Rendering the Sublime

A Reading of Marina Tsvetaeva's Fairy-Tale Poem: The Swain
Stockholm Studies in Russian Literature, No. 41

By Tora Lane
December 2009
Stockholm University Press
Distrubuted by Coronet Books Inc.

ISBN: 9789186071264
149 pages
$63.50 Paper Original

The present study is a reading of the folkloric fairy-tale poem The Swain (Mólodets) (1924) by the Russian Modernist poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941). The poem represents a high point in Tsvetaeva's experiments with Russian folk art, and it is thoroughly folkloric in its theme, forms of writing and poetic language. At the same time, the poem can be linked to the attraction to folk art as a locus of the Sublime in literary tradition, which originates in German Romanticism, and finds its echoes in Russian Modernism. This study seeks to show that Tsvetaeva's exploration of folk art in the poem was inspired by a quandary linked to the Sublime; namely the paradoxical question how to present in art what is too great to be represented.

The poem is read as an image and an illustration of the poet's understanding of the means of presenting the unrepresentable. Tsvetaeva renders the tale as an uncanny story about a horrifying elemental force. She seeks to avoid representation by bringing out the story in a poetic performance, which has the character of a lyrical drama, where the voices of the characters speak and sing in a direct manner. Within the canvas of the folkloric performance, the poet explores poetic language to render the Sublime. She experiments with secondary meanings in order to bring out a language, which at the same time is "secret" and "literal", and where the element can be made present in its sublimity.


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