Transcendent Eroticism and Existential Spirituality In Tsvetaeva’s Erotic Poems

One of the most linguistically original among the Russian poets, Tsvetaeva has an exceptional ability to realize her visceral vision of the reality through new lexical combinations and semantic clashes and juxtapositions.

The world migration started in the darkness:
It’s trees stroll along night earth,
It’s bunches of grapes ferment with golden wine,
It’s stars wander from home to home,
It’s rivers start to flow backward!
And I want on your chest – to sleep.

Jan. 14, 1917

Erotic process as a spiritual experience starts for Tsvetaeva with the “world migration” felt simultaneously in and outside the soul of her lyrical heroine. Trees start to move along the earth, the stars to wander “from home to home”. The whole being of a person is awakened within sleep like “bunches of grapes ferment with golden wine”. Mutation of nature – a radical change in the direction of the rivers is a prerequisite for the appearance of the desire to sleep on the chest of the beloved.

What Tsvetaeva is telling us here is that eroticism as a spiritual process takes mystical preparation and concentration (that without this erotic yoga, love is only a fear of loneliness and need in symbiotic response – a psychological defense, and sexuality – a predatory vanity).

The chest of the beloved for Tsvetaeva’s heroine is a “magic flesh” she feels herself “on” regardless of the position of bodies in love.

To O. Mandelstam

From where such tenderness?
Not the first – these curls
I stroke, and I knew lips
Darker than yours.

Stars rose and faded
(From where such tenderness?),
Eyes rose and faded
near my very eyes.

I heard even better hymns
amidst night’s darkness
(From where such tenderness?)
on the chest of a minstrel.

From where such tenderness?
And what to do with it, the sly teen,
a vagabond singer,
with eyelashes – there are no longer ones.

Feb 18, 1916

The first stanza underlines the incompatibility between emotion of tenderness and assessment of the “attractive qualities” of the loved one. For Tsvetaeva’s lyric heroine it is not Eros that triggers erotic response but a combination of Agape and Amour. From the very first words of the poem, Tsvetaeva “dares” to take the reader directly to the bed of love.

The second stanza introduces the most “revolutionary” lines in the Russian poetry (in the genre of meditation on erotic experience). Rhythms of cosmic life (“Stars rose and faded”) coincide with human bodily love (“Eyes rose and faded/Near my very eyes”). The readers are invited to try to understand exactly what Tsvetaeva means when the eyes of the beloved (during love making) rise and fade.

The third stanza as if awakens doubt of the first stance – Tsvetaeva’s heroine is in love even more because her beloved’s lips “are not dark enough” and his songs to her are not the most perfect ones.

The last stanza defines the impossibility to resolve love of tenderness in a diachronic world of time (it’s congruent only with a synchronic universe). The beams of the eyelashes of Tsvetaeva’s beloved point to nowhere except the eternity of memory, art and wisdom.

To kiss the forehead – wipe away worries.
I kiss you on your forehead.
To kiss the eyes – take away sleeplessness.
I kiss you on your eyes.
To kiss the lips – quench thirst.
I kiss you on your lips.
To kiss the forehead – wipe away memory.
I kiss you on your forehead.

June 5, 1917

The forehead is not the most erotically arousing part of the human body. Still, in Tsvetaeva’s poem the forehead is invoked two times, ahead of eyes and lips – Tsvetaeva’s spiritual eroticism cathects the forehead more than the eyes (outside poetry usually the focus of “romantic” adoration) and lips (usually the rainbow entrance into the dark cave of the flesh). Tsvetaeva’s understanding is that refined (effective) sexuality is impossible without the participation of the mental factor and that without the “forehead’s” involvement sex becomes of the size of human genitals or conventional social rituals.

Kissing on the eyes and kissing on the forehead (healing the beloved through wiping away worries and memory) are oriented on elimination of the hindrance for love (removal of the need to observe, to visually and/or situationally control), while kissing the lips is the only “positive” reference to the role of erotic togetherness, but not in the conventional sense as triggering of the “unconditional” reflex of sexual arousal, but rather as an eroticized Agape’s reaction on the human emotional need to be attended. Tsvetaeva saves the “lips” from the intruding intensity of yearning for sexual release – from penetrating impatience.

Tsvetaeva’s emphasis on “worries” and “memory” as radical obstacles for love is important – a too overwhelming present and past, both are hostile to love’s self-realization and to life’s ability to promote it. The result is the destruction of emotional sensitivity – transformation of tremble into trouble, Eros into Icarus, and sex into socks.

*Literal translation by V.E.