Visual History of the World
The World Wars and Interwar
The first half of the 20th
century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with
an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a
purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and
the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and
shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of
Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict
through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The
war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and
cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the
systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an
unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.
Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937
The Soviet Union
EXPLORATION (in Russian):
The Russian czar was deposed in 1917, even before the end of World War
I. The radical left-wing Bolsheviks emerged victorious out of the
dispute between the democratic transitional government and the
revolutionary Soviet Council of Soldiers' and Workers' Deputies. They
came to power in the October Revolution in 1917 under the leadership of
Lenin, ended the war, suppressed counterrevolutionary uprisings in a
civil war, and constituted the first Communist-ruled state in the world:
the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After Lenin's death in
1924, the Soviet Union became an increasingly centralized personal
dictatorship under Stalin in the 1930s. Stalin oversaw a massive
industrialization program and forcibly collectivized agriculture, while
millions fell victim to the regime's repression.
Political repression in the Soviet Union
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
1920s and 1930s, two thousand writers, intellectuals, and artists were
imprisoned and 1,500 died in prisons and concentration camps.
Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev was
executed on 24th August, 1921.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nikolai Gumilev during his senior years in gymnasium Nikolay
Stepanovich Gumilyov (Russian: Íèêîëà́é Ñòåïà́íîâè÷ Ãóìèë¸â, April 15 NS
1886 - August 1921) was an influential Russian poet who founded the
Early life and poems
Nikolai was born in Kronstadt, into the family of Stepan Yakovlevich
Gumilev (1836—1920), a naval physician, and Anna Ivanovna L'vova
(1854—1942). His childhood nickname was Montigomo the Hawk's Claw. He
studied at the gymnasium of Tsarskoe Selo, where the Symbolist poet
Innokenty Annensky was his teacher. Later, Gumilev admitted that it was
Annensky's influence that turned his mind to writing poetry.
His first publication were verses I ran from cities into the forest
(Russian: ß â ëåñ áåæàë èç ãîðîäîâ) on September 8, 1902. In 1905 he
published his first book of lyrics entitled The Way of Conquistadors. It
comprised poems on most exotic subjects imaginable, from Lake Chad
giraffes to Caracalla's crocodiles. Although Gumilev was proud of the
book, most critics found his technique sloppy; later he would refer to
that collection as apprentice's work.
From 1907 and on, Nikolai Gumilyov traveled extensively in Europe,
notably in Italy and France. In 1908 his new collection Romantic Flowers
appeared. While in Paris, he published the literary magazine Sirius, but
only three issues were produced. On returning to Russia, he edited and
contributed to the artistic periodical Apollon. At that period, he fell
in love with a non-existent woman Cherubina de Gabriak. It turned out
that Cherubina de Gabriak was the literary pseudonym for two people, a
disabled schoolteacher and Maximilian Voloshin, and on November 22, 1909
he had a duel with Voloshin over the affair.
Like Flaubert and Rimbaud before him, Gumilyov was fascinated with
Africa and travelled there almost each year. He hunted lions in Ethiopia
and brought to the Saint Petersburg museum of anthropology and
ethnography a large collection of African artifacts. His landmark
collection The Tent (1921) collected the best of his poems on African
Guild of Poets
In 1910, Gumilyov fell under the spell of the Symbolist poet and
philosopher Vyacheslav Ivanov and absorbed his views on poetry at the
evenings held by Ivanov in his celebrated "Turreted House". His wife
Anna Akhmatova accompanied him to Ivanov's parties as well. Gumilyov and
Akhmatova married on April 25. On September 18, 1912, their child Lev
was born. He would eventually become an influential and controversial
Dissatisfied with the vague mysticism of Russian Symbolism, then
prevalent in the Russian poetry, Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky
established the so-called Guild of Poets, which was modeled after
medieval guilds of Western Europe. They advocated a view that poetry
needs craftsmanship just like architecture needs it. Writing a good poem
they compared to building a cathedral. To illustrate their ideals,
Gumilyov published two collections, The Pearls in 1910 and the Alien Sky
in 1912. It was Osip Mandelshtam, however, who produced the movement's
most distinctive and durable monument, the collection of poems entitled
According to the principles of acmeism (as the movement came to be
dubbed by art historians), every person, irrespective of his talent, may
learn to produce high-quality poems if only he follows the guild's
masters, i.e., Gumilev and Gorodetsky. Their own model was Theophile
Gauthier, and they borrowed much of their basic tenets from the French
Parnasse. Such a program, combined with colourful and exotic subject
matter of Gumilyov's poems, attracted to the Guild a large number of
adolescents. Several major poets, notably Georgy Ivanov and Vladimir
Nabokov, passed the school of Gumilyov, albeit informally.
Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev, 1913
Nikolay Gumilyov, Anna Akhmatova and their son Lev Gumilev, 1913When
the World War I started, Gumilyov hastened to Russia and
enthusiastically joined a corps of elite cavalry. For his bravery he was
invested with two St. George crosses (December 24, 1914 and January 5,
1915). His war poems were assembled in the collection The Quiver (1916).
In 1916 he wrote a verse play, Gondla, which was published the following
year; set in ninth-century Iceland, torn between its native paganism and
Irish Christianity, it is also clearly autobiographical, Gumilyov
putting much of himself into the hero Gondla (an Irishman chosen as king
but rejected by the jarls, he kills himself to ensure the triumph of
Christianity) and basing Gondla's wild bride Lera on Gumilyov's wife
Akhmatova. The play was performed in Rostov na Donu in 1920 and, even
after the author's execution by the Cheka, in Petrograd in January 1922:
"The play, despite its crowd scenes being enacted on a tiny stage, was a
major success. Yet when the Petrograd audience called for the author,
who was now officially an executed counter-revolutionary traitor, the
play was removed from the repertoire and the theatre disbanded." (In
February 1934, as they walked along a Moscow street, Osip Mandelstam
quoted Gondla's words "I am ready to die" to Akhmatova, and
she repeated them in her "Poem without a Hero."
During the Russian Revolution, Gumilyov served in the Russian
expedition corps in Paris. Despite advice to the contrary, he rapidly
returned to Petrograd. There he published several new collections,
Tabernacle and Bonfire, and finally divorced Akhmatova (August 5, 1918),
whom he had left for other woman several years prior to that. The
following year he married Anna Nikolaevna Engelhardt, a noblewoman and
daughter of a well-known historian.
Later poems and death
"Despite the hard experiences of real travels and battles, he remained,
to the end of his life, a schoolboy entranced by the Iliad of childhood
- the adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He never outgrew
the influence of Mayne Reid, Alexandre Dumas, père, Jules Verne, Gustave
Aimard and others." In 1920 Gumilyov co-founded the All-Russia Union
of Writers. Gumilyov made no secret of his anti-communist views. He also
crossed himself in public and didn't care to hide his contempt for
On August 3, 1921 he was arrested by Cheka on allegation of
participation in monarchist conspiracy. Most literary historians agree
that it was not a Cheka fabrication, and Gumilyov was a likely
conspirator. On August 24 Petrograd Cheka decreed execution of all 61
participants of the Tagantsev Conspiracy, including Nikolai Gumilev. The
exact dates and locations of their execution and burial are still
Gumilyov's direct influence on Russian poetry was short lived. The
sentiment is best expressed by Nabokov, who once remarked that Gumilyov
is the poet for adolescents, just like Korney Chukovsky is the poet for
children. His most durable verse, written in mystical strain, appeared
in the collection "The Pillar of Fire" (1921).
