Marina Tsvetaeva is widely acknowledged by critics and by Russian readers as a leading Russian poet of the twentieth century. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to Tsvetaeva in 1926: "You, poet, do you sense how you have overwhelmed me . . . I'm writing like you and I descend like you the few steps down from the sentence into the mezzanine of parentheses . . ." (Pasternak, Tsvetayeva, Rilke: Letters, Summer 1926. Translated by Margaret Wettlin and Walter Arndt. New York, 1985).
Marina Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow in 1892. Her father was a founder of the Moscow Museum of the Fine Arts, her mother a pianist. Marina published her first book of poems, Evening Album, at seventeen. After the revolution, while her husband, Sergei Efron, was fighting in the White Army, Tsvetaeva and her two small daughters were reduced to terrible poverty. Her youngest daughter died of hunger. In 1921 Tsvetaeva emigrated, first to Berlin, then to Czechoslovakia, and then to Paris to join her husband. Her collection of poems Mileposts I was published in Moscow in 1922, the year she emigrated, and was greatly admired by Boris Pasternak. In Prague Tsvetaeva wrote some of her finest poems, published in Paris in her collection After Russia. Other books she published during her emigré period include Parting (Berlin, 1921), Poems to Blok (Berlin, 1923), and Psyche (Berlin, 1923). The poverty Tsvetaeva had endured in postrevolutionary Russia followed her in her emigré years. Loyalty to her husband drove Tsvetaeva back to the Soviet Union. Two months after Tsvetaeva's arrival in Moscow, her daughter Ariadna was arrested; a month later her husband was arrested as well. When the Germans attacked Russia, Tsvetaeva was evacuated to Elabuga in Central Asia. Unable to find work for herself or food for her son, she hanged herself on August 31, 1941.