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Pasternak: To the Memory of Marina Tsvetaeva

by John Cobley

Monday Sep 14th, 2020







The grey day drags on,

Rain streams cheerlessly

Across the porch and front door

And into my open windows.


Behind the fence along the road

The public garden is flooded.

Like beasts in their lair,

The clouds sprawl about in disorder.


In such bad weather I imagine 

A book about the beauty of the world.                      10

I draw a wood nymph 

For you on the title page. 


Marina, it’s been a long time,

But it wouldn’t be that much trouble

To transfer your neglected ashes

From Yelabuga.


The ceremony for your transfer

I conceived last year

Above the snows of a deserted river reach,

Where barges winter over in the ice.                           20




By until it’s been as difficult

To imagine you dead

As to imagine you as a miserly millionaire

Among starving sisters.


What can I do to please you?

Give me a message somehow.

In the silence of your departure

There’s tacit reproach.


Losses are always mysterious.

In futile searches for an answer                                  30

I worry without result: 

Death has no outline.


Here everything is half-word and shadows,

Slips of the tongue and self-deception,

And only faith in resurrection

Gives some kind of sign.


Winter is like a magnificent wake.

Going outdoors from the house,

Adding korinka towards dusk,

Pouring wine—that’s Kutia.                           40


An apple tree in a snowbank in front of the house,

And the town in a snowdrift—

This whole year these seemed to me

To be your huge gravestone.


With your face turning to God,

You stretch out to him from Earth,

As in the days when yours

Still had not reached its total.                                     48


Boris Pasternak, 1942

Translated by John Cobley with help from Olga Bakal



17-20    “It began with Pasternak saying that whenever he sees the ice-bound barges on the Kama, he always thinks of Marina Tsvetaeva who said just before leaving here that she would rather freeze into the ice of the Kama in Chistopol than go away.” Alexander Gladkov, Meetings with Pasternak, p. 77.


39-40   Korinka. A type of Russian grape, used here as an ingredient (substitute for raisins) in Kutia, a traditional porridge served for a wake.


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