Although "banned in the Soviet times, Gumilyov was loved for his
adolescent longing for travel and giraffes and hippos, for his dreams of
a fifteen-year-old captain" and was "a favorite poet among geologists,
archaeologists and paleontologists."] His "The Tram That Lost Its Way"
is considered one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.
When Mikhail Sinelnikov was asked to study the archives of the late
Mikhail Zenkevich, the last of the Acmeists - his teacher - he "found
piles of secreted verse, an unpublished novel, manuscripts which
Pasternak brought to the old master to be critiqued, the poems and
letters of his friends. According to Sinelnikov, "at the bottom of a
wide box lay a copy of Izvestia Petrosovieta with a list of people
executed in connection with the Tagantsev case. The type was barely
legible, more like wisps of old wool. Some names, those of Zenkevich's
acquaintances, were ticked off. Gumilyov's name was underlined in red."
sunspot development research was judged un-Marxist, twenty-seven
astronomers disappeared between 1936 and 1938. The Meteorological Office
was violently purged as early as 1933 for failing to predict weather
harmful to the crops. But the toll was especially high among
writers. Those who perished during the Great Purge include:
The great poet
was arrested for reciting his famous
anti-Stalin poem Stalin Epigram to his circle of friends in 1934. After
intervention by Nikolai Bukharin and Boris Pasternak (Stalin jotted down
in Bukharin's letter with feigned indignation: “Who gave them the right
to arrest Mandelstam?”), Stalin instructed NKVD to "isolate but
preserve" him, and Mandelstam was "merely" exiled to Cherdyn for three
years. But this proved to be a temporary reprieve. In May 1938, he was
promptly arrested again for "counter-revolutionary activities". On
August 2, 1938, Mandelstam was sentenced to five years in correction
camps and died on December 27, 1938 at a transit camp near Vladivostok. Boris Pasternak himself was nearly purged, but Stalin is said to
have crossed Pasternak's name off the list, saying "Don't touch this
EXPLORATION (in Russian):
OF THE CRAFT
Osip Mandelshtam -
Marina Tsvetaeva -
Anna Achmatova -
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam (also spelled
Mandelshtam) (Russian: Î́ñèï Ýìè́ëüåâè÷ Ìàíäåëüøòà́ì) (January 15 [O.S.
January 3] 1891 – December 27, 1938) was a Russian poet and essayist,
one of the foremost members of the Acmeist school of poets.
Life and work
Mandelstam was born in Warsaw to a wealthy Jewish family. His father, a
tanner by trade, was able to receive a dispensation freeing the family
from the pale of settlement, and soon after Osip's birth, they moved to
Saint Petersburg. In 1900, Mandelstam entered the prestigious
Tenishevsky school, which also counts Vladimir Nabokov and other
significant figures of Russian (and Soviet) culture among its alumni.
His first poems were printed in the school's almanac in 1907. In April
1908, Mandelstam decided to enter the Sorbonne to study literature and
philosophy, but he left the following year to attend the University of
Heidelberg. In 1911, in order to continue his education at the
University of Saint Petersburg, he converted to Methodism (which he did
not practice) and entered the university the same year.
poetry, acutely populist in spirit after the first Russian revolution,
became closely associated with symbolist imagery, and in 1911, he and
several other young Russian poets formed the "Poets' Guild" (Russian:
Öåõ Ïîýòîâ, Tsekh Poetov), under the formal leadership of Nikolai
Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky. The nucleus of this group would then
become known as Acmeists. Mandelstam had authored the manifesto for the
new movement - The Morning Of Acmeism (1913, published in 1919). 1913
also saw the publication of his first collection of poems, The Stone
(Russian: Êàìåíü, Kamyen), to be reissued in 1916 in a greatly expanded
format, but under the same title.
In 1922, Mandelstam arrived in Moscow with his newly-wed wife Nadezhda.
At this time, his second book of poems, Tristia, was published in
Berlin. For several years after that, he almost completely abandoned
poetry, concentrating on essays, literary criticism, memoirs (The Din Of
Time, Russian: Øóì âðåìåíè, Shum vremeni; Ôåîäîñèÿ, Feodosiya - both
1925) and small-format prose (The Egyptian Stamp, Russian: Åãèïåòñêàÿ
ìàðêà, Yegipetskaya marka - 1928). As a day job, he translated (19 books
in 6 years), then worked as a correspondent for the newspaper The Irish
Times. Mandelstam's non-conformist, anti-establishment tendencies always
simmered not far from the surface, and in the autumn of 1933, they broke
through in form of the famous "Stalin Epigram". The poem, sharply
criticizing the "Kremlin highlander", was described elsewhere as a
"sixteen line death sentence," likely prompted by Mandelstam's seeing
(in the summer of that year, while vacationing in Crimea) the effects of
the Great Famine, a result of Stalin's collectivisation in the USSR and
his drive to exterminate the "kulaks". Six months later, Mandelstam was
Georgy Chulkov, Mariya Petrovykh, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam
For Osip Mandelstam
And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath a glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
the painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s there are poplars, crows
there’s a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in the sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground.
The frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though it was our wedding, and the crowd
were drinking to our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of the coming dawn, has no knowledge
Mandelstam and Achmatova
However, after the customary
pro forma inquest, he not only was spared his life, but the sentence did
not even include labor camps - a miraculous event, usually explained by
historians as owing to Stalin's personal interest in his fate.
Mandelstam was "only" exiled to Cherdyn in Northern Ural with his wife.
After his attempt to commit suicide, the sentence was softened, and he
was banished from the largest cities, but otherwise allowed to choose
his new place of residence. He and his wife chose Voronezh.
NKVD photo after the
NKVD photo after the
Ìû æèâåì, ïîä ñîáîþ íå ÷óÿ
Íàøè ðå÷è çà äåñÿòü øàãîâ íå ñëûøíû,
õâàòèò íà ïîëðàçãîâîðöà,
Òàì ïðèïîìíÿò êðåìë¸âñêîãî ãîðöà.
Åãî òîëñòûå ïàëüöû, êàê ÷åðâè, æèðíû,
À ñëîâà, êàê
ïóäîâûå ãèðè, âåðíû,
Òàðàêàíüè ñìåþòñÿ óñèùà,
À âîêðóã íåãî ñáðîä òîíêîøåèõ
Îí èãðàåò óñëóãàìè ïîëóëþäåé.
Êòî ñâèñòèò, êòî
ìÿó÷èò, êòî õíû÷åò,
Îí îäèí ëèøü áàáà÷èò è òû÷åò,
Êàê ïîäêîâó, êóåò çà óêàçîì óêàç:
Êîìó â ïàõ, êîìó â ëîá, êîìó â áðîâü, êîìó â ãëàç.
êàçíü ó íåãî - òî ìàëèíà
È øèðîêàÿ ãðóäü îñåòèíà.
translation by Darran Anderson
We live, not feeling the earth
At ten paces our words evaporate.
But when there’s the will to crack open our mouths
our words orbit the Kremlin mountain man.
