Marina Tsvetaeva
Versty, June 5, 1917

V lob tselovat’ – zabotu steret’
transliterated version

V lob tselovat’ — zabotu steret’
V lob tseluyu.

V glaza tselovat’ — bessonnitsu snyat’.
V glaza  tseluyu.

V guby  tselovat’ — vodoi napoit’.
V guby  tseluyu.

V lob  tselovat’ — pamyat’ steret’.
V lob  tseluyu.

Transliterated Version. The original retrieved from public domain

Kissing the forehead – erasing carks

Kissing the forehead – erasing carks.
I’m kissing your forehead.

Kissing the eyes – healing insomnia.
I’m kissing your eyes.

Kissing the lips – giving them drink.
I’m kissing your lips.

Kissing the forehead – erasing memory.
I’m kissing your forehead.

Marina Tsetaeva just gave birth to her second daughter Irina in April. They stayed in Moscow in the summer 1917, before the October Revolution broke out. The whole family lived in poverty, was starved, and later Tsvetaeva was forced to place her daughters (Alya and Irina) in an orphanage. At that time, the poet became interested in folklore rhythms and themes.

The addressee of the poem is not clearly defined, but when I recite it, I hear the voice of mother soothing her baby in her arms, a woman who dreams of protecting her cherished child from the troubles of the world. Mother’s kiss seems to have a magic power over external chaos, taming it, erasing its traces left on the fragile body. However, kissing your lips can be interpreted differently because of its conventional love connotation and the expression ‘’to give someone drink’’ (napoit’ vodoy), which comes from Russian tales. The expression is commonly used to show how a beautiful girl saves an exhausted epic hero (there is a folkloric formula napoila, nakormila, spat’ ulozhila – gave someone to drink, eat and sleep). For this reason, mother-child relationship may be the content of a love poem, where a man is seen as a child to be taken care of (probably, Tsvetaeva’s husband Sergey Efron).

Tsvetaeva’s poetry is known for swift shifts of the rhythm and unusual syntax. In the original, the poet uses infinitives in the first lines of stanzas to avoid excessive emotional coloration. It’s rather an instruction resembling guidelines of folk medicine, than a song of the soul. In the second lines, the poet follows them and offers a cure – a kiss. On one hand, imagery is archetypal and easily recognizable as the most traditional to convey tenderness and care. On the other, syntax and phonetics create a unique poetic structure, where the first lines impersonalized with verbal forms contrast lyrical repetitive tseluyu (I’m kissing) in the second. In the first lines one may reconstruct the invisible portrait of the addressee – anxious, sleepless, thirsty, suffering from stinging memories. Simplicity of the body language multiplies levels of interpretation. Mother’s, lover’s kiss is a remedy for pain, is the embodiment of a dream to heal all wounds with love, is a magic spell against trying times.

Translation and comment by Natalia Vygovskaia

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