Portrait of Marina Tsvetaeva by Boris Chaliapin, 1933
I want to thank Meghan Forbes and Elisa Wouk Almino, the welcoming editors of Harlequin Creature, for hosting my version of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem “Homesickness” at their new online translation platform. In my introduction to the poem, which appears below the translation, I write that it
pulses with an especially heavy charge of the emotional energy that infuses all of the poet’s work. It was written in 1934, when the poet felt equally alienated from the Russia she had left behind after the Revolution and the stifling émigré milieu of her new “home,” Paris. Tsvetaeva’s fellow émigrés found little to like in her inventive poems and took umbrage at her perceived rudeness. At the same time, she knew that returning to Soviet Russia posed unthinkable risks. It is this sense of being suspended between unacceptable alternatives that finds expression in “Homesickness.”
The poem captures the heartrending crisis of exile in short, violently enjambed lines that buffet the reader like fast-crashing waves. Its riveting rhythm and surprising slant rhymes are typical of Tsvetaeva’s technique, but here they serve a particular purpose. It is as if the poet is trying, desperately, to bring formal order to emotional chaos, to convince herself that she is indeed beyond homesickness. And thanks to the power of her talent, the illusion holds — until the last two lines. The Russian émigré poet and critic Olga Tabachnikova offers a memorable description of the poem’s effect in her book Russian Irrationalism from Pushkin to Brodsky (2015): “Pain is always greater and more stunning when it is denied, subdued, stranded, but makes its way all the same from under these inner prohibitions and constraints.” In this, Tsvetaeva’s “Homesickness” calls to mind another dazzling formal masterpiece by an émigré poet, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”
I hope my translation communicates the effect Tabachnikova describes, and that you enjoy all the lovely, varicolored material at Harlequin Creature!