Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), one of the greatest poets of the Silver Age of Russian poetry, is closely and inseparably associated with the city of Moscow. From an early age, she knew that this city was part of her destiny, indeed, a sanctuary. Tsvetaeva called Moscow “a wondrous city” and “a house welcoming strangers”. The main address associated with Tsvetaeva is her house in Borisoglebsky Lane, abounding with authentic objects that once belonged to both her and her family.
Old-time Moscow is still alive in Tsvetaeva’s verses, such as Poems for Moscow (1916) and other works. In one of these poems, Marina pointed to the date she considered to be the starting point of her life:
‘Azure island of childhood’
Marina Tsvetaeva was born on 8 October 1892 in a one-storey wooden building a with a cozy inner courtyard at No 8 Tryokhprudny Lane. Although this house no longer exists, this is where she spent all her childhood. Her father, Ivan Vladimirovich, was born in the Vladimir Governorate into the family of a village priest who had been diligent enough to become a scientist. Marina’s mother, Maria Aleksandrovna, was a passionate and brilliant pianist who funneled all her energy into her daughter. “My four-year-old Marusya is walking around me and keeps making up rhymes. Will she be a poet?” Mariya Aleksadrovna prophesied in her diary.
Tsvetaeva’s parents were aware of her talent for music and sought out teachers for their daughter – from 1899 to 1902, the young Tsvetaeva took piano classes at the Public Music School (Russian: Музыкальное общедоступное училище) at 11, Merzlyakovsky Lane, now the Academic Music College at the Moscow Conservatory (Russian: Академический музыкальный колледж при Московской консерватории). At about the same time, from 1901 to 1902, she attended the Fourth Girl’s High School (Block 1, 3, Sadovo-Kudrinskaya Street) (Russian: Четвёртая женская гимназия), whose premises are now taken by the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the I. M. Sechenov First Moscow State University.
Tsvetaeva endured a long first separation from Moscow, when her mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis in autumn 1902. The ten-year-old Marina and her family left Moscow and lived in Italy, Switzerland and Germany for three years. Returning to Russia in 1902, Maria Aleksandrovna and her daughters settled in Yalta. Marina was getting ready to enter a girls’ school, but hope of her mother’s recovery was fading every day. In the summer of 1906, Ivan Vladimirovich took his wife and children to the town of Tarusa, where Marina’s mother died.
The loss of her mother affected Tsvetaeva a lot. She was expelled from Von Derviz’s girls’ school (10, Gorokhovsky Lane, now D. M. Karbyshev School No 354) ‘for freethinking and impudence’ in 1906, just six months after she entered it. The nonconformist girl did not remain long at Alfyorova’s high school either (21, Blagoveshchensky Lane, the building no longer exists). In September 1908, Marina began to Grade 6 at Brukhanenko’s private girl school (4, Bolshoy Kislovsky Lane), where she remained until she graduated. Today, the Intera Psychological Workshop (Russian: Психологическая мастерская «Интера») occupies the former site of the school.
In 1909, Tsvetaeva left Moscow for Paris, where she took a summer course in French classical literature. Back home, she frequented lectures and meetings of Musaget, a group of Moscow Symbolist poets (Apartment 9, Block 2, 31, Prechistensky, now Gogolevsky, Boulevard; today, the building is occupied by various institutions), publishing Evening Album (Russian: Вечерний альбом), her first collection of poems. The poems, naïve but demonstrating talent, attracted the attention of such poets as M. Voloshin, V. Bryusov and N. Gumilyov. Evening Album was published at the A. I. Mamontov Printing Company (Russian: Товарищество типографии А. И. Мамонтова), located at 13, Neglinnaya Street (the building is now used by the Bosco Clinic).
‘Wife is in eternity, not on paper’
18-year-old Tsvetaeva’s first literary publication brought her to Maximilian Voloshin’s house in Koktebel, where she met her future husband, Sergei Efron. They married at the Church of Nativity which no longer exists (Russian: храм Рождества Христова) in Moscow on 29 January 1912. A daughter named Ariadna (Alya) was born to them on 5 September 1912. Later, Tsvetaeva dedicated the following heartfelt verses to her beloved daughter: ‘Time will come for you: // And the daughters – too // You will give Moscow // With sweet sorrow…’
Marina Tsvetaeva read her hometown as if it were a book, giving preference to “old Moscow’s houses” with their “magnificent muzzles on centuries-old gates” and finding new six-storey buildings ugly – she much preferred the old, devout and patriarchal Moscow. Tsvetaeva rejected another technological novelty that appeared on Moscow streets, the automobile. Despite her reluctance, the urban landscape was dramatically changing. Some of the locations associated with Marina Tsvetaeva include Tverskoy Boulevard with its monument to Alexander Pushkin; the house at 13, Krivoarbatsky Lane, where Tsvetaeva lived in 1911 and which no longer exists; and the house at 6, Borisoglebsky Lane, now housing the Marina Tsvetaeva Museum. Tsvetaeva moved to this house with her husband and daughter Alya in the autumn of 1914 and stayed here until they left to go overseas in 1922. The family lived in a seven-bedroom apartment located on the second floor, where many authentic objects that once belonged to Tsvetaeva and her family are now on display. The apartment also features a study, a children’s room and a living room, where family friends and Tsvetaeva’s fans used to get together. A monument to Marina Tsvetaeva was set up in Borisoglebsky Lane opposite this building to mark the 115th birth anniversary of the Russian poet.
