
Half-open on my own.
Persephone ruined by a seed!
The stubborn crimson of your lips,
And your eyelashes’ separate tips
Enmeshed in the gold, separated
tips of a star.

Passion—is no trick, and no fiction!
It doesn’t lie—just don’t try to make it last!
O, if only we had come into this world
As commonplace lovers!
O, if only we had been sensible and unceremonious:
This would be just—my hill; this, simply—my mound . . .
They say—the greater the pull to the edge
The higher the precipice.
In masses of brown heather,
Among islands of weeping conifer . . .
(At the height of delirium—
Above the level of others’ humdrum lives)
–Take me, then! I’m yours . . .
Lacking the tender mercy of family,
Lacking the prattle of little mouths—we grieve!
That we came into this world
As larger-than-life lovers!

My hill grieved (and hills do grieve
With bitter clay at the hour of parting),
My hill grieved for the dove-grey
Tenderness of our undiscovered mornings.
My hill grieved for our companionship:
For the immutable kinship of our lips!
My hill said: from each shall it be rent
According to his tears.
And my hill grieved that life is a moveable
Feast, a continual bartering of hearts!
And my hill grieved: if only she were
With child—he could let Hagar go!
And my hill said it was a demon’s
Scheme, to toy with us each, in turn.
My hill spoke. We were mute.
We left it to my hill to judge.

My hill grieved that only sadness
Would come—of this day’s Blood and Fire.
My hill said it would not let us go,
That it would not let you live with another!
My hill grieved that only smoke
Would come—of this day’s Empire and Rome.
My hill said we would live with others
(Not that I envy them, the others!)
My hill grieved for the terrible weight
Of vows too late to be foresworn.
My hill grieved that our knot was ancient—
Gordian: duty and passion.
My hill grieved for our sorrow:
Tomorrow: Not now! When over our heads—
Is no momento set, just—this sea!
Tomorrow—when we may come to know.
A sound . . . as if someone were just—
Well . . . weeping nearby?
My hill grieved that we must go down
Separately, through such mud—
Back into life, which we all know is:
A rabble—a market—a barracks.
And my hill said—all poems
About hills—are written—like this.

My hill was the heave
Of Atlas, of a groaning Titan.
My hill will be the pride of a city
Where from morning to night we’ve
Played out our lives—trumped, in spades!
Passionate, we try stubbornly not to be,
Not to fall to the level of a bearish roar,
Not to rise to the spectacle of the town-clock’s twelve apostles—
Honor my dark grotto.
(I was a grotto—and waves leapt into it!)
Our final hand, as we were dealt it—
Remember—outside of town?
My hill was—worlds!
All gods take vengeance
On their likenesses!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
My sorrow began with my hill.
My hill will be—my monument.

Years will pass. And lo—the aforesaid
Stone is tamely replaced—with a flat slab.
Over my hill they will build summer-cottages,
They will cut it into little fenced lots.
In these outskirts they will claim
The air is better and life easier.
They will begin to cut out their plots
And raise their joists, their timbers,
And straighten out my hilly passages,
All my ravines—filled and leveled—
Because some people at least must have
A home for their happiness, and happiness—at home!
Happiness—at home! Love without illusion!
Without torment—(without fighting!)
I must be a woman—and endure!
(Times were, when he came, there
Was happiness—in my home!) Love, unsharpened
By parting or the knife.
On the ruins of our happiness
A city will rise: of husbands and wives.
And in our same blessed air,–
If you can manage it—fuck it!
Small shopkeepers on holiday
Will eat through their profits,
Laying out floors and passageways,
So long as every line—leads them home!
Because some people at least need
A roof with a stork’s nest on it!
Still, under the weight of their foundations,
My hill will not forget—our playfulness—
Dissipated, but—unforgotten:
Hills of times—lie buried in my hill!
Walking its persistent gullies
Summer people will learn too late:
This is no little hill, overgrown with families—
This is a crater, in current circulation!
Grapevines won’t hold back—Vesuvius!
Flax can’t tie down—my Giant!
A single mad kiss would be enough—
To set the vineyards stirring with lions
Who will let roar—let vomit
My molten lava of hatred:
Your daughters—be sluts;
And your sons—poets!
Your daughter—be delivered of a bastard!
Your son—be wasted on gypsies!
You will never be led by green pastures,
You, who feed on my blood!
Firmer than a corner-stone,
Than a deathbed vow: I say:
There will be no earthly happiness
For you, you ants, on my hill!
God knows what hour, what day,
You will see, you and all your family,
My inordinate, my huge
Hill is Monument—
to his Seventh Commandment!

