Selected poems

Transitions №1

Author: Marina Tsvetaeva

Translations by Nina Kossman


I remember the first day, the infantile brutality,
The languor and the divine dregs of a swallow.
The carelessness of the hands, the heartlessness of the heart
Falling like a stone – and like a hawk – onto my chest.

And now – trembling from heat and pity, what’s left
Is this: to howl like a wolf, this: to fall at your feet,
To lower my eyes, knowing the penalty for pleasure —
A convict’s passion and a cruel love.



Bring to me all that’s of no use to others:
My fire must burn it all!
I lure life, and I lure death
As weightless gifts to my fire.

Fire loves light-weighted things:
Last year’s brushwood, wreathes, words.
Fire blazes from this kind of food.
You will rise from it purer than ash!

I am the Phoenix; only in the fire I sing.
Provide for my miraculous life!
I burn high—and I burn to the ground.
From now on let your nights be light-filled.

The icy fire—the fiery fount.
I hold high my tall form,
I hold high my high rank
Of Confidante and Heiress!

September 2, 1918


When parched with thirst, give me water,
One glass, or else I’ll die.
I pledge my feverish cry

Repeated at length—yet still more fiercely,
Once more—again—
Tossing all night long for sleep,
Aware all sleep is spent.

As if the fields were not abounding
In herbs that grant relief.
An infant’s babble repeats…

Thus, each utterance more final:
Noose—at the neck joint…
And if it’s but an earthly name I’m moaning—
That’s not the point.



So they drifted: the lyre and the head,
Downstream, towards the endless stretch.
And the lyre sighed: “I will miss…”
And the lips completed: “the world…”

Shedding the silver-red trace,
The double trace in red silver,
In the swooning Hebrus—
My beloved brother! My sister!

At times, in unquenchable longing
The head slowed down.
But the lyre implored: “Float past!…”
And the lips responded: “Alas!”

Brought closer by the distant rippling,
Cradled as with a wedding wreath,
Is it the lyre shedding its blood?
Or the hair—its silver?

Descending the river’s staircase
To the rippling pool of its cradle,
To that isle where the nightingale sings
His falsehoods better than ever…

Where are these hallowed remains?
Answer to this, salt water!
Has a bare-headed Lesbos girl
Perhaps caught them in her net?



How many of them feed off your hands,
White doves and gray doves!
Entire kingdoms coo and dance
Round your lips, Baseness!

Still, the deadly sweat overflows
Your golden bowl.
Even the crested warrior clings
Like a white she-dove.

On an evil day each cloud
Grows as round as breasts.
Every innocent flower
Bears your face, Temptress!

Mortal whitewater, salt of the sea…
In whitewater and torture,
How long are we to heed your call
O armless sculpture?



These are ashes of treasures,
Of pain and loss.
Faced with such ashes,
Granite turns to dust.

A dove, naked and taintless,
Alive, yet matchless.
These are Solomon’s ashes
Above the great vanity.

The menacing chalk mark
Of the dawnless age.
God’s at my doorstep
If my house is burned.

Unsmothered by rubbish,
Lord of dreams and of days,
My spirit—like fire—
Out of my gray hair flies!

My years, you did not betray
Me into backing down.
This gray hair is the victory
Of immortal powers.



From this mountain as from
A roof of the world that descends to Heaven,
Friend, I love you above
Measures, feelings.

I’ll hide you in a storm cloud, away
From witnesses. I’ll devour you with ash.
…From this mountain as from the red
Walls of Troy.

Passion: praising the dead,
Shame on the ones still living.
This is how Priam the King
Looked at the battlefield.

All foundations are down.
Fire? Aura? Blood?
This is how Olympus
Looked down at Troy.

No, from a cool niche
A virgin stretches out her arm…
Friend, I love you from above.
Hear me and—rise.

August 30, 1923