God of Religious Ideology (Of Belief) and God of the Living Heart

In vain, with my eyes as with nail
I penetrate the deepest soil:
I understand more clear than nail:
You are not here – and not here.

In vain while circling with my eyes
I search the heaven of the sky:
Rain! – Just a bucket filled with rain.
You are not there – are not there.

No, no one among the two:
Bone – too much bone, spirit – too far.
Where – you? Where – him? Where – he himself?
There – too much there, here – too much here.

I’ll not exchange you for the sand
And steam. I will not give away
You, who – like us, for corpse and ghost.
Here – too much here, there – too much there.

It is – not you – not you – not you.
Whatever priests can sing to us:
that death is life and life is death –
God – too much god, worm – too much worm.

God can’t be split into corpse and ghost!
We’ll not give you away for smoke
Of censers,
For flowers
Of graveyards.

And if you somewhere still exist –
It’s inside us. For those who are gone
The honor is – to beat the split:
To leave as men and spirit lit.

January 5 – 7, 1935
(Hypothetical translation by Victor Enyutin)

Seventy seven years ago Tsvetaeva wrote this poetic resume of a search for the essence of god (in the form of a search for his ontological location), that became a “manifesto” of existential spirituality (the formulation of her feeling of the absence of split between spirit and human soul, between spirituality and living).

The intensity of her spiritual passion is a sign that even by refusing to accept the external existence of god – more, by, exactly, refusing to accept it, she is a person of spiritual experience and not a superstitious creature frighten by life and using religiously ideological dogma as a psychological defense against the world. She offers god the abode of her soul to feel his greatness with her very vitality, dedication and destiny.

Tsvetaeva as a spiritual person doesn’t need (religious) ideology with its dogmatic splitting of the reality on “lower” and “higher” in accord with the hierarchical order of the human (“fallen”) social world. The poem is Tsvetaeva’s fight for psychological wholeness – our humanity as capable of assessing our behavior honestly. It is a fight for god as a personification of our psychological wholeness, not a god of our partial impulses (as, for example, need for imaginary security and supernatural help), when our obsessive desires and drives push us to behave according to them, not to us. Tsvetaeva makes life the ultimate judgment of spirituality of a person – how human being behaves, not what s/he believes in.

The poem is structured as the poet’s research into her own search for the “location” of god’s abode. The first two stanzas describe the “instruments” and “procedures” of her concentration (eyes as nail probing the soil, eyes searching the heaven of the sky), and the first impression that the sky is just a tub filled with rain. The next four stanzas formulate the work of intellectual laboratory of Tsvetaeva’s analysis – how her mind moves towards certain conclusions. With sarcastic sharpness she enumerates the binary oppositions with which traditional understanding has programmed people’s perception of god’s existence (here and there, deepest soil – heaven of the sky, bone – spirit, sand – steam, corpse – ghost, god – worm, flowers of graveyard – smoke of censers). In the final – seventh stanza Tsvetaeva inscribes her conclusions. The very logic of Tsvetaeva’s thinking disagrees with ripping off the human perception of god into binary oppositions that emphasize the incompatibility between god and humans. She defends the reality of human existential spirituality congruent with god as the personification of spirituality. While according to Tsvetaeva, god is naturally in rapport with human wholeness, and religious dogma isolates human being from god by splitting the human perception between human life and godly spirit, she registers one example when religion is not separating but “uniting phenomena” – in the fifth stanza she points out that “priests sing to us about death as life and life as death”. Tsvetaeva is against this non-differentiation/mixture between life and death because for her it is human life what connects us with god, not human death!


Marina Tsvetaeva, (1892-1941), in her later years