‘My poems, like precious wine, will have their time’
By this time, all of literary Moscow was familiar with Marina Tsvetaeva, who had published two new collections of poems, The Magic Lantern (1912) and From Two Books 1913). In 1912, her family name became famous throughout the Russian Empire when Professor Ivan Vladimirovich Tsvetaev founded the Museum of Fine Arts (Russian: Музей изящных искусств) in Moscow. Today, it is the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Russian: Государственный музей изобразительных искусств им. А. С. Пушкина), located at 12, Volkhonka Street. The museum’s first director, Ivan Tsvetaev, dedicated his life to his brainchild. Unfortunately, this had a negative impact on his health, and he died on 12 September, 1913. His family and friends attend his funeral; he was buried at Vagankovo Cemetery (15, Sergeya Makeyeva Street), where his wife Maria Aleksandrova Meyn had been buried years before. Marina Tsvetaeva believed that, in her turn, she would also be laid to rest there. Fate, however, intervened.
The ‘first catastrophe’ after her parents’ death, as Tsvetaeva put it, was her affair with the poet Sophia Parnok in 1914. This affair took place in the house of Adelaida Gertsyk (13, Krechetnikovsky Lane, now disappeared). Tsvetaeva dealt with this awkward relationship in a sequence of poems called The Girlfriend. Many years later, the Soviet composer Mikhael Tariverdiyev set one of the poems from this collection to music. It is now known as Before a mirror, where there’s fog… and was performed for the first time in The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!, a film directed by Eldar Ryazanov.
Life was getting harder and harder; after the death of Tsvetaeva’s father and three years of war, it was 1917. This year brought turmoil to all Russians. Sergei Efron went to war and later, as a White Russian émigré, was unable to let his family know he was alive. Tsvetaeva was lonely and in despair. She also now had two children to look after – she had given birth to another daughter, Irina, in 1917. Three years later, Alya fell gravely ill and Marina decided to send Irina to a state orphanage and take her back after her older daughter got better. Tragically, she was too late; Irina died of starvation in the orphanage in February 1920. Marina Tsvetaeva hated herself for this, Irina’s death marking yet another milestone on her path towards her tragic end.
Despite these catastrophes (and maybe thanks to them), Tsvetaeva’s poetic talent grew stronger translating into mature, intense literary works. Published in early 1922, Versts, Tsvetaeva’s new compilation of poems, was warmly welcomed by the public. This edition turned out to be the last book she published in Moscow in her lifetime. The same year, Tsvetaeva and her daughter Ariadna left Russia for Prague to join Sergei Efron.
‘Despair for homeland! long exposed torment!’
This time, Marina Tsvetaeva and her family spent 17 years away from their homeland. In 1925, she gave birth to their long-awaited son, Georgy (Mur), whom Marina absolutely adored. Together with her children and husband, Tsvetaeva lived first in Czechoslovakia, then in France. Misery, the chaos of daily life and dramatic love affairs did not stop Marina from excelling in poetry – it is abroad that she wrote The Poem of the End, The Poem of the Mountain, numerous other remarkable poems, essays and long stories. During this period, Marina Tsvetaeva corresponded with Boris Pasternak, who called her a ‘devilishly great poet’. In 1937, Alya and later Sergei Efron, who began working for the NKVD and found himself implicated in a political murder, returned to the USSR, followed by Tsvetaeva herself and Mur. Sergei Efron was given a room in a dacha belonging to the NKVD in Bolshevo, near Moscow (15, Tsvetayevoy Street, Korolyov, Moscow Region, now the Marina Tsvetaeva Museum), and the whole family settled there. Their return home, however, was fatal; Ariadna and Sergei were arrested as enemies of the people. Tsvetaeva’s daughter was sentenced to 15 years in camps and exile, and Sergei Efron was shot by the NKVD in Butovo, near Moscow on 16 October 1941, after two years of prison and torture.
Before the outbreak of World War II, Marina Tsvetaeva had to earn her living by translating poetry. In August 1941, Tsvetaeva, her son and several other writers were evacuated from Moscow to the town of Yelabuga. Endless despair, fear, resignation and the burden of guilt gained the upper hand. Marina Tsvetaeva committed suicide on 31 August 1941. The exact location of her grave remains unknown.
In 1990, Patriarch Alexis II gave his blessing for the absolution of Marina Tsvetaeva, in contradiction to the canons of the Orthodox Christian Church. Her funeral service was held in Moscow, in the ancient Church of the Ascension at Nikitsky Gate (Russian: храм Вознесения у Никитский ворот) (Block 1, 36, Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street), exactly fifty years after Tsvetaeva’s death.
Along the streets of left-alone Moscow
I will drive forth, and you will slowly go.
And none will lag behind along the road,
And on coffin’s roof will thunder the first stone –
And sleep, self-loving and lonely
Will be resolved finally.