How is your life with the other one,
simpler, isn’t it? One stroke of the oar
then a long coastline, and soon
even the memory of me
will be a floating island
(in the sky, not on the waters):
spirits, spirits, you will be
sisters, and never lovers.
How is your life with an ordinary
woman? without godhead?
Now that your sovereign has
been deposed (and you have stepped down).
How is your life? Are you fussing?
flinching? How do you get up?
The tax of deathless vulgarity
can you cope with it, poor man?
‘Scenes and hysterics I’ve had
enough! I’ll rent my own house.’
How is your life with the other one
now, you that I chose for my own?
More to your taste, more delicious
is it, your food? Don’t moan if you sicken.
How is your life with an image
you, who walked on Sinai?
How is your life with a stranger
from this world? Can you (be frank)
love her? Or do you feel shame
like Zeus’ reins on your forehead?
How is your life? Are you
healthy? How do you sing?
How do you deal with the pain
of an undying conscience, poor man?
How is your life with a piece of market
stuff, at a steep price?
After Carrara marble,
how is your life with the dust of
plaster now? (God was hewn from
stone, but he is smashed to bits.)
How do you live with one of a
thousand women after Lilith?
Sated with newness, are you?
Now you are grown cold to magic,
how is your life with an
earthly woman, without a sixth
sense? Tell me: are you happy?
Not? In a shallow pit how is
your life, my love? Is it as
hard as mine with another man?
by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
translated by Elaine Feinstein
The gaps mid-line were present in the original as was the emphasis on the word ‘image‘.
In case you want a few pointers regarding the context of the poem here are some facts about Tsvetaeva‘s life. To be honest I’ve tried to give a few points but it feels like you might have to do some in depth ‘further reading’ about her life to fully understand the context of this poem’s lines. A brief account of her life reads like it was one tragic event after the other…
Sergei Yakovlevich Efron (Сергей Яковлевич Эфрон; 8 October 1893 – 16 October 1941) was a Russian poet, officer of White Army and husband of Marina Tsvetaeva. While in emigration, he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner to the better known KGB). After returning to USSR from France, he was executed. Some believe that Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.
They fell in love and were married in January 1912. While they had an intense relationship, Tsvetaeva had affairs, such as those with Osip Mandelstam and poet Sofia Parnok.
Tsvetaeva and her husband had two daughters: Ariadna a.k.a Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917), and one son, Georgy. In 1919 while stuck in Moscow during the civil war (during which there was also a famine), she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Alya became ill and Tsvetaeva removed her but Irina died there of starvation in 1920. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague (where they had resided) for the suburbs, living for a while in Jíloviště, before moving on to Všenory, where Tsvetaeva conceived their son, Georgy, whom she was to later nickname ‘Mur‘. He was a difficult child but Tsetaeva loved him obsessively. With Efron now rarely free from tuberculosis, their daughter Ariadna was relegated to the role of mother’s helper and confidante, and consequently felt robbed of much of her childhood.
To end on a lighter note: The Tsvetaev family name (feminine form: Tsvetaeva) evokes an association with flowers as the Russian word цвет (tsvet) means “color” or “flower”.
Also here is a reading of the poem in the original Russian by Маша Матвейчук, who does readings of various poems, on YouYube: