Wordsmith Wednesday: Marina Tsvetaeva “Verses About Moscow”


On the heels of his wonderful story “Barabanchik” in Issue 4, we are proud to have our words this week provided by Darius Jones.

Today’s words come from “Verses about Moscow” by Marina Tsvetaeva.

The excerpt is:

В колокольный я, во червонный день
Иоанна родилась Богослова.
Дом — пряник, а вокруг плетень
И церковки златоголовые.

И любила же, любила же я первый звон,
Как монашки потекут к обедне,
Вой в печке, и жаркий сон,
И знахарку с двора соседнего.

Провожай же меня весь московский сброд,
Юродивый, воровской, хлыстовский!
Поп, крепче позаткни мне рот
Колокольной землей московскою!

Москва! — Какой огромный
Странноприимный дом!
Всяк на Руси — бездомный.
Мы все к тебе придем.

“On a day of bells I was born,
the golden day of John the Divine.
The house was gingerbread surrounded by
wattle-fence and small churches with gold heads.

And I loved it, I loved the first sound,
the nuns flowing towards Mass, and
the wailing in the oven, the heat of sleeping—
the sorceress in the neighboring house.

Come with me, people of Moscow, all of you,
imbecile, thieving, flagellant mob!
And priest: Stop my mouth up firmly
with Moscow—land of bells!

Moscow! Such a vast
hostelry is your house.
Everyone in Russia is—homeless.
We shall all make our way towards you.”

As a prose writer, I’m stingy with my love for poets. There is only a handful I really love and Tsvetaeva is one of them. With Tsvetaeva, it really comes down to a simple thing: sheer power. I can’t think of a poet with more emotion in her words. Even in translation, they leap off the page and grab you by the throat or slap you upside the head. It’s like she’s right there sitting across from you, telling you her deepest secrets. You want to know what “voice” is in writing? Pick up some Tsvetaeva and you’ll find out.

This selection shows why. It’s simple enough. A girl’s recollection of old Moscow. A Moscow of churches and bells that is long gone. That was probably even dying in her day. But it’s all preserved there in the details: the howling stove, the nuns “flowing” to Mass, the bells ringing. And the gingerbread house with the “sorceress” in the neighboring yard. All things that have long disappeared from Moscow. (You’ll have to go a long way down a side street in a provincial town to see that sort of thing in Russia these days).

And we end with a premonition of harder times to come. This poem was written a hundred years ago, 1916. Russia had entered World War I and the Revolution was just a year away. New, dark forces were just over the horizon. Enter the “thieving, flagellant mob” which Marina gets swept up in. In her poem they’re already homeless, dispossessed. It’s up to her, the poet, to lead them on. And she does. To find out where, you’ll just have to check out the rest of the poem. I highly recommend it.

– DJ

For more on Marina check these out:

Marina T


One thought on “Wordsmith Wednesday: Marina Tsvetaeva “Verses About Moscow”

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