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translated with a note by Belinda Cooke.

This little-known sequence, ‘Snowdrifts’, written in 1922, shows Marina Tsvetaeva at a transition point. Her mind is filled with the apocalyptic events she has experienced at home, at the same time as she looks to her unknown future abroad. The Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenberg was of crucial help to her at this time. He located her husband Sergei Efron whom she had feared dead after their five-year separation, and Ehrenberg and his wife looked after her in her early days in Berlin. He also ensured her work was published there in advance of her arrival. They were later to fall out over political differences, but at this point the sequence suggests she is treating Ehrenberg as the target of one of her many all-consuming epistolary passions — her most common form of muse. The work also evidences her rejection of the Revolution seen in her admiration for Russia’s ancient past, set beside the mindless violence that she associates with the revolutionaries. Nowhere is this caught better than in the poem ‘Maslenitsa’ which describes the Orthodox tradition of Shrovetide, marking the end of winter and beginning of spring. We are left in little doubt of the metaphorical implications of this wicker-man-like burning of the Maslenitsa effigy at the end of the poem. In poems 8–11 her imagery becomes increasingly complex but creates a momentum that suggests the whirlwind of her thoughts as she plans to leave to reunite with Efron, a persona non grata in Soviet Russia.

— Belinda Cooke



To Ilya Ehrenburg1


Snowdrifts billowed across the sky —
an immense wave in the midnight gloom.
All seemed to drift from a single womb,
the sky, and the snow and the human heart.

Above the empty alley,
all along the stalactites of the caves,
how loudly your name, Ehr, rang out —
Ehr… this name that means honour.

Bruce2cannot interpret for you,
what lies beneath the drowsy curtain,
what to make of these two women whose
path inclines towards the dream that is Rus.

Heaven’s thunder is stifling.
Honour — your name is the mouth of a leopard.
For these two women the path
to their dreamy passion is steep.

Honour ­— unbreakable fortress.
Honour — through the womb — forward.
Honour — into dense blindness, into
the bowels of the earth, that glorious flight.

So, between heaven and the sky,
rejoice, you of such little faith,
that through the dreaming snowdrifts
we should hear your name.

(February 23rd)



Not here where you’re tied,
but there where you’re commanded.
Not here where every Lazarus
wanders with his bed,

a hunchback beneath his pack,
amid the rubble of days.
Here there is no hand
that connects me to you.

Not here where things are awry,
but there where they are fixed.
Not here where all our wings
are clipped by knives,

while the brainless scream:
just finish them off!
Here there is no gift
from me to you.

Not here where it is asked,
but there where it is answered.
Not here where crumbs lie
between the mess —

where death is decay
and jealousy a snake.
There are no ancestral lands
to pass from me to you.

There’s no point looking back,
our lives are just one continuous frown —
with no chance to meet,
just long-distance wires.

Everything’s too confused here,
straps tangled up in knots,
where there are no words
that say you are mine…

Not a yard needing a clean-up,
but a paradise haven.
Not here where all is exacted,
but there where it is released.

Where the betrayal of days
splashes out everywhere —
where there aren’t even words,
that pass, from me to you…

(February 25th)



Wide bed for all my rivers.
Passer-by into whose arms I fall —
as into the snow, my eyelids burning

with guilt as I follow and follow
into the storm of oncoming carts.
A lover, who may not exist, (was there
that momentary intake of breath…?)

Dear man.
Man for the night.
Man for eternity.

Amazing how I bake my wedding bread,
with snake oil in the dark.
Here’s to betrayal — the river, not of meeting
but parting — my river runs wild.

So, till we meet again, though my speech be dark,
the stone house is off my shoulders.
The river of my speech runs over the cooing of meeting,
across the moat of parting…

Immense man.
Nowhere man.
You can walk through walls.
You are just passing through.

(February 25th)



And finally — that’s it: nothing!
No more the shoulder to shoulder,
side by side, back and forth
of endless conversations.