Murderer, peasant killer.
His fingers plump as grubs.
His words drop like lead weights.
His laughing cockroach whiskers.
The gleam of his boot rims.
Around him a circle of chicken-skinned
sycophantic half-beings for him to toy with.
One whines, another purrs, a third snivels
as he babbles and points.
He forges decrees to be flung
at the groin, the face, the eyes.
He rolls the liquidations on his tongue
delicacies for the barrel-chested Georgian.
This proved a temporary reprieve. In
the coming years, Mandelstam would (as was expected of him) write
several poems which seemed to glorify Stalin (including Ode To Stalin),
but in 1937, at the outset of the Great Purge, the literary
establishment began a systematic assault on him in print -- first
locally, and soon after that from Moscow -- accusing him of harboring
anti-Soviet views. Early the following year, Mandelstam and his wife
received a government voucher for a vacation not far from Moscow; upon
their arrival in May 1938, he was promptly arrested again and charged
with "counter-revolutionary activities".
Four months later,
Mandelstam was sentenced to hard labor. He arrived at a transit camp
near Vladivostok and managed to pass a note to his wife back home with a
request for warm clothes; he never received them. The official cause of
his death is an unspecified illness.
Mandelstam's own prophecy was
"Only in Russia is poetry
respected – it gets people killed.
Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?"
Nadezhda Mandelstam presented her account
of the events surrounding her husband's life in "Hope against Hope"
and later continued with Hope Abandoned.
Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam
(Russian: Íàäåæäà ßêîâëåâíà Ìàíäåëüøòàì, née
Hazin; 31 October 1899 — 29 December 1980) was a Russian
writer and a wife of poet Osip Mandelstam.
Born in Saratov into a middle-class Jewish
family, she spent her early years in Kiev. After the
gymnasium she studied art.
After their marriage in 1921, Nadezhda and
Osip Mandelstam lived in Ukraine, Petrograd, Moscow, and
Georgia. Osip was arrested in 1934 for his Stalin Epigram
and exiled with Nadezhda to Cherdyn, in the Perm region and
later to Voronezh.
After Osip Mandelstam's second arrest and
his subsequent death at a transit camp "Vtoraya Rechka" near
Vladivostok in 1938, Nadezhda Mandelstam led an almost
nomadic way of life, dodging her expected arrest and
frequently changing places of residence and temporary jobs.
On at least one occasion, in Kalinin, the NKVD came for her
the next day after she fled.
As her mission in life, she set to
preserve and publish her husband's poetic heritage. She
managed to keep most of it memorized because she didn't
After the death of Stalin, Nadezhda
Mandelstam completed her dissertation (1956) and was allowed
to return to Moscow (1958).
In her memoirs, Hope Against Hope and Hope
Abandoned, first published in the West, she gives an epic
analysis of her life and criticizes the moral and cultural
degradation of the Soviet Union of the 1920s and later. The
titles of her memoirs are puns, Nadezhda in Russian meaning
In 1979 she gave her archives to Princeton
University. Nadezhda Mandelstam died in 1980 in Moscow, aged
From Wikipedia, the free
Varlam Shalamov's short story "Sherry
Brandy" was written as a fictional description of Mandelstam's death
in a Soviet Union GULAG transit camp near Vladivostok.
Russian writer best known for a series of
short stories about imprisonment in Soviet labour camps.
In 1922 Shalamov went to Moscow and worked in a factory.
Accused of counterrevolutionary activities while a law
student at Moscow State University, Shalamov served two
years at hard labour in the Urals. He returned to Moscow in
1932 and became a published writer, journalist, and critic.
Rearrested in 1937, supposedly in part because of his public
approval of Soviet émigré writer and 1933 Nobel laureate
Ivan Bunin, Shalamov spent the next 17 years in the
extremely harsh labour camps of the Kolyma River basin in
the Soviet Far East. He was released in the 1950s and was
allowed to publish some of his poetry, including the
collections Ognivo (1961; “Flint”), Doroga i sudba (1967;
“Journey and Destiny”), and Moskovskiye oblaka (1972;
“Moscow Clouds”). In the early 1970s Shalamov, by then
broken, ill, and dependent on the Soviet Writers’ Union for
publication and money, was forced to write a public letter
denouncing publication of his work abroad.
In 1978 a Russian edition of Shalamov’s
Kolymskiye rasskazy (1978; “Kolyma Stories”) was published
in England. This collection of 103 brief sketches,
vignettes, and short stories chronicles the degradation and
dehumanization of prison-camp life. Written in understated
and straightforward documentary style, the tales contain
almost no philosophical or political nuances. Publication
was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.
Among the collections of his poetry that
were posthumously published are Stikhotvoreniya (1988;
“Poems”) and Kolymskiye tetradi (1994; “The Kolyma
Notebooks”). Complete editions of Shalamov’s works were
released in Moscow in 1992. Selected tales from the
collection were published in English in two volumes, Kolyma
Tales (1980) and Graphite (1981).
After the end of the Stalin era, Mandelstam was rehabilitated in 1956,
when he was exonerated from the charges brought against him in 1938. On
October 28, 1987, he was also exonerated from the 1934 charges and thus
Writer Isaac Babel was arrested in May 1939, and according to his
confession paper (which contained a blood stain) he "confessed" to being
a member of Trotskyist organization and being recruited by French writer
Andre Malraux to spy for France. In the final interrogation, he
retracted his confession and wrote letters to prosecutor's office
stating that he had implicated innocent people, but to no avail. Babel
was tried before an NKVD troika and convicted of simultaneously spying
for the French, Austrians, and Leon Trotsky, as well as "membership in a
terrorist organization." On January 27, 1940, he was shot in Butyrka
born July 13 [July 1, Old Style], 1894, Odessa, Ukraine,
died Jan. 27, 1940, Moscow, Russia, U.S.S.R.
Soviet short-story writer noted for his war stories and
Odessa tales. He was considered an innovator in the early
Soviet period and enjoyed a brilliant reputation in the
Born into a Jewish family, Babel grew up in an atmosphere
of persecution that is reflected in the sensitivity,
pessimism, and morbidity of his stories. His first works,
later included in his Odesskiye rasskazy (“Odessa Tales”),
were published in 1916 in St. Petersburg in a monthly edited
by Maksim Gorky; but the tsarist censors considered them
crude and obscene. Gorky praised the young author’s terse,
naturalistic style, at the same time advising him to “see
the world.” Babel proceeded to do so, serving in the Cossack
First Cavalry Army and in the political police (Babel’s
daughter denied this), working for newspapers, and holding a
number of other jobs over the next seven years. Perhaps his
most significant experience was as a soldier in the war with
Poland. Out of that campaign came the group of stories known
as Konarmiya (1926; Red Cavalry). These stories present
different aspects of war through the eyes of an
inexperienced, intellectual young Jew who reports everything
graphically and with naive precision. Though senseless
cruelty often pervades the stories, they are lightened by a
belief that joy and happiness must exist somewhere, if only
in the imagination.
The “Odessa Tales” were published in book form in 1931.
This cycle of realistic and humorous sketches of the
Moldavanka—the ghetto suburb of Odessa—vividly portrays the
lifestyle and jargon of a group of Jewish bandits and
gangsters, led by their “king,” the legendary Benya Krik.
