Cvetaeva and the Symbolist Eurydice

Catherine Ciepiela, Amherst College

This paper addresses the enduring influence of Symbolism on Cvetaeva's work through a reading of her poem "Èvridika—Orfeju" (1923). As a very young poet, Cvetaeva was associated with the Moscow Symbolists, and had significant friendships with Lev Kobylinskij (Èllis) and Maksimilian Voloshin. She was perhaps more deeply influenced, however, by Valerij Brjusov, whose Puti i pereput'ja (1908) she avidly read (we have her marginalia), and about which she wrote a short essay, her first attempt at critical prose. Her essay, "Volshebstvo v stixax Brjusova" (1910), focuses on the magic that inheres in Brjusov's "girl-muse" (devushka-muza), with whom the sixteen-year-old Cvetaeva surely identified. (At the time, she was being courted by both Èllis and Vladimir Nilender.) In this essay, and in much of her early verse, Cvetaeva responded ambivalently to the figure of the sexualized girl-muse. In her later essay on Brjusov, "Geroj truda" (1925), she openly indicted him for "removing woman from the circle of humanity, artificially isolating her in a charmed circle of his own creation" (Sobr. soch. v 7-i tomax, IV: 39), and reminds us of his role in the suicide of one of his girl-muses, Nadezhda L'vova. One of the lessons Cvetaeva learned from Brjusov, that is, was the hazard of becoming the male poet's love object.

Not unexpectedly, Brjusov's example surfaced again in a poem Cvetaeva wrote to Pasternak in March, 1923, "Èvridika—Orfeju." The poem's conceit—that Eurydice did not wish to return to earth with Orpheus—is taken from Brjusov's "Orfej i Èvridika" (1904), which appeared in his collection Stephanos (1906). The poem is linked to a notorious love triangle involving Brjusov, Andrej Belyj, and Nina Petrovskaija. It appears in a section entitled "Iz ada izvedennye," referring to Belyj's self-conception as an Orpheus who would lead Petrovskaja out of the "hell" of what he describes as her hysteria. Brjusov took from Belyj both Petrovskaja's affections, and the Orpheus-Eurydice model for their relationship. Brjusov's "Orpheus to Eurydice" consists of a dialogue between Orpheus and Eurydice, in which Orpheus persuades her to come with him, while she gently resists. Her reluctance to leave Hades is partly attributable to her dreamlike state, but she also expresses will and desire—that is, she does not want to leave. ("Ax, chto znachat vse napevy/ Znavshim tajnu tishiny!") This is the stance Eurydice takes in Cvetaeva's poem, written in the form of a monologue. Reading Cvetaeva's poem in the light of Brjusov's highlights her complicated response to the Symbolist love tragedy, and illuminates the meaning of the poem as a response to Pasternak.