This soft murmur in my throat,
is now only the voice of the road ahead,
the breeze of fate,
its endless chatter.

From an eagle’s3 cool passion,
to the ring on the finger.
Happiness salted with
with snake venom.

If you don’t like it, don’t take it.
Maybe it’s the wind at the door.
Maybe it’s the oncoming three.
I’m sure you can work it out.

If my threshold is too steep,
you’ll just have to work harder.
No need for a pea pudding,
just stick to the sweet talk!

Order some for your supper,
my fine privileged one.
Order yourself some pearls,
the only peas you can swallow.

Is it the cooing pink paradise
of those pigeon flocks? Or is it
the river flooding its banks,
me, not waving… just drowning,

my way ever wider, as the ring
slips off and into the snowdrift?
All the while the pigeons
just cooing, cooing…

The February breeze has
unsoldered my wrist
and that happiness is salted
with snake venom.

There are a hundred beads in the necklace,
forty mouths, one piece.
O, falcon my beardless one,
I do not swear. I do not swear.

(Maybe it’s the doddering guest,
with his crutch on the threshold?
There’s a chill along the backbone,
a rumour going down…)

They say, in the red marketplace,
a husband stabbed his wife to death.
My prey is in her throat,
not under his left breast.

From you, the executioner,
a candle flame from below.
The epancha4of our darkness,
happiness from our left shoulder!

From the blush of your cheeks
to the black of your throats.
The silk lace is bright,
a string of words!

(March 1st)



My eyes are glued to the circle,
cooing and screaming about its
pigeon meetings and eagle partings.

Will you produce a branch or a sword
from your hands?
The twitter of meetings.
The rumble of parting.

(March 2nd)



Maslenitsa is everywhere.
Maslenitsa — let’s drink it to the dregs.

Maslenitsa —
what a clown!
Say goodbye to

Maslenitsa hangs out with
the mop beards in some Godless backwater.

Snowflakes of whey.
An empty barrel.

In the year nineteen
hundred and seventeen,
this scruffy soul
slipped into the trenches:

get up, Mikhailich,
your business is pity.
Rise up, Yegorich,
your business is bitterness.

You’ve long eaten henbane,
now it’s time to eat pancakes.

Maslenitsa, you’re a
firebird tambourine.
With rouge on your cheeks,
work till you drop.

There is a buzzing in my ear.
Time to pick up the tambourine.
We’ve got itchy palms, brother.
We’ll take it from the one we’ll kill.

Comradeship. Trading wares.
Our cook’s got red cheeks.

Maslenitsa —
we hug you,
we stroke you,
you’re our

This place is rowdy,
it’s where you were christened.
One girl for
for the whole gang — ripped to

pieces, teeth and feathers,
torn from the circle,
she’ll be true
to the first one who took her —

till death us depart, till —
she meets someone else.

Waffle maker.
Red-cheeked doll.

(Pancakes, waffles,
sugar, honey.)
Get up, Barin.
Your turn next!

No bakeries for you.
No grain.
Lie down sir,
there, under your tulup.5

Here’s to our toil.
Here’s to our sweat.
Let’s party Kuzma.
Let’s take a walk Fedot.

When you’ve eaten all his hay,
then devour his prey.
Charge it to the prince’s account.
Ilyich can keep the books!

Use powerful words
to describe our discord.
Paste it up on the billboards
for all our lads to see.

That’s why the garmon6
sounds today. See how he plays,
then look at the hangman —
they share the same red face.

What a clown.
Red-faced puppeteer.

Done with the past.
My yeast is fresh.
Get out. Let’s start over.
My yeast is drunk!

Henbane seasoning —
it’s time, boy, for pancakes.
Razin-style,7we’ll break down the barriers.
It’s time for pancakes.

All you vendors get in a horseshoe,
to ply your pearls of caviar.
You in your Mother of God robes,
sit down lad. Don’t be ashamed.

Beaded lady.
Say goodbye to

Soak the cloth to prepare the torch.
It’s time for Maslenitsa to burn —

Seize him!
Drive him out!

