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This review is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Cover of Youthful Verses
Sue LeighMarina Tsvetaeva, Youthful Verses, translated by Christopher Whyte (Shearsman Books), £10.95; Vénus Khoury-Ghata, The Water People, translated by Marilyn Hacker (Poetry Translation Centre), £9
The Thunder in My Blue Sky

Marina Tsvetaeva’s life (1892–1941) coincided with a particularly turbulent time in Russian history. Privation, exile and personal loss took their toll, but poetry, and contact with other poets, including Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam, sustained Tsvetaeva throughout her adult life. These new translations by Christopher Whyte (a poet writing in Scottish Gaelic as well as a novelist and critic) offer a re-evaluation of the work of this passionate, inventive poet.

Youthful Verses consists of lyric poems written between 1913 and 1915. These were years of comparative freedom for Tsvetaeva. She was newly married to Sergey Efron, a cadet slightly younger than herself, and they had a baby daughter, Alya. Tsvetaeva’s marriage was to last, although neither she nor Efron viewed their relationship as precluding others. Her love affair with the older poet Sophia Parnock inspired Tsvetaeva’s cycle With a Woman.

People were always important to Tsvetaeva, and there are poems dedicated to Alya, her sister Asya, her husband, Lord Byron, P.E. (Peter Efron, her brother-in-law) and Akhmatova (with whom she had a brief relationship). A moving poem considers the life of her young grandmother in which the poet describes ‘those hands, performing Chopin waltzes’. And of the day her grandmother died, Tsvetaeva writes: ‘the day was guiltless, the wind fresh. / The stars that got put out were dark’. From her grandmother she thinks she has inherited ‘This savage rebel in my heart’.

The poet shifts between clear-sightedness about herself and the doubting ‘Who am I?’ The poem ...


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