Biography Marina Tsvetaeva

Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) grew up in Moscow. Her father was a professor of Fine Art who founded the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and her mother was a concert pianist. Marina Tsvetaeva was a child prodigy and a polyglot. At the age of 6, she began writing poetry and took rigorous piano lessons. At 16, she was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and around the same time, she started writing poetry in French and German as well. At the age of 18, Tsvetaeva published her first collection of poems, Evening Album, a book of confessional poems dealt with subject matter that previously had not been openly discussed in Russian poetry. 

She married Sergei Efron in 1912; they had two daughters and later one son. Efron joined the White Army, and Tsvetaeva was separated from him during the Civil War. During the Moscow famine, Tsvetaeva was forced to place her daughters in a state orphanage, where the younger, Irina, died of hunger in 1919.

Her earliest work explores the importance of gender in construction of identity, the woman poet’s challenge in a society and the protection of the individual’s right to self-expression. Her talent was not widely known during her lifetime, however, in Mileposts (1921, 1922) collections she revealed her ability to don verbal masques skillfully. Her small collection Separation 1922) indicates such hallmarks of Tsvetaeva’s style as polyphony, marvelous play on sheer sound, onomatopoeia, paronomasia.  Between 1918 and 1920, she wrote poems in praise of the White armies and their fight against Bolshevism. These years produced the poems of The Swans’ Demesne (1917-1921, published in 1957).

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 although it is hard to establish how much Tsvetaeva knew of Efron’s political dealings, yet it is generally agreed that she must have been aware of the larger picture. 

Later, in the 1930s, in her mature prose, she concentrated on pretenders, rebels and imposters, be the artistic or political figures, such as Pugachev or Mayakovsky. Through the years of privation and exile, poetry and contact with poets sustained Tsvetaeva. She corresponded with Rainer Maria Rilke and Boris Pasternak, and she dedicated work to Anna Akhmatova.

In the politically sensitive climate of her time, Tsvetaeva’s claims to be apolitical and the battle for individual freedom and tolerance was continually being misunderstood. In the 1930s, she was shunned by the émigré community of Paris. Regrettably, her attempts to challenge ideological narrow-mindedness, whether Red or White and her unwillingness to compromise her ideals and her ethical conception of the poetic task, were seen as evidence of her contradictory, unreliable politics, rather than as evidence of her ethical defense of the value of individuality. From 1935, Tsvetaeva was continually battling against the largely negative reaction to her work in émigré circles. In despair, she eventually chose to stand by Efron despite his activities as a Soviet agent, and eventually even followed him back to Russia. In 1939 Tsvetaeva returned to the Soviet Union. When the German army invaded the USSR, Tsvetaeva was evacuated to Yelabuga with her son. At that time, three of her closest family members – her sister Asia, her daughter Alia, and her husband Sergei Efron – had already been arrested. She hanged herself on August 31, 1941.

Sources

Bisha, Robin. Russian women, 1698–1917: Experience and expression, an anthology of sources. Indiana University Press. 2002.

Karlinsky, Simon. Marina Tsvetaeva: The Woman, Her World, and Her Poetry. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Schweitzer, Viktoria, Chandler, Robert. Tsvetaeva. Translated by H.T. Willets. London: Harvill, 1995.