Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922

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Yale University Press, 2002 - Poetry - 248 pages
Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) ranks with Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Boris Pasternak as one of Russia's greatest twentieth-century poets. Her suicide at the age of forty-eight was the tragic culmination of a life beset by loss and hardship. This volume presents a collection of essays published in the Russian émigré press after Tsvetaeva left Moscow in 1922. Based on diaries she kept from 1917 to 1920, 'Earthly Signs' describes the broad social, economic, and cultural chaos provoked by the Bolshevik Revolution. Events and individuals are seen through the lens of her personal experience - that of a destitute young woman of upper-class background with two small children (one of whom died of starvation), a missing husband, and no means of support other than her poetry.
 

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Earthly signs: Moscow diaries, 1917-1922

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It is a commentary on the provincialism of national cultures that a figure of towering greatness in one can be almost unknown in another. Such might be said of Russian poet Tsvetaeva, considered along ... Read full review

Contents

October on the Train
1
Free Passage
13
My Jobs
44
Attic Life
75
On Love
86
The Death of Stakhovich
101
On Gratitude
115
Excerpts from the Book Earthly Signs
122
On Germany
147
From a Diary
160
A Hero of Labor
170
Notes
233
Suggested Reading
249
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About the author (2002)

Tsvetaeva, whose first collection appeared in 1910, ranks among the major twentieth-century Russian poets. Her numerous lyrics and long poems are distinguished by great vigor and passion and an astonishing technical mastery. Her language and rhythms are highly innovative. In subject, her poetry varies greatly, often diarylike but also intensely concerned with the fate of her generation, of Russia, and of Europe. Tsvetaeva did not shy away from controversial topics, often opposing received dogma, be it Soviet or Russian emigre. She frequently subsumed herself in other characters, merging dramatic and lyrical elements. Particularly striking are her long poems Poem of the Mountain, Poem of the End, and Ratcatcher and her later collections Craft (1923) and After Russia (1928). After emigrating from the Soviet Union, Tsvetaeva also seriously turned to prose. Drawing on her past, she wrote a number of striking quasi-autobiographical pieces, deeply exploring problems of literary and artistic creation. Tsvetaeva's husband fought as an officer against the Reds in the Crimea, and she celebrates the White Army in the collection The Demesne of Swans (1957). Following the civil war, she led a difficult and isolated existence in Prague and Paris during the twenties and thirties. Her eventual return to the Soviet Union in 1939, largely for family reasons, ended in tragedy; isolated and humiliated by official Soviet literary figures, she committed suicide in 1941. Her work was first republished in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, and the current period has brought a new wave of interest and new editions. As was the case with her writing from the start, poets are a particularly attentive audience.

Jamey Gambrell writes on Russian art and culture.

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