The NKVD photo of Babel made after his arres
Babel wrote other short stories, as well as two plays (Zakat,
1928; Mariya, 1935). In the early 1930s his literary
reputation in the Soviet Union was high, but, in the
atmosphere of increasing Stalinist cultural regimentation,
Communist critics began to question whether his works were
compatible with official literary doctrine. After the
mid-1930s Babel lived in silence and obscurity. His last
published work in the Soviet Union was a short tribute to
Gorky in 1938. His powerful patron had died in 1936; in May
1939 Babel was arrested, and he was executed some eight
months later. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Babel was
rehabilitated, and his stories were again published in the
Writer Boris Pilnyak was arrested on October 28, 1937 for
counter-revolutionary activities, spying and terrorism. One report
alleged that "he held secret meetings with (Andre) Gide, and supplied
him with information about the situation in the USSR. There is no doubt
that Gide used this information in his book attacking the USSR." Pilnyak
was tried on April 21, 1938. In the proceeding that lasted 15 minutes,
he was condemned to death and executed shortly afterward.
Boris Pilnyak (Russian: Áîðè́ñ Ïèëüíÿ́ê) (October 11 [O.S.
September 29] 1894–April 21, 1938) was a Russian author.
Born Boris Andreyevich Vogau (Russian: Áîðè́ñ Àíäðǻåâè÷
Âîãà́ó) in Mozhaisk, he was a major supporter of
anti-urbanism and a critic of mechanized society. These
views often brought him into disfavor with Communist
critics. His most famous works are The Naked Year, Mahogany,
and The Volga Falls into the Caspian Sea, all novels
concerning revolutionary and post-revolutionary Russia.
Another of his well-known works is OK, an unflattering
travelogue of his 1931 visit to the United States.
On October 28, 1937, he was arrested on charges of
counter-revolutionary activies, spying and terrorism. One
report alleged that "he held secret meetings with (Andre)
Gide, and supplied him with information about the situation
in the USSR. There is no doubt that Gide used this
information in this book attacking the USSR." Pilnyak was
tried on April 21, 1938. In the proceeding that lasted 15
minutes, he was condemned to death. A small yellow slip of
paper attached to his file read: "Sentence carried out."
Theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold was arrested in 1939 and shot in
February 1940 for "spying" for Japanese and British intelligence. In a
letter to Vyacheslav Molotov dated January 13, 1940, he wrote: "The
investigators began to use force on me, a sick 65-year-old man. I was
made to lie face down and beaten on the soles of my feet and my spine
with a rubber strap... For the next few days, when those parts of my
legs were covered with extensive internal hemorrhaging, they again beat
the red-blue-and-yellow bruises with the strap and the pain was so
intense that it felt as if boiling water was being poured on these
sensitive areas. I howled and wept from the pain. I incriminated myself
in the hope that by telling them lies I could end the ordeal. When I lay
down on the cot and fell asleep, after 18 hours of interrogation, in
order to go back in an hour's time for more, I was woken up by my own
groaning and because I was jerking about like a patient in the last
stages of typhoid fever." His wife, the actress Zinaida Raikh, was
murdered in her apartment by NKVD agents She was stabbed 17 times, two
of them through the eyes.
Vsevolod Meyerhold's mugshot, taken at the time of his arrest
Russian theatrical producer, director, and actor
born Feb. 9 [Jan. 28, old style], 1874, Penza, Russia
died Feb. 2, 1940, Moscow
Russian theatrical producer, director, and actor whose
provocative experiments in nonrealistic theatre made him one
of the seminal forces in modern theatre.
Meyerhold became a student in 1896 at the Moscow
Philharmonic Dramatic School under the guidance of Vladimir
Nemirovich-Danchenko, cofounder of the Moscow Art Theatre.
Two years later, Meyerhold joined the Moscow Art Theatre and
there began to formulate his avant-garde theories of
symbolic, or “conditional,” theatre. In 1906 he became chief
producer at the theatre of Vera Komissarzhevskaya, a
distinguished actress of the time, and staged a number of
Symbolist plays that employed his radical ideas of
nonrepresentational theatre. For his presentation of Henrik
Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler in 1906, Meyerhold rebelled against the
stylized naturalism popularized by Konstantin Stanislavsky’s
art theatre and instead directed his actors to behave in
puppetlike, mechanistic ways. This production marked the
beginning of an innovative theatre in Russia that became
known as biomechanics. Meyerhold’s unorthodox approach to
the theatre led him to break with Komissarzhevskaya in 1908.
Thereafter, drawing upon the conventions of commedia
dell’arte and Oriental theatre, he went on to stage
productions in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). During 1920–35
Meyerhold achieved his greatest artistic success as a
director, beginning with Fernand Crommelynck’s Le Cocu
magnifique (1920; The Magnificent Cuckold) and ending with
his controversial production in 1935 of Aleksandr Pushkin’s
story “Pikovaya Dama” (“The Queen of Spades”).
Alexander Golovin. Portrait of Meyerhold
Dmitriy Shostakovich, Vsevolod Meyerhold,
Vladimir Mayakovsky & Alexander Rodchenko
Although he embraced the Russian Revolution of 1917, his
fiercely individualistic temperament and artistic
eccentricity brought reproach and condemnation from Soviet
critics. He was accused of mysticism and neglect of
Socialist Realism. Meyerhold refused to submit to the
constraints of artistic uniformity and defended the artist’s
right to experiment. In 1939 he was arrested and imprisoned.
Weeks later, his actress-wife, Zinaida Raikh,
was found brutally murdered in their apartment. Nothing more
was heard of him in the West until 1958, when his death in
1942 was announced in the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia; in a
later edition the date was changed to 1940.
Vsevolod Meyerhold and Zinaida Raikh
Zinaida Raikh (1893 -1939)
Actress. She was married to the poet Sergei Essenin from
1917 to 1921. Known more for her great beauty and fiery
temperament than for her acting ability, she nevertheless
became a star at the theatre of Vsevolod Meyerhold, whom she
married in 1924. In 1939, Josef Stalin had Meyerhold
arrested on trumped-up charges of anti-Soviet activities.
Three weeks later, thugs acting on orders of Stalin's secret
police broke into Meyerhold's Moscow apartment and savagely
attacked Raikh; she died of 17 stab wounds, two of them
through her eyes. Meyerhold was executed in 1940.
Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze was arrested on October 10, 1937 on a
charge of treason and was tortured in prison. In a bitter humor, he
named only the 18th-century Georgian poet Besiki as his accomplice in
anti-Soviet activities.  He was executed on December 16, 1937. His
friend and poet Paolo Iashvili, having earlier been forced to denounce
several of his associates as the enemies of the people, shot himself
with a hunting gun in the building of the Writers' Union. (He
witnessed and even had to participate in public trials that ousted many
of his associates from the Writers' Union, effectively condemning them
to death. When Lavrenty Beria further pressured him with alternative of
denouncing his life-long friend Tabidze or being arrested and tortured
by the NKVD, he killed himself.)
In early 1937, poet Pavel Vasiliev is said to have defended Bukharin as
"a man of the highest nobility and the conscience of peasant Russia" at
the time of his denunciation at the Pyatakov Trial (Second Moscow Trial)
and damned other writers then signing the routine condemnations as
"pornographic scrawls on the margins of Russian literature." He was
promptly shot on July 16, 1937.
