Object Language and Metalanguage in Cvetaeva’s Poetry

Anastasia Graf, Princeton University

Although much critical attention has been given to the interpenetration of poetic and critical language in Cvetaeva’s prose, the relation between object language and metalanguage in Cvetaeva’s poetry still remains to be examined. Taking Jakobson’s distinction between these two discourses as my point of departure, my purpose is to explore the relation between reflexivity and description, statement and its performance, as they occur simultaneously in Cvetaeva’s writing. I turn to key passages in Moj Pušhin, Na krasnom kone,” and the cycle Provoda to investigate this discursive tension.

In Moj Pušhin, the closing scene in which Marina inscribes Pushkin’s “K morju” serves as a culminating allegory of both reading and writing as Cvetaeva has demonstrated throughout Moj Pušhin. Re-inscribing Pushkin’s poem back onto the landscape which inspired it in the first place, and then signing her name as “Aleksandr Sergeevič Pušhin,” Cvetaeva doubly allegorizes reading/writing – first as the girl-Cvetaeva who practices the adult-Cvetaeva’s notion of the co-creativity of writing, and secondly as the adult Cvetaeva who incorporates this metapoetic practice back into the narrative, thus inverting the hierarchy of metalanguage and object language. I next consider “Na krasnom kone” as a variation of reflexive poetry – the address to or thematization of the Muse. If the confrontation between the poet and her Genius is an allegory of the poet and the creative process, then how does allegory in the poèma function as figural discourse on poetry and its literal enactment? Keeping in mind the simultaneity of the figural and literal levels inherent to allegory, what is the relation between the poet of the closing section, mutely awaiting her Genius, and the poet who writes “Na krasnom kone,” for whom the silence of the other poet is an occasion for utterance? Finally, in Provoda, the telegraph wires are at once the object of description and the poetic medium. Ultimately, the wires embody the entire cycle, as both the form of transmission and the content of the message. The poem alternates between the message sent via telegraph and the poet’s meditation on this message. If the constraints of poetry are opposed to the relative freedom of telegraphic transmission, the cycle itself incorporates both as “lyric wires” and telegraphic lyric. Cvetaeva’s metapoetic language, then, is a reflection both on object-language and on the self and as such blurs the distinction between object, self and critical reflection.