Jul 30 2014
I know the truth
by Marina Tsvetaeva
English version by Elaine Feinstein
I know the truth — give up all other truths!
No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle.
Look — it is evening, look, it is nearly night:
what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals?
The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,
the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.
And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we
who never let each other sleep above it.
— from Tsvetayeva: Selected Poems, by Marina Tsvetaeva / Translated by Elaine Feinstein
/ Photo by KellyB. /
I return to this poem regularly, and it brings me to a halt each time. There is such a mature, weary compassion in these lines.
The question is not whether we will live or die. We all live (though we may not always feel as if we do). And we all die (though we may discover that death is not what we imagined).
The real question is, while we move and act upon the earth, do we ease the suffering of others or add to it? Will we let each other rest above the earth, or only beneath it?
Life and death are a given. It is what we do with them that matters.
The whole while the earth says, “Is not every beautiful thing yours already?” And the night sky, for all its immense movement, is completely at peace. So what has humanity lost sight of?
May our eyes see, though our hearts break.
May our hearts break, that they may open.
May our hearts bleed, that we know life flows through them.
Marina Tsvetaeva’s life was caught up in the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. Her husband fought on the side of the Tsar and then in the White Guard attempting to restore the line of Tsars. Marina, her husband, and their children moved to Paris to live among the Russian expatriate community there, but they were eventually shunned because her husband was thought to be a Soviet spy — which apparently turned out to be true. Throughout this time, Marina desperately struggled to feed her family, sometimes having to resort to theft. They later moved back to Soviet Russia, where her husband was eventually arrested and killed, despite his earlier collaboration. Marina Tsvetaeva committed suicide in 1941.
Despite the struggles and tragedies of her life, her writing reflects a sharp mind, a seeing eye, and heart.