Jan Sten, philosopher and deputy head of the Marx-Engels Institute was
Stalin's private tutor when Stalin was trying hard to study Hegel's
dialectic. (Stalin received lessons twice a week from 1925 to 1928, but
he found it difficult to master even some of the basic ideas. Stalin
developed enduring hostility toward German idealistic philosophy, which
he called "the aristocratic reaction to the French Revolution".) In
1937, Sten was seized on the direct order of Stalin, who declared him
one of the chiefs of Menshevizing idealists. On June 19, 1937, Sten was
put to death in Lefortovo prison.
EXPLORATION (in Russian):
OF THE CRAFT
Osip Mandelshtam -
Marina Tsvetaeva -
Anna Achmatova -
Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
During the frightening years of the
Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.' It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]
Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
It happened like this when only the
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.
You were taken away at dawn. I followed
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold
On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather
To wail with the wives of the murdered
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
[1935. Autumn. Moscow]
Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.
It isn't me, someone else is suffering.
Not like this. Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed. . .
Giggling, poking fun, everyone's
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (2)
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you -
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses (3), three hundredth in
Burning the new year's ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound - how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away. . .
For seventeen months I have been
Calling you home.
I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever -
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
Weeks fly lightly by. Even so,
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .
But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (4)]
You will come anyway - so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in
Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me
The house administrator's terrified white face.
I don't care anymore. The river Yenisey
Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]
Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.
That's when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:
Not my son's frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms
Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]
Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
But to his mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'
[1940. Fontannyi Dom]
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I've learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That's why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,
'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]
1 An elite guard which rose up
against Peter the Great in 1698. Most were either
executed or exiled.
2 The imperial summer residence outside St
Petersburg where Ahmatova spent her early years.
3 A prison complex in central Leningrad near the
Finland Station, called The Crosses because of the
shape of two of the buildings.
4 The Leningrad house in which Ahmatova lived.
Translated by Sasha Soldatow
Anna Andreevna Akhmatova
born June 11 [June 23, New Style], 1889, Bolshoy Fontan, near
Odessa, Ukraine, Russian Empire
died March 5, 1966, Domodedovo, near Moscow
pseudonym of Anna Andreyevna Gorenko Russian poet recognized at her
death as the greatest woman poet in Russian literature.
Akhmatova began writing verse at the age of 11 and at 21 became a
member of the Acmeist group of poets, whose leader, Nikolay Gumilyov,
she married in 1910 butdivorced in 1918. The Acmeists, through their
periodical Apollon (“Apollo”; 1909–17), rejected the esoteric
vagueness and affectations of Symbolism and sought to replace them
with “beautiful clarity,” compactness, simplicity, and perfection of
form—all qualities in which Akhmatova excelled from the outset.
Herfirst collections, Vecher (1912; “Evening”) and Chyotki (1914;
“Rosary”), especially the latter, brought her fame. While
exemplifying the best kind of personal or even confessional poetry,
they achieve a universal appeal deriving from their artistic and
emotional integrity. Akhmatova's principal motif is love, mainly
frustrated and tragic love, expressed with an intensely feminine
accent andinflection entirely her own.
Later in her life she added to her main theme some civic, patriotic,
and religious motifs but without sacrifice of personal intensity or
artistic conscience. Her artistry and increasing control of her
medium were particularly prominent in her next collections: Belaya
staya (1917; “The White Flock”), Podorozhnik (1921; “Plantain”), and
Anno Domini MCMXXI (1922). This amplification of her range, however,
did not prevent official Soviet critics from proclaiming her
“bourgeois and aristocratic,” condemning her poetry for its narrow
preoccupation with love and God, and characterizing her as half nun
and half harlot. The execution in 1921 of her former husband,
Gumilyov, on charges of participation in an anti-Soviet conspiracy
(the Tagantsev affair) further complicated her position. In 1923 she
entered a period of almost complete poetic silence and literary
ostracism, and no volume of her poetry was published in the Soviet
Union until 1940. In that year several of her poems were published
in the literary monthly Zvezda (“The Star”), and a volume of
selections from her earlier work appeared under the title Iz shesti
knig (“From Six Books”). A few months later, however, it was
abruptly withdrawn from sale and libraries. Nevertheless, in
September 1941, following the German invasion, Akhmatova was
permitted to deliver an inspiring radio address to the women of
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. Evacuated to Tashkent soon thereafter,
she read her poems to hospitalized soldiers and published a number
of war-inspired lyrics; a small volume of selected lyrics appeared
in Tashkent in 1943. At the end of the war she returned to
Leningrad, where her poems began to appear in local magazines and
newspapers. She gave poetic readings, and plans were made for
publication of a large edition of her works.
In August 1946, however, she was harshly denounced by the Central
Committee of the Communist Party for her “eroticism, mysticism, and
political indifference.” Her poetrywas castigated as “alien to the
Soviet people,” and she was again described as a “harlot-nun,” this
time by none other than Andrey Zhdanov, Politburo member and the
director of Stalin's program of cultural restriction. She was
expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers; an unreleased book of her
poems, already in print, was destroyed; and none of her workappeared
in print for three years.
Then, in 1950, a number of her poems eulogizing Stalin and Soviet
communism were printed in several issues of the illustrated weekly
magazine Ogonyok (“The Little Light”) under the title Iz tsikla
“Slava miru” (“From the Cycle ‘Glory to Peace' ”). This
uncharacteristic capitulation to the Soviet dictator—in one of the
poems Akhmatova declares: “WhereStalin is, there is Freedom, Peace,
and the grandeur of the earth”—was motivated by Akhmatova's desire
to propitiateStalin and win the freedom of her son, Lev Gumilyov,
who had been arrested in 1949 and exiled to Siberia. The tone of
these poems (those glorifying Stalin were omitted from Soviet
editions of Akhmatova's works published after his death) is far
different from the moving and universalized lyrical cycle, Rekviem
(“Requiem”), composed between 1935 and 1940 and occasioned by
Akhmatova's grief over an earlier arrest and imprisonment of her son
in 1937. This masterpiece—a poetic monument to the sufferings of the
Soviet peoples during Stalin's terror—was published in Moscow in
In the cultural “thaw” following Stalin's death, Akhmatova was
slowly and ambivalently rehabilitated, and a slim volume of her
lyrics, including some of her translations, was published in 1958.
After 1958 a number of editions of her works, including some of her
brilliant essays on Pushkin, were published in the Soviet Union
(1961, 1965, two in 1976, 1977); none of these, however, contains
the complete corpus of her literary productivity. Akhmatova's
longest work, Poema bez geroya (“Poem Without a Hero”), on which she
worked from 1940 to 1962, was not published in the Soviet Union
until 1976. This difficult and complex work is a powerful lyric
summation of Akhmatova's philosophy and her own definitive statement
on the meaning of her life and poetic achievement.
Akhmatova executed a number of superb translations of the works of
other poets, including Victor Hugo, Rabindranath Tagore, Giacomo
Leopardi, and various Armenian and Korean poets. She also wrote
sensitive personal memoirs on Symbolist writer Aleksandr Blok, the
artist Amedeo Modigliani, and fellow Acmeist Osip Mandelshtam.
