Night Places

By Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by Mary Jane White

The darkest of nights’

Places: a bridge. –Lips to lips!

Really should we be lugging

Our shared cross to these nasty places,

There: into the dancing gaslight

Of eyes, of gauze . . . Into a rented Sodom?

Onto a cot, where everyone has been!

Onto a cot, where no one

Goes alone . . . The lamp goes out.

Perhaps—conscience will sleep!

(The most faithful of nights’

Places—is death!) The rented narrowness

Of night—water has greater largesse!

Water—is smoother than sheets!

Love—is caprice and calamity!

There—into a deep cold blue!

If only we were fit for the beliefs

Of the age! Having locked our arms!

(The river—goes easy on a body,

And sleep—beats living!)

Love: chill to the bone!

Love: white-hot heat!

Water—loves endings.

The river—loves bodies.

4 October 1923

Marina Tsvetaeva was born in Moscow in 1892, and began to publish in her teens, to multiple good reviews. She was a working contemporary of Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak and Rainer Maria Rilke, all of whom where important to her as rival, lover, correspondent and mentor, respectively. Tsvetaeva was admired by Joseph Brodsky in 1978: “Well, if you are talking about the twentieth century, I’ll give you a list of poets. Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva (and she is the greatest one, in my view. The greatest poet in the twentieth century was a woman.”

Mary Jane White, USA, MFA Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NEA Fellowships (1979, 1985 in poetry and translation), awarded scholarships to Bread Loaf (1979, 2016) and Squaw Valley Community of Writers (2006). Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988, Holy Cow! Press) contains translations of Tsvetaeva first published in The American Poetry Review and Willow Springs. Recent Tsvetaeva translations include: “New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke,” (Adastra Press, Massachusetts), “Poem of the Hill” (The New England Review, 2007), “Poem of the End” (The Hudson Review, 2008), reprinted in From a Terrace in Prague (Prague, 2011), and Poets Translate Poets (Syracuse, 2013).