Marina Tsvetaeva

The Berlin Poems: 1922

Marina Tsvetaeva

‘Marina Tsvetaeva (1913)’ - Wikimedia Commons

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved

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In May 1922, Tsvetaeva, and her daughter Ariadna, left her beloved Moscow to escape the Soviet regime she rejected, and was reunited with her husband Sergei Efron in Berlin. There, she continued to publish her previous poetry, which appeared in Berlin and Moscow adding to her substantial literary reputation, and wrote the poems translated here. In August 1922, the exiled family moved to Prague, living there a life of poverty. In 1925 the family settled in Paris for some years, until their ill-fated return to Russia; Efron and their daughter Ariadne in 1937 via Spain, and Marina in 1939; he destined for execution, Ariadne for imprisonment, and Marina to great hardship ended by her tragic suicide in 1941, leaving her son Mur (Georgy). Ariadne was subsequently released in 1955, while Mur died in 1944 on the Eastern Front. Marina was in communication with both Rilke and Pasternak during her most productive poetic period, while Mandelstam and Akhmatova both admired her work, created with courage in the face of great adversity.

The Berlin Poems: 1922

‘There’s an hour for such words as these’

There’s an hour for such words as these.

From the depths of muffled hearing,

Life taps out

Its noble rights.

Perhaps – from a brow,

Leant on a shoulder.

Perhaps – from a ray of light,

Unseen by day.

On a bowstring’s motionless

Dust – the wave of a sheet.

A tribute to the hour’s fears,

And its ashes.

An hour of heated

Arbitrariness – and quietest pleas.

An hour of exiled fellowship.

An hour of the orphaned world.

11th June 1922

‘Savage, this vale’

Savage, this vale.

Love afar.

Hands: salt and light,

Lips: saliva and blood.

Left breast of thunder,

The brow set above.

So – brow of stone –

Who’s shown you love?

The god of invention!

The god of design!

Here: in a lark’s flight,

Here: in honeysuckle

Here: in handfuls: splashed all about,

In my wildness, calmness,

My rainbows of tears,

My cunning, my prevarication…

Life, my darling!

Greedy yet!

Remember your grip

On my right shoulder.

These trills in the dark…

With the birds, I wake!

My happy instant

In your annals.

12th June 1922

‘So, in the meagre everyday labour’

Thus, in the meagre everyday work,

Thus, in convulsive toil towards it,

You forget the companionable choir,

All the band of courageous girls.

Its severity is a bitter gift,

A hidden heat’s frail timidity,

And the fierce unwired shock

Whose name is – distance.

All ancient words, but: give and mine,

All jealousies, but this earthly one,

All faith – in mortal struggle, too,

An unbelieving Thomas.

Oh, my tender one!

Hoary ancients:

This exile, take not under your roof!

Long live the heartfelt path

To unwise ends.

But perhaps, midst the trills and bills

Of the eternal feminine charter –

Recall my hand without rights, too,

And my brave sleeve.

Lips, not seeking to estimate,

Rights, not chasing after,

Eyes, unknown to eyelids,

Exploring: light.

15th June 1922

‘Whispering at night: silk’

Whispering at night: silk

Tugged by a hand.

Whispering at night: silk

Lips smoothed out.


Of all day’s jealousies –


Of ancient things – jaws clenched

And verse


In the rustling…

And a leaf

On the glass…

And the first bird’s trill.

– How pure! – and a sigh.

Not that one. Past.


A twitch

Of the shoulder.



The end.

How not?

And, in this vanity of vanities,

This blade – dawn.

17th June 1922

‘Go, find yourself naïve lovers: they’

Go, find yourself naïve lovers: they

Won’t correct marvels by number.

I know that Venus was – hand made,

I’m an artisan, with craft encumbered.

From the highest solemnity, dumb,

To the soul almost trampled to death,

Here’s the whole celestial stair – from

My breathing – to: not one breath!

18th June 1922

‘Remember the law’

Remember the law:

No ownership here!

So then –

In the City of Friends:

In this emptiness,

In this coolness

Under Man’s skies –

All made of gold –

In this realm, where the river flows backwards!

On the bank – of the river,

Take, in the phantom of a hand,

The pretence of another hand…

A weightless spark,

A tremor – an answering tremor.

(The uncertainty of hands

Concealed in a handshake!)

O the friendly splashing,

Garments flat as a blade,

Beneath the sky of Man’s deities,

Beneath Man’s triumphant skies!