In 1964 she was awarded the Etna-Taormina prize, an international
poetry prize awarded in Italy, and in 1965 she received an honorary
doctoral degree from Oxford University. Her journeys to Sicily and
England to receive these honours were her first travel outside her
homeland since 1912. Akhmatova's works were widely translated,
andher international stature continued to grow after her death. Atwo-volume
edition of Akhmatova's collected works was published in Moscow in
1986, and The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, also in two volumes,
appeared in 1990.
EXPLORATION (in Russian):
OF THE CRAFT
Osip Mandelshtam -
Marina Tsvetaeva -
Anna Achmatova -
From Wikipedia, the free
Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (Marina Ivanovna Cvetaeva) (26 September/8 October
1892 – 31 August 1941) was a Russian poet and writer.
Marina Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow. She was one of the most original of the
Russian 20th-century poets. Her work was not looked kindly upon by Stalin
and the Bolshevik régime; her literary rehabilitation only began in the
1960s. Tsvetaeva's poetry arose from her own deeply convoluted personality,
her eccentricity and tightly disciplined use of language. Among her themes
were female sexuality, and the tension in women's private emotions; she
bridges the mutually contradictory schools of Acmeism and symbolism.
Much of Tsvetaeva's poetry has its roots in the depths of her displaced and
disturbed childhood. Her father was Ivan Vladimirovich Tsvetaev, a professor
of art history at the University of Moscow, who later founded the Alexander
III Museum, which is now known as the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
Tsvetaeva's mother, Maria Alexandrovna Meyn, was Ivan's second wife, a
highly literate woman. She was also a volatile (and a frustrated) concert
pianist, with some Polish ancestry on her mother's side. (This latter fact
was to play on Marina's imagination, and to cause her to identify herself
with the Polish aristocracy.) Marina had two half-siblings, Valeria and
Andrei, who were the children of Ivan's deceased first wife, Varvara
Dmitrievna Ilovaisky (daughter of the historian Dmitry Ilovaisky). Her only
full sister, Anastasia, was born in 1894. Quarrels among the children were
frequent and occasionally violent. There was considerable tension between
Tsvetaeva's mother and Varvara's children, and Tsvetaeva's father maintained
close contact with Varvara's family. Maria favoured Anastasia over Marina.
Tsvetaeva's father was kind, but deeply wrapped up in his studies and
distant from his family. He was also still deeply in love with his first
wife; he would never get over her. Maria, for her part, had had a tragic
love affair before her marriage, from which she never recovered. Maria
Alexandrovna particularly disapproved of Marina's poetic inclination. She
wished her daughter to become a pianist and thought her poetry was poor. In
1902, Tsvetaeva's mother contracted tuberculosis. Because it was believed
that a change in climate could help cure the disease, the family travelled
abroad until shortly before her death in 1906. They lived for a while by the
sea at Nervi, near Genoa. There, away from the rigid constraints of a
bourgeois Muscovite life, Marina was able for the first time to run free,
climb cliffs, and vent her imagination in childhood games. It should be
noted that there were many Russian émigré revolutionaries residing at that
time in Nervi, and undoubtedly these people would have had some influence on
the impressionable Marina. The children began to run wild. This state of
affairs was allowed to continue until June 1904, when Marina was dispatched
to school in Lausanne. Changes in the Tsvetaev residence led to several
changes in school, and during the course of her travels she acquired the
Italian, French, and German languages. In 1908, Tsvetaeva studied literary
history at the Sorbonne. During this time, a major revolutionary change was
occurring within Russian poetry: the flowering of the Russian Symbolist
movement, and this movement was to colour most of her later work. It was not
the theory which was to attract her, but the poetry and the immense gravity
which writers such as Andrey Bely and Aleksandr Blok were capable of
generating. Her own first collection of poems, Evening Album, was
self-published in 1910. It attracted the attention of the poet and critic
Maximilian Voloshin, whom Tsvetaeva described after his death in 'A Living
Word About a Living Man'. Voloshin came to see Tsvetaeva and soon became her
friend and mentor.
She began spending time at Voloshin's home in the Black Sea resort of
Koktebel (trans. "Blue Height"), which was a well-known haven for writers,
poets and artists. She became enamoured of the work of Aleksandr Blok and
Anna Akhmatova, although she never met Blok and did not meet Akhmatova until
the 1940s. Describing the Koktebel community, the émigré Viktoria Schweitzer
wrote: "Here inspiration was born." At Koktebel, Tsvetaeva met Sergei (Seryozha)
Yakovlevich Efron, a cadet in the Officers' Academy. She was 19, he 18: they
fell in love instantly and were married in 1912, the same year as her
father's project, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, was ceremonially opened,
an event attended by Czar Nicholas II. Tsvetaeva's love for Efron was
intense, however, this did not preclude her from having affairs, including
one with Osip Mandelstam, which she celebrated in a collection of poems
called Mileposts. At around the same time, she became involved in an
affair with the poet Sofia Parnok, who was 7 years older
than Tsvetaeva. The two women fell deeply in love, and the relationship
profoundly affected both women's writings. She deals with the ambiguous and
tempestuous nature of this relationship in a cycle of poems which at times
she called The Girlfriend, and at other times The Mistake. Tsvetaeva and her
husband spent summers in the Crimea until the revolution, and had two
daughters: Ariadna, or Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917). Then, in
1914, Efron volunteered for the front; by 1917 he was an officer stationed
in Moscow with the 56th Reserve. Tsetsaeva was to witness the Russian
Revolution first hand. On trains, she came into contact with ordinary
Russian people and was shocked by the mood of anger and violence. She wrote
in her journal: "In the air of the compartment hung only three axe-like
words: bourgeois, Junkers, leeches". After the 1917 Revolution, Efron joined
the White Army, and Marina returned to Moscow hoping to be reunited with her
husband. She was trapped in Moscow for five years, where there was a
terrible famine. She wrote six plays in verse and narrative poems, including
The Tsar's Maiden (1920), and her epic about the Civil War, The Swans'
Encampment, which glorified those who fought against the communists. The
cycle of poems in the style of a diary or journal begins on the day of Czar
Nicholas II's abdication in March 1917, and ends late in 1920, when the
anti-communist White Army was finally defeated. The 'swans' of the title
refers to the volunteers in the White Army, in which her husband was
fighting as an officer. The Moscow famine was to exact a terrible toll on
Tsvetaeva. Starvation and worry were to erode her looks. With no immediate
family to turn to, she had no way to support herself or her daughters. In
1919, she placed Irina in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that she
would be better fed there. Tragically, she was mistaken, and Irina died of
starvation in 1920. The child's death caused Tsvetaeva great grief and
regret. In one letter, she said, 'God punished me.' During these years,
Tsvetaeva maintained a close and intense friendship with the actress Sofia
Evgenievna Holliday, for whom she wrote a number of plays. Many years later,
she would write the novella "Povest' o Sonechke" about her relationship with
Holliday, who ended up betraying her.
Berlin and Prague
In May 1922, Tsvetaeva and Ariadna left the Soviet Union and were
reunited with Efron in Berlin. There she published the collections
Separation, Poems to Blok, and the poem The Tsar Maiden. In August 1922, the
family moved to Prague. Unable to afford living accommodation in Prague
itself, with Efron studying politics and sociology at the Charles University
in Prague and living in hostels, Tsvetaeva and Ariadna found rooms in a
village outside the city. In Prague, Tsvetaeva had a passionate affair with
Konstantin Boeslavovich Rozdevitch, a former military officer. This affair
became widely known throughout émigré circles, and even to Efron himself.