Gaps in my memory—cataracts
In my eyes: back of seven veils.
I fail to recall any detail of you.
A white blank where your features were
Unmarked. You as a whole—a white
Gap. (My soul—is one unbroken
Wound.) To chalk-mark the least detail—
Would be the poor work of a tailor.
Our firmament—with its solid feet.
Our ocean—its assemblage of spray?!
Unmarked: Likely—you were unique—
On the whole.
Love—is a connection, not an investigation.
Black hair, possibly auburn—
Let the curious neighbor say: he could see.
Is it passion’s work—to take people apart?
Am I your watchmaker, your surgeon?
You: a circle: complete and entire:
Entire whirlwind, complete stupor.
I can’t recall you apart
From love. There’s an equivalent.
(Over my bed’s masses of sleepy down:
My waterfall, its hills of foam—
This is new: strange to my ear,
Instead of: I—your royal: We are . . .)
And still, in my poor, constricted
Life: in my life as it is—
I can’t see you with a single, solitary
Other woman: this
is the vengeance of memory!

January 1-February 1, 1924
Prague. The Hill.



                  An Elegy for Rilke
                                 By Marina Tsvetaeva

Happy New Year
–New World—New Land—New Home!
–New Light—New Border—New Eve!
My first letter to your New . . .
–my misunderstanding, to think it might be “green”—
(Lush—pastoral)—your resonant, sonorous place:
Aeolus’ empty tower.
My first letter to you from the Past—
Where, without you, I languish—
From Mother Earth, that for you now is simply one
Of the stars . . . Our conventions at leave-taking, of distancing,
By which a beloved becomes a someone,
An unbelievable person, merely fabulous.
Shall I tell you how I learned of your—?
No earthquake, no avalanche,
A man walked in—someone—(you
Are who I adored). –A sad story.
–In the News and the Daily. –Would you write something?
Where? In the mountains. (A window onto fir branches,
A sheet.) –You haven’t seen the newspapers?
Will you write us something? –No. –But . . . Please, spare me.

Aloud: It would be hard. Inwardly: I won’t give him up.
–In a sanatorium. (In a rented heaven).
When? –Yesterday, day before yesterday, I don’t remember.
Coming to the Alcazar? –No, I won’t be.
Aloud: My family. Inwardly: Anything but—some Judas.

Happy New Year! (Starting tomorrow!)—
Shall I tell you what I did on learning of . . .
Shh . . . a slip of my tongue. Out of habit.
When I was always the one to put life and death in italics
As if they were the most idle gossip.
I didn’t do anything, but something
Happened, without leaving so much as an echo
Or shadow!
So, how did you go?
Your heart—how did it break and not fly
Apart? As if drawn by Oryol trotters,
As if by eagles, you said, flying, no less,
Was it that breathtaking—or more?
Sweeter? With no more of life’s highs, or lows,
For those who’ve flown behind real Russian eagles.
Though we were blood-coupled to this world,
Whoever has been to Russia has seen the next world
In this. It makes for a smooth transition!
If I utter the words life and death with a latent
Smirk—you widen yours to meet it!
If I utter the words life and death with footnotes,
With asterisks (hoping there might be some night yet—
Instead of this cerebral hemisphere—
Friend, don’t let me forget to say:
If some letters now
Come in Russian, and not German,
It’s not because, as they say nowadays, everything’s
Run to ruin, or that the dead are expected to swallow anything
Without complaint—but to say that our next world,
–O, at thirteen, at Novodevichy, I
Knew: is not dumbstruck, but speaks in every tongue.

If I ask, sadly: will you
Never want to know again, what’s Russian for
Nest? What’s the single, fully-
Closed rhyme upon star?

Do I wander? But nothing
Can be found—to distract me from you.
Every thought, each, Du Lieber,
Syllable leads to you—whatever
Its meaning (whether German’s more nearly my native tongue than Russian,
Let my first true words be uttered with the tongues of Angels—and there’s
No place you’ve not been—no, save one: the grave.
It all seems as if it never was, and all is as it was,
–Really, about me, nothing at all?—

Where are you, Rainer, and how are you?
Tell me, without fail, I insist,
Everything about your first glimpse of our universe
(That is, of one poet left behind
In it) and the last—of our planet.
Only once is it given you—to see—as a whole!
Some encounter, not of a poet with his dust, or a soul with its body

(To distinguish such parts is to insult them both),
But your encounter, of you in yourself, of you with yourself even,
–To be taken by Zeus doesn’t mean he’s done you an honor—
Of Castor—of you in yourself—with Pollux.
Of marble—of you with yourself—with a slender grass blade,
No parting, no meeting—a mere confrontation
Of witnesses: as nearly a parting as a first
How did you fix your gaze
On your own hand (at the trace—on it—of ink)
From your several (how many?) million miles—
Infinite, pre-temporal—
Altitude, above the crystal-levels
Of the Mediterranean—and other saucers?

