Po╦ma gory and Po╦ma konca: Cvetaeva at the Crossroads of Romanticism and Modernism

Christopher W. Lemelin, Dickinson College

Cvetaeva's work is generally divided into an early, "romantic" (or neo-Romantic) period and a later, modern period, deemed her "mature style." Karlinsky, for example, notes that Romanticism is not found in its "typical form" in Cvetaeva's work after 1920, though he finds "remnants of Romanticism in Posle Rossii (Marina Cvetaeva: Her Life and Works). As Karlinsky's statements imply, however, close analysis of Cvetaeva's mature works often reveals that Romanticism does play a role in this period, often a polemical one. This paper will present one significant example of Cvetaeva's vacillation between Romanticism and Modernism and will show that the poet herself was acutely aware of their interplay.

I will focus on Cvetaeva's po╦my of 1924 (Po╦ma gory, Po╦ma konca) and will consider them on both the generic and the thematic level. These works were written in close succession--in fact, Cvetaeva wrote nothing else in the first half of 1924--yet they are usually treated separately and not as a diptych. A notable exception is Venclova ("Po╦ma gory i Po╦ma konca Mariny Cvetaevoj..."), who shows that while the po╦my treat the same subject matter, they differ considerably in their approach to it. This paper will continue a comparative analysis of these works and show that they may also be read as an example of Cvetaeva's polemic between a Romantic and a Modernist esthetic.

First, though Cvetaeva titled each work a "po╦ma," the two differ greatly in their structure; some even question if they can be considered members of the same genre. Analysis of the two works, utilizing theoretical studies of genre (e.g., Sapagov, Sloane, Hasty), shows that Po╦ma gory can best be called a "neo-Romantic" po╦ma, while Po╦ma konca belongs to a distinctly "Modernist" interpretation of the genre. For example, Po╦ma gory is composed of short, emotional episodes and eliminates the narrative line (similar to Symbolist po╦my). Po╦ma konca, like the "classic" po╦ma, contains a narrative line, but presents it in a fragmentary way that is particularly Modernist.

Second, my paper will focus on one complex of imagery that occurs in both poems: images of the city of Prague. Urban imagery is important to this period of Cvetaeva's work. (Makin notes that the city is one of the few themes that finds new treatment in the 1920s.) In addition, we learn from Cvetaeva's biography that Prague played an important role at this point in the poet's life--she had just moved to an urban area and her affair with Rozdevich, the inspiration for the po╦my, involved frequent walks around the city.

Drawing on the work of several scholars (e.g., Lotman ("Simvolika Peterburga"), Benjamin, Burton Pike (The Image of the City), and K. Versluys (The Poet in the City), I will look at Cvetaeva's presentation of and attitude toward the city and show that between the two po╦my there is a distinct and identifiable difference. Again this difference may be seen as the difference between a Romantic approach to the city--in which the city is a foil for the poet's emotions--and a Modernist one--where the city acquires a more prominent and sometimes destructive role. The two works also show what Boris Gasparov calls "the fundamental difference" between Romanticism and Modernism: the former has a "vital sense of the progress of time and history," while the latter demonstrates an "eschatological self-consciousness" (see Cultural Mythologies of Russian Modernism). Finally, the generic distinction discussed above is underscored by the presentation of urban imagery in these works.