Efron was devastated by the affair (this is well-documented and supported
particularly by a letter which he wrote to Voloshin on the matter). It was
bound to end disastrously, and it did. Her break-up with Rozdevitch in 1923
was almost certainly the inspiration for her great 'The Poem of the End'.
This relationship was also the inspiration for "The Poem of the Mountain".
At about the same time, a more important relationship began: Tsvetaeva's
correspondence with Boris Pasternak, who had stayed in the Soviet Union. The
two were not to meet for nearly twenty years, but for a time they were in
love, and they maintained an intimate friendship until Tsvetaeva's return to
Russia. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague for the suburbs,
living for a while in Jiloviste, before moving on to Vsenory, where
Tsvetaeva completed "The Poem of the End", and was to conceive their son,
Georgy, whom she was to later nickname 'Mur'. Tsvetaeva wanted to name him
Boris (after Pasternak); Efron would have none of it and insisted on Georgy.
He was to be a most difficult and demanding child. Nevertheless, Tsetaeva
loved him in the only way she knew, obsessively. Ariadna was relegated
immediately to the role of mother's helper and confidante, and was
consequently robbed of much of her childhood. However, the child did not
reciprocate. The older he grew, the more difficult and obstreperous he
In 1925, the family settled in Paris, where they would live for the next
14 years. At about this time Efron contracted tuberculosis, adding to the
family's difficulties. Tsvetaeva received a meagre stipend from the
Czechoslovak government, which gave financial support to artists and writers
who had lived in Czechoslovakia. In addition, she tried to make whatever she
could from readings and sales of her work. She turned more and more to
writing prose because she found it made more money than poetry. Tsvetaeva
did not feel at all at home in Paris's predominantly ex-bourgeois circle of
Russian émigré writers. Although she had written passionately pro-White
poems during the Revolution, her fellow émigrés thought that she was
insufficiently anti-Soviet, and that her criticism of the Soviet régime was
altogether too nebuluous. She was particularly criticised for writing an
admiring letter to the Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. In the wake of this
letter, the émigré paper The Latest News, to which Tsvetaeva had been a
frequent contributor, refused point blank to publish any more of her work.
She found solace in her correspondence with other writers, including Boris
Pasternak, Rainer Maria Rilke, the Czech poet Anna Teskova, and the critics
D. S. Mirsky and Aleksandr Bakhrakh.
Tsvetaeva and Efron
Husband's involvement with espionage
Meanwhile, Tsvetaeva's husband was rapidly developing Soviet sympathies
and was homesick for Russia. He was, however, afraid because of his past as
a White soldier. Eventually, either out of idealism or to garner acceptance
from the Communists, he began spying for the NKVD, the forerunner of the
KGB. Alya shared his views, and increasingly turned against her mother. In
1937, she returned to the Soviet Union. Later that year, Efron too had to
return to Russia. The French police had implicated him in the murder of the
former Soviet defector Ignaty Reyss in September 1937, on a country lane
near Lausanne. After Efron's escape, the police interrogated Tsvetaeva, but
she seemed confused by their questions and ended up reading them some French
translations of her poetry. The police concluded that she was deranged and
knew nothing of the murder. (Later it was learned that Efron possibly had
also taken part in the assassination of Trotsky's son in 1936). Tsvetaeva
does not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to
which he was compromised. However, she was held responsible for his actions
and was ostracised in Paris because of the implication that he was involved
with the NKVD. World War II had made Europe as unsafe and hostile as Russia.
Tsvetaeva felt that she no longer had a choice.
Return to the Soviet Union
In 1939, she and her son returned to the Soviet Union. She could not
have foreseen the horrors which were in store for her. In Stalin's Russia,
anyone who had lived abroad was suspect, as was anyone who had been among
the intelligentsia before the Revolution. Tsvetaeva's sister had been
arrested before Tsvetaeva's return; although Anastasia survived the Stalin
years, the sisters never saw each other again. Tsvetaeva found that all
doors had closed to her. She got bits of work translating poetry, but
otherwise the established Soviet writers refused to help her, and chose to
ignore her plight; Aseyev, who she had hoped would assist, shyed away,
fearful for his life and position. Efron and Alya were arrested for
espionage. Alya's fiancé, it turned out, was actually an NKVD agent who had
been assigned to spy on the family. Efron was shot in 1941; Alya served over
eight years in prison. Both were exonerated after Stalin's death. In 1941,
Tsvetaeva and her son were evacuated to Yelabuga, while most families of the
Union of Soviet writers were evacuated to Chistopol. Tsvetaeva had no means
of support in Yelabuga, and on August 24, 1941 she left for Chistopol
desperately seeking for a job. On August 26, 1941, Marina Tsvetaeva and poet
Valentin Parnakh applied to the Soviet of Literature Fund asking for a job
at the LitFund's canteen. Valentin Parnakh was accepted as a doorman, while
Tsvetaeva's application for a permission to live in Chistopol was turned
down and she had to return to Yelabuga on August 28. On 31 August, 1941
while living in Yelabuga, Tsvetaeva hanged herself. She was buried in
Yelabuga cemetery on September 2, 1941, but the exact location of her grave
remains unknown. There have always been rumours that Tsvetaeva's death
wasn't suicide. On the day of her death she was home alone (her host family
was out) and, according to Yelabuga residents, NKVD agents came to her house
and forced her to commit suicide. These rumours remain unconfirmed. In the
town of Yelabuga, the Tsvetaeva house museum can be visited, as well as a
monument to her. In the museum, Tsvetaeva's farewell note, written just
before her death, can be seen.
From a poem she wrote in 1913, in which she displays her propensity for
Scattered in bookstores, greyed by dust
Unseen, unsought, unopened, and unsold,
My poems will be savoured as are rarest wines -
When they are old.
Conversely, her poetry was much admired by poets such as Valery Bryusov,
Maximilian Voloshin, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Rainer Maria Rilke,
and Anna Akhmatova. Today, that recognition is sustained by the poet Joseph
Brodsky, pre-eminent among Tsvetaeva's champions. Tsvetaeva is primarily a
poet-lyricist, since her lyrical voice remains clearly audible in her
narrative poetry. Her lyric poems fill ten collections; the uncollected
lyrics would add at least another volume. Her first two collections indicate
their subject matter in their titles: Evening Album (Vechernii al'bom, 1910)
and The Magic Lantern (Volshebnyi fonar', 1912). The poems are vignettes of
a tranquil childhood and youth in a professorial, middle-class home in
Moscow, and display considerable grasp of the formal elements of style. The
full range of Tsvetaeva's talent developed quickly, and was undoubtedly
influenced by the contacts which she had made at Koktebel, and was made
evident in two new collections: Mileposts (Versty, 1921) and Mileposts: Book
One (Versty, Vypusk I, 1922). Three elements of Tsvetaeva's mature style
emerge in the Mileposts collections. First, Tsvetaeva dates her poems and
publishes them chronologically. The poems in Mileposts: Book One, for
example, were written in 1916 and resolve themselves as a versified journal.