As between adolescents,

As between firm equals,

In the fresh latitudes

Of dawn, in sun-drawn

Play, in the arid wind,

Hail, dispassionate souls!

In the air under Tarpeian cliffs,

In the air, a Spartan friendship.

18th June 1922

‘When will they, too,’

When, will they, too,

Enter my life, Lord,

The calm of grey hair,

The calm of old age?

When, will the draughting

Of all these attempts

Shoulder on high

All life has endured?

You know, Lord, alone,

Alone, no one but you,

How, out of lumps of down,

I tore blue mountains.

How, behind stubborn lips,

Sleep – I listened to – grass…

(Here in the realm of the arts

I’ve a reputation for words!)

How, tormented by lies,

I went – slaving for rent,

How the remnants of life

Lived the tree’s first tremor…


The tree’s – first – tremor

The dove’s – first – labour

(Isn’t that your work,

Pride, isn’t that your work


– Cease

Photography’s keen arrows!

In love’s cryptography

The sky – what a blank!

Were it – not – for dawn:

Stir, and trill, and leaves,

Were it not for the stir,

This stir – life

Realised so…

Not a ray, but a scourge –

To the tender honeysuckle.

To garnering the prize,

The sky – what a limit!

Dawn. The cart-horse

Takes to the road. – A start. – Let’s go.

A sudden silent twitch

The shoulder remembers.


Morning poured

From a pail. Drawn with chalk.

In the annals of Eve,

The sky – what a blank!

22nd-23rd June 1922

‘For the sun-scorched – an axe and a plough’

For the sun-scorched – an axe and a plough.

Sufficient – tribute to earthly dust!

For the hands of the craftsman,

It’s early lies the path to labour.

Greetings – in Old Testament darkness,

The endless masculine handshakes!

Smoking fruits of the moss and honey –

Begone creature of the last of sleep!

Through furry heaps of slumber,

Sarah-Command, and Hagar-

Heart – abandoning…

- celebrate, at daylight,

The endless masculine handshakes!

24th June 1922

‘Greetings! Neither a stone nor arrow,’

Greetings! Neither a stone nor arrow,

I! – The liveliest of wives:

Life. With both hands,

In your drowsy slumber

Give! (With a forked tongue,

With! – a snake’s forkedness!)

All of me, bare-headed,

All my joyousness, take!

Cling! A day for sailing!

– Cling! – For skiing! – Cling! – Clinger!

I’m in a fresh skin today:

The gilded one, the seventh!

 – Mine! – And what price

Eden – when in the hands, at the lips,

There’s Life: yawning joyfully,

Greet the dawn!

25th June 1922

‘For some it’s not a rule’

For some – it’s not a rule:

At the hour, when notionally

Sleep is right, almost sacred,

Some don’t sleep.

They’re peering – at the most

Secret petal: not at you!

Some folk – are not drowsy:

At the hour, when every lip

Is parched with recent woe –

Some folk still don’t drink:

They’re absorbed – and

Clench-fisted – in the sand!

To some – the unbending,

Life is dearly-given.

25th June 1922

‘So that you won’t see’

So that you’ll not see into –

My life – I’ll surround myself,

With strong and secret fencing.

Bound with honeysuckle,

Coated with rime.

So that you’ll not hear me,

At night – with the wisdom of the old:

Concealment – I’ll grow stronger.

I’ll surround myself with rustling,

I’ll descend to rustling-sounds,

So that you’ll not bloom too much

In me – amidst thickets: amidst books,

I will disappear alive:

I’ll surround you with fictions,

Put you down to my fancy.

25th June 1922

The Balcony

Oh, from the free plummet –

Down – to the dirt and tar!

Earthly love’s scant weight,

Salted with tears – how long?

Balcony. Through salty downpours,

Black pitch of malicious kisses.

And inescapable enmity’s

Sigh: breathed out in verse!

Squeezed to a ball in my hand –

What? My heart or a batiste rag

Of a handkerchief? These dousings

Possess a name: – the Jordan.

Yes, since this battle with love

Is savage and hard-hearted.

So, from the granite brow,

Launch – breathed out in death!

30th June 1922

‘Not snaring a guest at night’

Not snaring a guest at night…

Sleep, and sleep on forever,

In the most tested of havens

This impossible light.

But if – don’t think that your ear

Deceives! – loving – strays

A little, and if night sobs

And a zither’s – the chest…

Then my be-laurelled lover

Has turned his steeds from

The Stadium. Then the god’s

Jealous towards his favourite.

