Human Destiny As A Shift from Feeling Uplifted By The Fascination With Majestic Heights To The Orphanhood of “Dry” Heather

To my Czechian friend,
Anna Antonovna Teskova

Disappointed in mortals,
Not being fascinated anymore.
To the old-age heather,
To the silver-sliding dried grass.

Let’s trumpeters trump glory
To my shadow!
To heather-the losses,
To heather-the dried brooks.

Old-age heather!
The excrescence on naked stone!
Feeling the kinship
Of our common orphanhood,

Taken off and discarded
the shreds of the outworn brocade,
To heather- the ruins,
To heather- the dried brooks.

Life is duplicity of friendship and
suffocation by human monstrosities.
Along grayness and dryness
(because the guider is harsh),

To the height where ash-berry tree
is more majestic than David-the King! –
To heather – the grey hair,
To heather – the dried seas.

Sept. 5, 1922

(Transl. by V. Enyutin)

Why to be disappointed in mortals – in regular people? – We are moved to ask the first line of Tsvetaeva’s poem. And immediately after, we need to ask the second line (that answered the first): Why to be fascinated by disappointing – regular people? Is it because they psychologically aspire to the heights of being and for this reason awaken in others the emotions of fascination and admiration? And what it means to be charmed by those who are psychologically inspired by the ontological heights? Tsvetaeva, as a person, certainly, had a weakness for heroes, alpinists of the spirit. But she, herself, wasn’t like this, may be, only as a writer of poetry, but in the second stanza she calls herself in this role her own shadow. So, why to be fixated on mortals obsessed with the desire to be on top of life, if you don’t share their ordinariness – this dream? May be, because of compassion, a love impregnated with a tormenting sorrow because of helplessness to help them to avoid their cruel human destiny?

To the old age – the wrinkles, drying flesh, heather. To the old age – silver-sliding grass, losses, dried brooks of inspiration, of aspirations, of flashes of hopes, of waves of daring. To the old age – orphan-hood, discovery of naked stone as our abode, transformation into heather: the plant of the lower grounds, dried seas of contemplation about life instead of living. No care about appearance – no brocades (reflecting light by the shine). But mortality as such is less important than the life of mortals – duplicity of friendships and the suffocatingly monstrous and deformed human deeds. Anna Antonovna Teskova became for Tsvetaeva the very introduction to the dignity of humility of the old age, to the truth outside the heights as the obsession of ordinary people – to an alternative of a given life. The creator, demiurge and guiders are cruel and indifferent. But there were – there are real heroes of the heights, like King David or ash-berry tree (becoming heights without dreaming about it). By mentioning rowan-tree and David thirty-years-old Tsvetaeva is saying goodbye to the ordinary life of dreams about the extraordinary, almost eighteen years ahead of her death.

But something is worse with the destiny of existential climbing than the moral deformities you develop while trying to succeed. To dream of tops/ups means to try to cheat the human destiny – the very incarnation into it. Heather in the poem is a common denominator of flora and the human body in their existence, birth, growth, flowering, decay and disappearance into the fact of existing in the past, a common denominator of mortality and immortality. Heather becomes a metaphor of immortality between life and death.

Is Tsvetaeva’s suicide then like the ritual of baptizing into heathery old age? Her death is not an opening into a pompous, sentimental and blind immortality in the heaven. It is, rather, like the earthly immortality of a poet as a soul between human souls, as life amidst human life of those who welcome her into their lives. Heather becomes a metaphor of a poet’s old age, of living with people through poetry.

In the poem Tsvetaeva describes two spheres – the factual world/the given ways of life and its alternative created/chosen by the poet. Contrary to the generally accepted situation when the meaning of life is understood as learning about life in order to succeed in it, life (for imitation and repetition) is described in the poem as the object of poet’s disappointment (as poet’s inability to continue to be fascinated with it). It is depicted as duplicity of friendship and as a suffocating monstrosity. The naked stone (contrasted with heather as its excrescence) becomes a metaphor of a “normal” human life, of youth and of the middle age, of “human health”. The very alternative way of life is depicted as – old-age heather (mentioned two times), “dried brooks“ (two times), “heather-loses“, “heather-ruins“, “orphan-hood“, “grey hair“, “dried seas“, “excrescence” on the naked stone of life.

But how can it be that the alternative to the existing ways of life, that implyingly trying to improve it, to offer something better – is represented by Tsvetaeva as… “miserable” old age, as reduced vitality, as dried-up ambition, not as a pompous, trumpeted “alternatives” like Paradise, Eternity, Immortality, like Communism, Third Reich or Technological Utopia, or even like material prosperity, pluralistic consumerism, ideological pride and physical living until the age of the Biblical patriarchs of human dreaming?

What is behind the humility and truth of old age, behind the transition from heights to the lower-grounds? Is it the very art of existential poetry itself, the art of emotional and semantic sublime as an ascetic ideal? Is heather then a metaphor of poetic roses and clouds and winds from the sea, and thinking repeating the routes of blood in the vessels, like old age is a metaphor of youth? If human communication through poetry can be a metaphor of old age, old age can be the poetry of human life.

“To the old age heather”
“To the old age heather”

“To the sliding silver of dried grass”
“To the sliding silver of dried grass”

“To heather-the loses”
“To heather-the loses”

“To heather-the ruins”
“To heather-the ruins”

Heather as a metaphor of poetry as a metaphor of life

Heather in closeup