Written when she was just 29, Tsvetaeva’s poem describes her attempt to move away from love (Aphrodite) towards a more rational world of “community.” Thus she blesses those who have “gone away” to war or sport competition rather than indulging in “bliss.” Using many of the symbols attached to Aphrodite, like foam and doves, she describes the change she is attempting (“different river”). She has “outgrown [her] youth,” which she sees as a discarded “skin.” As well she throws off her “voluptuous belt” and her “beloved myrtle”—more symbols of Aphrodite. She claims that Eros has shot her with a “blunt arrow” so that her eroticism will now vanish. But the battle to eradicate love from her life, she admits in the fourth part, will be difficult. At the end she addresses the famous armless statue of Aphrodite of Milos (better known as Venus de Milo), asking resignedly, “For how long do we obey you?”
Blessed are those men who have left
Your daughters, Earth, for combat or sport.
Blessed are they for entering the Elysian Fields
And for not giving in to bliss.
There grows the laurel, cruel-leafed and sober,
The laurel-chronicler, arouser of combat.
For the valley of love I will not trade away
The beyond-the-clouds cliff-face of community.
These bounties of the gods are no longer the same
On the banks of a different river.
Into Venus’s wide gates of sunset
Take wing, doves!
I’m lying on the cooled sands;
I’ll leave on the day that has no date…
Like a snake that gazes at its old skin,
I’ve outgrown my youth.
Separated in the protective foliage,
Your delicate flock bleats in vain.
I throw off the voluptuous belt,
I throw off the beloved myrtle.
Shooting hard with a blunt arrow,
Your own son rescued me.
--Thus around the throne of my languor
What was born of foam will vanish in foam!
How many white doves, how many blue-grey ones
Eat from the hand?
Whole kingdoms coo
Around your lips, Baseness!
The golden goblet of deadly sweat
Will never run dry.
The crested leader clings
Like a little white dove.
Every cloud in evil times
Is curved like a breast.
Your face is in every innocent flower,
Perishable foam, sea salt…
In reproach and in torment—
For how long do we obey you,
Marina Tsvetaeva 23 October 1921
Translated from the Russian by John Cobley
Thanks to Olga Bakal for her invaluable help with this difficult poem.