Battle of Mortality and Immortality in Human Unconscious

Eurydice to Orpheus

For those who have out-worn the last shreds
Of the body (no lips, no face!)
Oh, is it not exceeding the mandate –
Orpheus going to the dead?

For those who pushed away the last pieces
Of the earthly, put on the ultimate bed
The greatest and pompous lie of beholding,
Who look inside – the meeting is a knife.

Wasn’t it paid – with all roses of blood
For this loose gown
Of the immortality?
You who loved to the very fringes of the world –
I need peace

Of the forgetfulness… because in this ghost house
You, who exist, is a ghost, while I, who is dead,
A reality… What then I can tell you besides:
“Forget it and leave me alone!”

You cannot arouse me! I am not able to respond!
I don’t have hands! Or lips to touch your
Lips! – With snake bite of immortality
Woman’s passion ends forever.

It was paid – remember my screams! –
For this last expanse.
No need for Orpheus to go down to Eurydice
And for brothers to disturb sisters’ peace.

March 23, 1923

(Transl. by V. Enyutin)

Why for Tsvetaeva it was important to have the readers identify with Orpheus and Eurydice – with life and death in love, with life and death as impossible lovers? And what is the difference between life’s love and that of death? Why Tsvetaeva is interested in life’s love for what is death and death’s love for what is life? Can it be that we, alive, are not alive enough until we don’t understand the condition of being dead? We must know death to be really alive. We flirt with immortality as if to become really mortal. We must feel limitlessness to be able to choose limits. Only by loosing life can we appreciate it – while just living we cannot be really alive. In this sense whoever we are in love with has a little of Eurydice, and whoever loves us a little of Orpheus.

The relations between brothers and sisters are more primordial than between beloveds. Amour and sex are secondary and always come later in comparison with brothers-sisters’ common human denominator. Eurydice and Orpheus – are they really beloveds or brother and sister? Brothers and sisters in a traditional – patriarchal, culture (in a male-centered perspective) are – blind life and its otherness correspondingly. Eurydice and Orpheus – do they both belong to life, or their relations like between life and death? Is death always present between a man and a woman, and is it necessary to have Orpheus’ madness (helped by his artistic talent) to breach through the abyss? But is amour really about awakening the woman with the magical kiss to make her vital and mortal as Orpheus is? Can life psychologically sustain itself without generating psychological violence? Or is it, indeed, about emotional colonization – transformation of even the object of love into a prisoner of being? Is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice that of any man and every woman even if it unfolds between their unconscious? Does man look in woman for that ontological underground creature who’ll sustain his being as death/immortality sustains life/mortality?

Tsvetaeva’s Eurydice resists Orpheus/life because she resists symbiotic psychological meltdown of the two personalities in love. She doesn’t want to be psychologically occupied by him. Her death in the myth symbolizes, it seems, her otherness (while he as a typical man is impatient to unite with her – to project into her his yearning to merge with his primordial mother). Her symbiotic need (to be united with another human being) is fulfilled by her identification with her mother (the primary bond). Young woman needs to psychologically transform (in her unconscious) her peer of male gender into her baby to be able to bond with him. This hurrah-triviality on the part of both genders that reduces and flattens the amorous relations, is avoided by the myth and Tsvetaeva’s poem through making Eurydice dead – then her otherness is emphasized and her refutation of earthly amorous symbiosis is dramatized and accentuated. Eurydice’s “refusal to return to life” in actuality takes place during life – juxtaposition of the two spheres (of the alive and the dead) is metaphorical. Love in Tsvetaeva’s poem becomes exceptional only because of Eurydice’s refutation to accept emotional symbiosis Orpheus calls “love”. Orpheus’ poetic talent, according to the myth’s description of its effect on the world, is symbiotically oriented on manipulation through poetic beauty, and only Eurydice’ acceptance of her “death” makes her the personification of anti-symbiotic otherness.

Tsvetaeva’s Eurydice’s choice of “death” is a metaphor of her extraordinary ability to resist the call for psychological fusion in love – for the sake of keeping the independence of her personality. Orpheus’ aesthetic mastery is a metaphor of men’s prowess of subduing the whole world by their power.

The six stanzas of the poem can be semantically summarized like this: 1st – Immortality of death vs. finitude of love, when those who have “outworn the body” (overcame the power of vitality) are characterized as creatures with wider scope of understanding while those who are conventionally alive – are prone to “exceed their mandate”; 2nd – the meeting with the beloved in the other world is knife not because knife cuts, hurts and kills, but because it is the naïve life kills by its intensity and its immanent violence – again, like in the first stanza, “death” as a condition of existence is characterized as more mature and more advanced than “life”; 3rd – it is not our future death is a payment for our earthly pleasures, but our life is a payment for our future liberation – life with its immanent violence of living is oriented on transcending itself; 4th – alive ghosts (those who live conventionally) and those who are living an alternative life (as “dead”) are compared with obvious privileging of “death” – here the natural advantage of life over death is radically reversed; 5th – the female’s amorous passion during earthly life is characterized as a phenomenon of a lesser value than its absence after death; 6th reinforces the 3rd – spiritual life (accepting its mortality) is dedicated to human ontological liberation from enslavement of the being by vital passions (“remember my screams”).

In the communication of transcendent Eurydice to heroic Orpheus we see the conflict between the self-asserting and seducing life and life retreating into “death” to stay intact. The resistance to the violent/subduing symbiosis (offered by Orpheus) is the genius of Tsvetaeva’s Eurydice who has based her power to resist on her affiliation with death/immortality.

This poem can help us to understand Tsvetaeva’s relationship with death as an alternative to mere living (one example of the rapport with death can be to continue to carry a dialogue with us who live naively, through her poems). In Tsvetaeva’s poem Eurydice got the right not only to defend her spiritual autonomy (despite all love’s and marriage’ virtues) but to refuse to return to the world of innocently vulgar and wasteful life.