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Poets on Poets

The Epistolary and Poetic Communication of Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and Rilke


Olga Zaslavsky

This book provides a thorough examination of how both Marina Tsvetaeva and Boris Pasternak perceived Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetic persona and oeuvre in similar ways, and how, in their perception of Rilke’s role as that of the paradigmatic poet, they had drawn on the specifically Russian poetic paradigm, i.e., the image of Pushkin in the context of Russian literature of the Silver Age. At the same time, both poets’ scrutiny of the sublime, the mundane, and the tragic side of practicing poetic craft in the Soviet Union, as in the case of Pasternak, and in exile, as in Tsvetaeva’s case, generates the discourse of "empathic attunement." By applying "empathic" discourse towards Rilke, both poets’ anxieties about their future, and that of Russian poetry in general, come to the fore.

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Chapter 2. Tsvetaeva and Pasternak: Crossed Lyrical Wires


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In the early 1920s Pasternak was suffering through a crisis brought on by his doubts about the relevance of lyric poetry in an epoch that, he thought, called for a chronicler or a composer of epics.1 He also witnessed that the poet’s role in the Russian society was becoming increasingly marginal. Unlike Tsvetaeva, who was living abroad and whose importance as a poet was recognized by a select few, Pasternak resided in Moscow, in the mainstream of Russian literary life. At the time, there was increasing demand for a “professional” writer, someone who depicted Soviet reality in the officially sanctioned genres: newspaper sketches, memoirs, feuilletons, and biographies (literatura fakta).2 It was becoming ever more impossible “жить стихом” [to live by verse alone], as the Russian symbolist poets had done at the turn of the century. Pasternak’s poems that he either inscribed or openly addressed to Tsvetaeva are a telling testament of his acceptance of the poet’s marginality as dictated by history. But when he shared these doubts with Tsvetaeva, she encouraged him earnestly not to abandon lyric poetry:3

Вот я тебя не понимаю: бросить стихи. А потом что? С моста в Москва-реку? Да со стихами, милый друг, как с любовью: пока она тебя не бросит … Ты же у Лиры крепостной. ← 43 | 44 →

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