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This poem is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

from the Notebooks (1916–18), translated by Christopher Whyte

Translated from the Russian by Christopher Whyte
Marina Tsvetaeva
Of the whole crowd watching them carry Wilde off, after he’d been arrested, only one spat in his face, while another (Robbie) lifted his hat. The rest looked on.


The tango… The police chief of a town in the southern provinces forbade people to dance it in couples. So everybody danced it alone. They would dance and say: ‘It’s wonderful! And it must be even better danced in twos!’ The police chief had a parrot which is supposed to have come down from the time of Alexander I. He too more or less came down from that time. Very artificial, exceptionally gallant – he slept in his cap.


I can sense my soul quite clearly in the middle of my chest. It’s oval, like an egg, and when I give a sigh, it breathes.


Two things I just can’t keep apart – Maupassant, and steaks.


The so much trumpeted ‘imagination’ of poets is nothing more than precision in observing and reporting. Everything has existed since the beginning of time, but did not carry that – particular – name. The poet’s task is christening the world anew.


What descriptions gain in detail they generally lose in exactitude.


The dash, and italics – the only means printed texts have of conveying intonation.


Sergei Efron in 1913, speaking about tango: ‘One can only dance like that on the eve of a global catastrophe.’


Easier to be shut in a cage with a lion, than in a room with a breastfeeding child.
    (Irina, forgive me!)


What am I here for? To listen to my soul.


The poet is someone who, stage by stage, sheds all that weighs him down. Those burdens, thanks to words, are then carried by other people, in the form of rhyming verses.


Sigh – word – sigh. That’s how straightforward the poet’s path is.


The poet is someone drowning, whom nature saves thanks to a magnificent lifebelt. Realising this, he nonetheless believes that he is drowning.


People are God’s only chance of being.


The West – Russia’s unrequited love.
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