Reviews

[Barbara Lönnqvist, Larisa Mokroborodova. Den’ poezii Mariny Tsvetaevoi. Sbornik statei. Åbo/Turku: Åbo Akademis Truckeri, 1997. 105 pp.]
 
This Russian language selection of critical articles devoted to Marina Tsvetaeva's poetry comprises the second volume in the series Russica Aboensia. This series of publications on Russian literature, language, and culture is edited by Barbara Lonnqvist and published by the Russian Department of Abo Akademi University.
    The collection offers six articles by such Russian and Western European Slavists as Jerzy Faryno, Barbara Lonnqvist, Susanna Witt, Liudmila Zubova, Karin Grelz, and Vladimir Aleksandrov. These narrowly-focused pieces turn to different periods of Tsvetaeva's poetic work and focus on its different aspects.
    The introductory article by Jerzy Faryno, "Dva slova o Tsvetaevoi i avangarde" (Two words about Tsvetaeva and avant-gard), places Tsvetaeva in the context of the Russian avant-gard. The scholar assigns her the central place in the twentieth-century Russian poetry, specifying that 'central' does not mean 'leading.' (6) Faryno argues that both Russian and Western Slavic scholarship of the second half of the twentieth century developed on the poetic material of Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, and later Khlebnikov and Pasternak. At the same time Tsvetaeva was scarcely taken into account. Yet, as the scholar points out, the above poets can hardly facilitate one's understanding of each other's poetic worlds. On the other hand, Tsvetaeva's poetry not only supplies keys to poetic worlds of these poets, but also is instrumental in revealing their affinities. (6) Faryno's fine synopsis of Tsvetaeva's poetic oeuvre both characterizes her as a typical representative of avant-gard and discusses her uniqueness.
    Barbara Lonnqvist picks up the discussion where Faryno ends it-on the note of Tsvetaeva's mythopoetics. Her article, entitled "Biografiia i tekst: razbor stikhotvoreniia "Babushke""(Biography and text: analysis of the poem "To [my] Grandmother") (1914) is devoted to Tsvetaeva's mythopoetics as endorsed in the above poem. Lonnqvist's starting point is a contention that there was a strong tendency on the part of Russian avant-gard to mythologize their own "beginnings," "genesis." (11) Tsvetaeva's early poem "Babushke" is representative of this tendency. The article consists of three parts. In the first part, entitled "Rhythm and sound": "wave against the shore" the scholar argues that the rhythm of waltz is not only characteristic of the prosody of the poem, but that it also reflects its semantics. In her analysis of the poem Lonnqvist shows that the morpheme VAL is incorporated in its texture on the phonetic and semantic levels. According to Lonnqvist, this morpheme is the key element of the poem, as it phonetically represents the image, which is also present in the rhythm of the poem. This image is reminiscent of the sound of wave striking against a breaker. To enhance her argument, Lonnqvist draws on the facts from Tsvetaeva's biography (Part 2, Grandmother's image as [an example of] transformation of history into art). As a result, the scholar deftly shows how Tsvetaeva's trademark, complete merge of sound and meaning (or phonetics and semantics) (22) manifests itself in her early poem "To my grandmother."
    In her article, ""Poety" Mariny Tsvetaevoi: Popytka analiza i istoriia odnogo posviashcheniia," (Tsvetaeva's Poets: an attempt at alanysis and history of one dedication), Susanna Witt offers a semantic analysis of, in her opinion under-researched cycle of Tsevtaeva's poems entitled "Poets" (1924). Witt argues that while this cycle of poems is not explicitly dedicated to Boris Pasternak, such a dedication is imbedded in the texture of the verses. Her discussion of the three poems that comprise this cycle offers the reader interesting insights into their semantics. Witt shows that Tsvetaeva's cycle was written in dialogic rapport with poetry of Pasternak as well as Pushkin and Lermontov. The scholar concludes that this dynamics of dialogue can be interpreted as an implicit dedication to these three great Russian poets.
     In her succinct article, ""Sverkhbessmyslenneishee slovo" v Poeme Kontsa Mariny Tsvetaevoi," Zubova turns to "The Poem of the End" (1926), which she identifies as the climax of Tsvetaeva's love poetry.  (49) In this long poem the scholar singles out 'sverkhbessmyslenneishee' (supersenseless) as the key word (57) and discusses it in the context of the entire work as well as in its immediate context, a forty-two lines long abstract where this word occurs. Zubova offers an insightful discussion of the paradox imbedded in this word, as she treats it on phonetical, morphological, grammatical, lexical, and syntactical levels. The scholar convincingly shows that the word 'sverkhbessmyslenneishee' amounts to the epitome of the entire work.
    The longest of the six articles, "Udar tishyny-"Kust" Mariny Tsvetaevoi" (The stroke of silence: Marina Tsvetaeva's Bush) is Karin Grelz's attempt at interpreting Marina Tsvetaeva's poem "Bush" (1934). In her article Grelz searches for answers to the questions articulated in the poem, even though these answers were previously offered in Zubova's article, "'Mesto pusto' v poezii Mariny Tsvetaevoi" ('Empty place' in Marina Tsvetaeva's poetry). This well-written and insightful piece was published as a part of a collection, Literary Tradition and Practice in Russian Culture, Studies in Slavic Literature and Poetics, Vol. XX, in 1993 and was clearly known to Grelz. While Grelz relies in her analysis on Tsvetaeva's assay "Art in the Light of Conscience" (and a few other critical pieces) her recourse to these texts does not seem to contribute to revealing the subtext of the poem. At the same time her indebtedness to the aforementioned Zubova's interpretation is obvious. Gerlz's discussion of Tsvetaeva's Bush lacks clarity, creating an impression that she literary beats around the bush without pinpointing the poem's central ideas.
     Vladimir Aleksandrov's article, "Zhanrovoe svoeobrazie poezii Mariny Tsvetaevoi" (Genre peculiarities of Tsvetaeva's poetry) concludes the collection. This well-crafted and interesting piece examines evolution of Tsvetaeva's application of the genre of song and analyzes distinctive features of this application. The scholar singles out song as central and most significant (88) genre in Marina Tsvetaeva's poetry and discusses idiosyncrasies of Tsvetaeva's use of this genre, dwelling at length on transformations that folk poetic techniques undergo in Tsvetaeva's poetry. In his analysis of the "song" quality of Tsvetaeva's verses, Aleksandrov deftly draws a parallel between Tsvetaeva's poetic speech and archaic verse patterns, arguing that the poet's "genre memory" gives preference to archaic and therefore universal forms of folklore. (98)
     From the offered here overview of the articles comprising this collection we can see that they are uneven in quality and lacking in unifying theme. Because this volume does not present a coherent whole, it is unlikely that it will attract scholarly attention in its entirety. It will be mostly of interest to Slavists researching particular aspects of Tsvetaeva's work.
 

Svitlana Kobets
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
 
© 2017 by Svitlana Kobets. All right reserved.