Eric's Reviews > Мой Пушкин

Мой Пушкин by Marina Tsvetaeva
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's review
Jul 20, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: criticism, essays, etudes-slaves, poetry, russian-childhoods
Read in July, 2010

A stand-apart Russian edition I didn’t read. But Tsvetaeva’s hallucinatory-recollective essay—or, the forty pages of ploddingly end-noted, sometimes clunky translatorese I’ll probably always know it in—deserves its own consideration.

The first thing I learned about Pushkin is that they killed him. Pushkin was my first poet and my first poet was killed.


That which is eternal, under the rain and under the snow—oh, how I can see those shoulders loaded down with snow, the African shoulders loaded down and overwhelmed with Russian snows!—it stands, shoulders into the sunset sky or into the snowstorm, whether I am coming or going, running away or running up to it, it stands with the eternal hat in the hand, it is called “The Pushkin Monument.”

The Pushkin Monument was the goal and limit of a walk: from the Pushkin Monument—to the Pushkin Monument. The Pushkin Monument was also the goal of a race: who can run faster up to the Pushkin Monument. Except that Asya’s nurse in her simplicity sometimes shortened it: “And we’ll sit a bit—by Pushkin”; which unfailingly provoked my pedantic correction: “Not Pushkin by Pushkin—by the Pushkin Monument.”


The forbidden cabinet. The forbidden fruit. That fruit is—a volume, a huge blue-lilac volume with a gold inscription slantwise: Collected Works of A.S. Pushkin. I read the fat Pushkin in the cabinet with my nose in the book and on the shelf, almost in darkness and almost right up against it and even a little bit suffocated by his weight that came right into the throat, and almost blinded by the nearness of the tiny letters. I read Pushkin right into the chest and right into the brain.


After the secret blue-lilac Pushkin, another Pushkin appeared in my possession, this time not stolen, but given, not secret, but open, not flatly-blue, but thinly-blue—the disarmed, pacified Pushkin of the edition of municipal schools with a Negro boy propping up one cheekbone with a fist.

In that Pushkin I loved only the Negro boy. Incidentally, I consider this juvenile Negro portrait to this day the best of the portraits of Pushkin, a portrait of his distant African soul and the still sleeping poetic soul. A portrait in two distances: far back and far ahead; a portrait of his blood and of his imminent genius.

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In “My Pushkin,” Tsvetaeva is never older than ten. The site of tradition’s reception is the child of the girl of the woman who would become a great poet:

The compiler of the anthology obviously had his doubts about the accessibility to a young age group of the concepts of longing, forebodings, cares, oppressive thoughts, and the repetition of hours. I would not have understood, but I would have filled it out. And stored it up. Looking back, I see now that Pushkin’s poems…were for me at pre-seven and at seven a series of enigmatic pictures, enigmatic only because of mother’s questions, for in poems, as in feelings, only a question engenders noncomprehension by withdrawing phenomena from the status of basic data. When mother didn’t ask questions I understood very well, that is, I didn’t even think of understanding, but simply—saw.

There are passages—passages built too intimately-allusively around poems I haven’t read, passages in which the translator tried to render Russian paronomasia—that remain enigmatic; but I “filled it out,” and can feel the grandeur of Tsvetaeva's avowal of poetry, of the spell, of The Word—words that before they deliver a message already have a meaning...words of the animal’s, the child’s dream language.

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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by D. (new)

D. Pow I was just reading some of Marina Tsvetaeva's poetry this morning. I find her life arc so touching and sad. You get the feeling that Akhmatova could bear almost anything but that Tsvetaeva facing up to Stalinist evils was like a butterfly broken on a wheel. And her poetry was like that too: flighty, ephemeral, delicate and gossammer.

Eric Nadezhda Mandelstam said something like: I know of no fate more terrible than hers.

message 3: by D. (new)

D. Pow And that is saying a hell of a lot coming from her.

message 4: by Geoff (new)

Geoff This is great, Eric. Thanks. Beautiful images, too.

Eric And that is saying a hell of a lot coming from her.

Haha, exactly!

Thanks Geoff!

message 6: by Hazel (new)

Hazel Lovely. Thanks for this, Eric.

message 7: by Monica (new)

Monica You should join art lovers if you haven't already!

message 8: by Jimmy (new) - added it

Jimmy Helene Cixous is talking about this book in her book that I am reading now. This sounds interesting.

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