2nd July 1922

‘Life is inimitable’

Life is inimitable:

Beyond expectations, beyond lies…

But in the tremor of the lived

You can discover: life!

Like lying in rye: tinkling, blue…

(Well, that is to lie in a lie!) – heat, depth:

Murmurs – through honeysuckle – hundred-lived:

Rejoice now! – Summoned!

And don’t blame me, friend, so

Bewitched are we in body,

Soul – that already: the brow nods.

For – why did it sing?

Into the white book of your silences,

Into the raw clay of your ‘yes’ –

I quietly bow my shattered brow:

For that open palm – is life.

8th July 1922

‘I thought: the days would be’

I thought: the days would be

Easy – and the closeness

Fearless – with a wave of the hand,

Friend, put an end to tenderness!

Not – late as yet!

In the species – chinks of light

(Not late!) – as yet

We birds have not sung.

Be on – the alert!

Place your last bets!

No: tomorrow, friend

Will prove too late!

The earth is weightless!

Friend, in the heart’s depths!

No one, of our years,

Holds back from death.

The dead – sleep – though!

Only my sleep is not –

Sleep! With a wave of the shovel

Friend, put an end to memory!

9th July 1922

‘Hands – and in a circle’

Hands – and in a circle

Of resale, redeployment!

If only lips, if only hands

I could save from confusion!

All of these

Vanities, that rob me of sleep!

Lifting my hands,

Friend, I conjure

My memories.

So that, in poetry,

(Midden of my majesties!)

You won’t wither,

Won’t shrink like the rest.

So that, in my breast

(My thousand-breasted, fraternal

Graveyard!) – the rains

Of a thousand years won’t wash you away…

A body among bodies,

– You, the warrior lost to me!

So that, it won’t decay,

Labelled: Unknown.

9th July 1922


The rain calms the anguish.

Behind the downpour’s shutters

I sleep. Hooves clattering

On the asphalt – like applause.

Congratulations – merging.

In this golden abandonment,

To the most fabled of orphans,

You, my barracks, show mercy!

10th July 1922

‘You may be sure – in the end!’

You may be sure – in the end! –

That, cast there on her pallet,

She’d no need for fame, nor

The treasures of Solomon.

No, hands behind her head,

– With her nightingale’s throat! –

Not of treasure – Shulamit sang:

But a handful of red clay!

12th July 1922

‘There’s a pale silvery colour’

There’s a pale silvery colour

Over the ponds and thickets.

The curtain blows. Through the opening,

Hesitant, absent-mindedly,

Light – descends in a watery

Veil (no fuss, no bother!)

That’s how the faery-women sometimes

Sneak into their lover’s hearts.

For years, free of all command,

Sleep! – savour light-headedness!

Without reading my omens,

Sleep, my tender polarity!

Sleep – I’ll remain a phantasm,

Smoothing your wrinkled brow.

So, Muses for mortals, sometimes,

Turn themselves into mistresses.

16th July 1922

‘Insinuating hair’

Insinuating hair:

In its smoothness and gloss,

A longitudinal dazzling.

Midnight blue-black, fit for

A raven. Smoothed, at will,

Along its length – with your palm.

My tender one! No one’s fooled!

Thus, malicious thought’s

Smoothed over: break-up – separation.

The last creak of the stair…

So smooth, the roses’

Thorn…stabbing your finger!

I know a great deal of the life

Of hands – in their light sweep,

Stubbornly and intently

I track the lack of unruliness

That is yours: pitch-black,

Protesting under the pressure.

I feel sorry for your emphatic

Palms: in your glossy

Hair – almost across

The region of your eyes…driving within

Your obsessive thoughts: morning’s

Delusions – under your skull.

17th July 1922

‘Lethe’s sightless sobbing’

Lethe’s sightless sobbing,

Your debt forgiven: leached

Into Lethe – barely, barely alive –

In the silvery willows’ babble.

Willows’ silvery splashing,

Weeping… into the crypt’s blind flow,

Memory – over-weary – wreathed

In willows’ silvery weeping.

Shouldering – an ancient silver-grey

Cloak, shouldering dry silvery

Ivy – over-weary – lie

In incense’s blind, Lethean, poppy-flower

Darkness – for red grows

Ancient, purple turns – grey

In the memory – having drained all –

Leaching dryness.

Dimness: damaged veins’

Stinginess: young sibyl’s

Blindness, mind-aching

Grey-headed: leadenness.

Berlin, 31st July 1922