(March 6)



I have cooed and
I’ve conjured,
from left to right —
I headed on my way.

So that the all-night
vigil beneath the icons,
will be with none but you,
will concern none but you:

its ore-fires,
its tempest-storms,
above the powerful
utterances of God.

I have cooed,
I have had longings,
that all my glory is directed
towards your slopes.

So that my strength,
sends all its rivers to you.
In the first and the third,
for ever and ever…

That my left hand,
its weakness and strength,
is with no one else,
concerns no one else.

I’ve had enough.
At the end of my tether,
cursed with no crossing
to paradise, (where all the birds

might fly with my flattery…)
to that paradise of no one.
to that Persian paradise…

In sweetness and misery, I give —
but it slips through my hands.
Goodbye on meeting,
Hallo on parting.

(March 10th)



We have been served the snowdrifts,
they’ll break up soon.
Farewell to your blizzardlike shelter,
your pleasurable grumbling.

The kingdom of the voracious,
white wolves are unrelenting —
the snowdrift of the boyar’s chamber,
of the nobleman’s stately home.

A white-stone orphanage
for a sister, for a brother…
but the snowdrifts have been served,
soon to part.

How endlessly wide are these gates
to strife, disunity and divorce.
Farewell snow, orphan winter.
A free luxury.

Farewell, trail unknown, not yet taken,
the white eagles’ white retinue.
Farewell, this sin that has been covered,
indistinct under the snow.

Hunchbacks, humpbacks, camels —
farewell, family.
The snowdrifts have been served,
soon to part.

The destitute are due love,
the ringing spring day.
Where there is a storm, we need cover,
with our bowed head.

The whole day gnaws and bores into us,
as we devour grains of candy.
Rattle, rabble, rabble, ravage,
this animal house is a slaughterhouse.

The day is a drawn-out belt.
The night is short but I can’t get going.
The snowdrifts have been served,
soon to part….

I take it in both hands:
can’t I tear myself away?
In these two potholed rivers
there are expensive beads.

Unwrapped. Unfrozen.
The path is sold to the streams.
Ilya! My spells have walked away
on steep snowdrifts…

Don’t look at the tears flowing,
it may soon become water.
If the snowdrifts have been served,
it’s time to part.

(March 12th)



I am early morning.
I am late evening.
I’ve had lots of hard knocks.
I am not tamed.

I am the perfect match
but no one took me
for a wife — I am
your one-way ticket.

I torture a lot.
I home in on every word.
I’ve been kept a close eye on —
still, I got away.

Already filled with
a weeping downpour.
Ringing hryvnia8
wasted for nothing.

Sold as a gift.
Power of the black earth.
I am the cause of
your insomnia.

I am your secret sadness,
grinding away at you,
your ownerless Rus,
your cursed life.

I’m always out of the house.
The age passed my house by,
from the safe person at home,
to the forest — to my lover.

Beware light-headed simplicity.
From under the snake — I’ll snatch like a bird.

Over that horizon,
over that bluеness,
breaking through all boundaries,
mane swept back and wings apart.

Hey you good people!
Nothing succeeded.
Torn apart,
I missed my chance.

False Marina
to the grey ridges,
I am your
reckless princess…

I am your insufferable pride,
not to be overcome,
your pride that failed
through a lack of prayer.

But you’ll all get
your pieces of silver,
for stringing me up a stranger,
on the wheel of torture ­—

not a road —
just your sleepy dream,
that you cannot catch
or overtake.

There’s that tree over there.
There’s that fire over there.
There’s that smoke.
There’s that fire.

(March 17th)



Surrounding Love,
there are dark troubles.
Like a lute
someone inadvertently
touched with the edge of his cloak.

(Just like my hands
on your shoulders).

The air is tangled in a spider’s web,
if you take the slightest step —
your voice is caught in it,
if you make the slightest sound.

Surrounding love,
are soft whirlwinds —
(who is it who owns them,
us — or the dark?)