Secondly, there are cycles of poems which fall into a regular chronological
sequence among the single poems, evidence that certain themes demanded
further expression and development. One cycle announces the theme of
Mileposts: Book One as a whole: the "Poems of Moscow." Two other cycles are
dedicated to poets, the "Poems to Akhmatova" and the "Poems to Blok", which
again reappear in a separate volume, Poems to Blok (Stikhi k Bloku, 1922).
Thirdly, the Mileposts collections demonstrate the dramatic quality of
Tsvetaeva's work, and her ability to assume the guise of multiple dramatis
personae within them. The collection entitled Separation (Razluka, 1922) was
to contain Tsvetaeva's first long verse narrative, "On a Red Steed" (Na
krasnom kone). The poem is a prologue to three more verse-narratives written
between 1920 and 1922. All four narrative poems draw on folkloric plots.
Tsvetaeva acknowledges her sources in the titles of the very long works, The
Maiden-Tsar: A Fairy-tale Poem (Tsar'-devitsa: Poema-skazka, 1922) and "The
Swain", subtitled "A Fairytale" (Molodets: skazka, 1924). The fourth
folklore-style poem is entitled "Byways" (Pereulochki, published in 1923 in
the collection Remeslo), and it is the first poem which may be deemed
incomprehensible in that it is fundamentally a soundscape of language. The
collection Psyche (Psikheya, 1923) contains one of Tsvetaeva's best-known
cycles "Insomnia" (Bessonnitsa) and the poem The Swans' Encampment (Lebedinyi
stan, Stikhi 1917-1921, published in 1957) which celebrates the White Army.
Subsequently, as an émigré, Tsvetaeva's last two collections of lyrics were
published by émigré presses, Craft (Remeslo, 1923) in Berlin and After
Russia (Posle Rossii, 1928) in Paris. There then followed the twenty-three
lyrical "Berlin" poems, the pantheistic "Trees" (Derev'ya), "Wires" (Provoda)
and "Pairs" (Dvoe), and the tragic "Poets" (Poetry). "After Russia" contains
the poem "In Praise of the Rich", in which Tsvetaeva's oppositional tone is
merged with her proclivity for ruthless satire.
In 1924, Tsvetaeva wrote "Poem of the End",
which details a walk around Prague and across its bridges; the walk is about
the final walk she will take with her lover Konstantin Rodzevitch. In it
everything is foretold: in the first few lines (translated by Elaine
Feinstein) the future is already written:
A single post, a point of rusting
tin in the sky
marks the fated place we
move to, he and I
Again, further poems foretell future developments. Principal among these is
the voice of the classically-oriented Tsvetaeva heard in cycles "The Sibyl,"
"Phaedra," and "Ariadne." Tsvetaeva's beloved, ill-starred heroines recur in
two verse plays, Theseus-Ariadne (Tezei-Ariadna, 1927) and Phaedra (Fedra,
1928). These plays form the first two parts of an incomplete trilogy
entitled Aphrodite's Rage. The satirist in Tsvetaeva plays second fiddle
only to the poet-lyricist. Several satirical poems, moreover, are among
Tsvetaeva's best-known works: "The Train of Life" (Poezd zhizni) and "The
Floorcleaners' Song" (Poloterskaya), both included in After Russia, and The
Rat-catcher (Krysolov, 1925-1926), a long, folkloric narrative. The target
of Tsvetaeva's satire is everything petty and petty bourgeois. Unleashed
against such dull creature comforts is the vengeful, unearthly energy of
workers both manual and creative. In her notebook, Tsvetaeva writes of "The
Floorcleaners' Song": "Overall movement: the floorcleaners ferret out a
house's hidden things, they scrub a fire into the door... What do they flush
out? Coziness, warmth, tidiness, order... Smells: incense, piety. Bygones.
Yesterday... The growing force of their threat is far stronger than the
climax." The poem which Tsvetaeva describes as liricheskaia satira, The
Rat-Catcher, is loosely based on the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
The Rat-Catcher, which is also known as The Pied Piper, is considered by
some to be the finest of Tsvetaeva's work. It was also partially an act of
hommage to Heinrich Heine's poem Die Wanderatten. The Rat-Catcher appeared
initially, in serial format, in the émigré journal Volia Rossii in 1925-1926
whilst still being written. It was not to appear in the Soviet Union until
after the death of Stalin in 1956. Its hero is the Pied Piper of Hamelin who
saves a town from hordes of rats and then leads the town's children away
too, in retribution for the citizens' ingratitude. As in the other folkloric
narratives, The Ratcatcher's story line emerges indirectly through numerous
speaking voices which shift from invective, to extended lyrical flights, to
bathos. Tsvetaeva's last ten years of exile, from 1928 when "After Russia"
appeared until her return in 1939 to the Soviet Union, were principally a
"prose decade", though this would almost certainly be by dint of economic
necessity rather than one of choice.
Translators of Tsvetaeva's work into English include Elaine Feinstein
and David McDuff. Nina Kossman translated many of Tsvetaeva's long
(narrative) poems, as well as her lyrical poems; they are collected in two
books, Poem of the End and In the Inmost Hour of the Soul. J. Marin King
translated a great deal of Tsvetaeva's prose into English, compiled in a
book called A Captive Spirit. Tsvetaeva scholar Angela Livingstone has
translated a number of Tsvetaeva's essays on art and writing, compiled in a
book called Art in the Light of Conscience. Livingstone's translation of
Tsvetaeva's "The Ratcatcher" was published as a separate book. Mary Jane
White has translated the early cycle "Miles" in a book called "Starry Sky to
Starry Sky," as well has Tsvetaeva's elegy for Rilke, "New Year's," (Adastra
Press 16 Reservation Road, Easthampton, MA 01027 USA) and "Poem of the End"
and "Poem of the Hill." (New England Review). In 2002, Yale University Press
published Jamey Gambrell's translation of post-revolutionary prose, entitled
Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922, with notes on poetic and
linguistic aspects of Tsvetaeva's prose, and endnotes for the text itself.
The Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich set six of Tsvetaeva's poems to
music. Later the Russian-Tatar composer Sofia Gubaidulina wrote a Hommage à
Marina Tsvetayeva featuring her poems. Her poem, Mne Nravitsya (it pleases
me), was performed by Alla Pugacheva in the film Irony of Fate.
I like the fact that you’re not mad
I like the fact that I’m not mad for you,
And that the globe of planet earth is grounded
And will not drift away beneath our shoes.
I like the fact that I can laugh here loudly,
Not play with words, feel unashamed and loose
And never flush with stifling waves above me
When we brush sleeves, and not need an excuse.
I like the fact that you don’t feel
As you, before my eyes, embrace another,
I like the fact that I will not be damned
To hell for kissing someone else with ardor,
That you would never use my tender name
In vain, that in the silence of the church’s towers,
We’ll never get to hear the sweet refrain
Of hallelujahs sung somewhere above us.
With both, my heart and hand, I
thank you proudly
For everything, - although you hardly knew
You loved me so: and for my sleeping soundly,
And for the lack of twilight rendezvous,
No moonlit walks with both your arms around me,
No sun above our heads or skies of blue,
For never feeling - sadly! - mad about me,
For me not feeling - sadly! - mad for you.