It all seems like it never was, and all is as it will be—
As it is for me in these outskirts.
It all seems like it never was, and all is as it is already
–What do you, conscripted, you-called-away care how this final week
Of the year runs out!—and where else is one to gaze,
Elbows on the balcony rail,
From this—if not to the next world, and from that next—
If not back to the much-suffering this.
In Bellevue, I live. A small village of nests
And branches. Enough to catch the eye of a tour guide:
Bellevue. A cell with a beautiful view
Of Paris—a palace of Gallic chimera—
Of Paris—and a bit beyond . . .
Resting your elbows on the scarlet rail,
How absurd to you (some would say, may) must seem,
(I would say, surely) must be,
From your matchless altitude,
Our Bellevues and Belvederes!

I wander. In detail. In haste.
New Year’s is upon us. To what, with whom, shall I offer toasts
Across a table? With what? With cotton wadding
For foam. To what? Let the clock strike—and why am I even here?
What am I to do in the New Year’s racket
With this internal rhyme: Rainer—no more?
If you, such an eye, go dark,
Life’s not life, death not death,
Meaning darkens, as I may come to know in time, should we ever come face to face!
Not in life, not in death—but in some third realm, some new
Aspect. So, to that, then, having strewn out all the straw of custom—
As the twenty-sixth year of our century passes
Into the twenty-seventh—my privilege
To see it out with you, to see it in with you!
Over some table, too wide to see across,
Shall I salute you with a quiet clink,
Glass to glass? No—not just our tavern-ware:
Me against you, two givens moving into rhyme:
A third realm.
Across a table—where a cross marks your place.
How many places—in the country, so much space
Out of town! For whom else, if not for us,
Does a bush incline? Places—that are ours,
And nobody else’s! All the leaves! All the needles!
Places of your encounters with me (of your encounters with yourself).
(I’m prepared to attend even some awful mass-rally with you
–Should I admit that?) Not to mention the other places! Or the months!
Or the weeks! Or the rainy, unpeopled
Suburbs! Or the mornings! Or altogether everything else
Not yet broken into by nightingales!

Likely, I see badly, from my pit,
Likely, you see better, higher up:
Nothing ever worked out between us.
So little, so clearly and simply
Nothing, nothing to suit our capacity or stature
–Useless even to count the loss.

Nothing except—expect nothing
Out of the ordinary (how clumsy of you to be out
Of ordinary time)—but in what time would you arrive
If you could?
It’s an old refrain:
Even nothing plus something is
Something—even if only from a distance—a shadow
Of a shadow! Nothing: that hour, that day,
That house—even a prisoner—condemned—in his manacles,
Has the memory of: those lips!
Or do such things court for too much?
Out of all that, a single world
Was ours, as we ourselves were just a reflection
Of ourselves,–for all this—all that light!

From my barren suburb—I wish you
Happy new place, Rainer, world, Rainer!
To the furthermost point of proof—
Happy new eye, Rainer, ear, Rainer!

Anything would have been an obstacle
To you: a passion, a friendship.
Happy new sound, my dear Echo!
Happy new echoes, dear Sound!

How many times seated on a school bench:
What are the mountains there? What are the rivers?
Are they lovely, those landscapes without visitors?
I wasn’t wrong, was I, Rainer—Heaven—is mountainous,
Stormy? Free of all claims, all dower—
There’s not a single heaven, but beyond it lies another
Heaven? In terraces? As I judge by the Tatras—
Heaven cannot fail to be
An amphitheatre. (A curtain lowered on someone . . .)
I wasn’t mistaken, Rainer, God is – a spreading
Baobab? No Sun King—
And not just one God? But beyond him another
How are you writing, in your new place?
But if you are—your poems are: for you yourself are—
Poetry! How is your writing, in that good life,
With no table for your elbow, no brow for your hand,
Your cupped hand.
Send me some news of yourself,
in your usual, undecipherable scrawl!

Rainer, how do you find the new rhymes?
But, to decline the word Rhyme
Properly—what’s Death—if not
A whole new series of Rhyme?
It’s no where to go: a language mastered.
A whole new series of meanings and
–Goodbye! Until we meet!
I don’t know that we will, but let’s agree to.
Beyond the earth that lies before me—
Beyond the seas, Rainer, beyond the last of me.

So we don’t lose touch—drop me a note ahead of time.
Happy new tracings of sound, Rainer!

Up the ladders of the sky, climb with your offering . . .
Happy new gesture, Rainer!

So nothing spills on it, I lift mine—level, on my palms—
Above the Rhone and Rarogne, above the manifest
And total separation—this—I have addressed:
Rainer—Maria—Rilke, for delivery, into his hands.

                                                                            February 7, 1927