Along an Invisible Track: Cvetaeva’s Poetics of Exile

Alyssa W. Dinega, University of Notre Dame

Several critics have remarked in passing on Cvetaeva’s mythologization of Russia in her poetry written during the years of her exile in Western Europe (1922–39). For instance, Olga Peters Hasty (Tsvetaeva’s Orphic Journeys in the Worlds of the Word) has suggested that the lost Russian homeland plays a role in Cvetaeva’s long poem Novogodnee akin to the role of Hades in the Orpheus myth, while Ieva Vitins (“Escape from Earth: A Study of Tsvetaeva’s Elsewheres”) claims that in Cvetaeva’s prose reminiscences, the remembered Russia of her youth becomes, by virtue of its inaccessibility, a “surrogate form of escape” from the burden of mundane reality. However, these comments come in the context of discussions on topics not directly related to Cvetaeva’s exile. No one yet to my knowledge has undertaken a study focused on the theme of Russia and the poet’s exile from her homeland in Cvetaeva’s émigré writings.

In this paper, I will discuss several poems (the primary emphasis will be on “Rassvet na rel′sax” [1922] and “Rodina” [1932]) in which the theme of exile is paramount. This theme suits Cvetaeva’s definition of the poet as pariah and links her to a long and rich tradition of poetic exiles (Puškin, Ovid, etc.). At the same time, I will show that Cvetaeva’s poetic manipulation of the theme of exile is unique, for she casts her longing for Russia as one of a multitude of hopeless earthly infatuations. She therefore cultivates a consistent yet contradictory mythology of Russia in her poetry. On the one hand, Russia is beloved and sorely missed, whereas, on the other hand, the poet’s love for her homeland is spoken for the most part tacitly, even as her feelings of alienation in exile are triumphantly proclaimed. Indeed, the poet appears to choose exile freely, renouncing in the process her love for Russia, which, paradoxically, grows even stronger and more tormenting as a result. Cvetaeva’s unique brand of nostalgia for the homeland is a kind of orchestrated unrequited love. She needs her exile—even as she needs, elsewhere, her renunciation of uplifting, human love—as a stimulus for poetry. I will argue that Russia thus plays the same role in Cvetaeva’s poetics as do her unattainable human beloveds; this hypothesis is supported by the fact that in several key poems, Russia is aligned with—indeed, nearly indistinguishable from—the figures of Cvetaeva’s most important poetic paramours and substitute muses, Pasternak and Rilke. For Cvetaeva, therefore, the necessity of exile and the impossibility of Russia become synonymous with poetic inspiration.