Surrounding love,
there are whispers and rustles.
Surrounding love,
they whisper and steal —

they stifle and they shine,
eyelids are drooping,
distances are confused,
troubles and laughter…

Hey, marksman
time to wield the whip.
All you unbaptized ­—
head to the crossroads!

Discord comes to the threshold.
Wear your pride on your cap.
Keep your jealousy under wraps.
It tickles and taunts.

But round and round.
in the heights above,
the wings will not fail us.

(March 18th)



From me to the unknowable
there is a slip, a secret utterance.
Drowsy from afar,
caressed from afar.

Only the ends are woven
on the veil’s weighty cloth.
Release the wordsmith
and slip in the word smooth.

(A dark-haired lizard
in the furs of the spruce.)
Caressed without a palm,
kissed behind the eyes.

Distance is a great liberty,
with miles like a hand.
This great dissenter is worse —
than the maid of honour.

Through the keyhole, into the chest —
with the startled eye of a deer,
caressed by the miles…,
cherished by feather grasses.

Across the Turkish sea,
to the house with coloured glass.
From me to the unknown —
to leap so high — just how did I manage it?

Over the deceptive wave,
straight into the chest — in a fierce arc.
Nursed through the rough roads,
cradled by the shores…

So that’s the news I have brought you
all the way from Rus with its rye.
I’m some storyteller, aren’t I! —
with my two broken hands.

But don’t brand me ignorant
because my wing has been cut off ­—
my only tenderness has been spears,
my only caress has been blades.

(March 18th)

MARINA TSVETAEVA (1892–1941) is considered one of the greatest twentieth-century Russian poets. She wrote of living through the Russian Revolution and the Moscow famine that followed. She left Russia in 1922 to live in increasing poverty in Berlin, Prague and Paris, before returning to Moscow in 1939. Her husband Sergei Efron and her daughter Ariadna were arrested on espionage charges in 1941. Efron was executed and Alya imprisoned. Desperately isolated in the Soviet regime and severely depressed, she committed suicide to be survived only by her son, who died in a penal battalion shortly after.

BELINDA COOKE is a widely published poet, translator and reviewer. Her work in this area consists of seven collections, including translations from both Russian and Kazakh. Best known for her translations of Maria Tsvetaeva, she has recently written a prose memoir of her mother, From the Back of Beyond to Westland Row: A Mayo Woman’s Story (The High Window Press, 2022). Her latest collection, The Days of the Shorthanded Shovelists, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2024. She is also currently in the final stages of completing a three-volume collection of Tsvetaeva’s poetry written between 1922 and 1941. She is grateful to her Kazakh friend Valeriy Zabinyak for his help with the Russian and cultural references.



  1. Ilya Grigoryevich Ehrenburg (1891–1967). One of the most prolific and notable authors of the Soviet Union. Tsvetaeva is referring to the root meaning of his name ‘Ehr’ which means ‘honour’ in Russian.
  2. James Daniel Bruce (1669–1735) was a Russian statesman, military leader and scientist of Scottish descent (Clan Bruce).
  3. This is the first of three bird references in the poem: eagles suggest aspiration, release from bondage, victory, longevity, speed, pride, and royalty; falcons embody victory, rulership, as well as a connection to the spirit world; pigeons are harbingers of peace, faith, and fidelity. They can guide souls safely into the hereafter and carry messages between the realms.
  4. An ancient cloak, originally brought from the Arab East. In the 17th century it became a ceremonial court dress. It is short and sleeveless comparable to a poncho.
  5. Long warm sheepskin coat with a collar. ‘Barin’ is the word for master.
  6. Small Russian accordion.
  7. Stenka Razin (1630–71). Leader of a major Cossack and peasant rebellion on Russia’s south-eastern frontier (1670–71). He was executed by quartering in Red Square. Tsarist forces burned the rebels’ villages and executed their leaders in suppressing the revolt
  8. Ukrainian currency since 1996. Originally the term referred to military decorations from the time of the Kievan Rus.

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