LETTER TO THE AMAZON by Marina Tsvetaeva

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Like many of Marina Tsvetaeva’s essays and poems, Letter to the Amazon is addressed to another writer, in this case Natalie Clifford Barney, a wealthy American expatriate in Paris. Though written in 1932, Tsvetaeva’s letter was in response to what Barney said about lesbian relationships and motherhood in her 1920 Pensées dune Amazone (Thoughts of an Amazon). Tsvetaeva uses her essay to emphasize what is to her mind a general truth of lesbian relationships (i.e. they cannot endure because of a woman’s innate desire for a child) and to explore her seemingly agonized feelings about Sophia Parnok, the Russian poet with whom she fell in love in 1914, when Tsvetaeva was twenty-two and Parnok twenty-nine.

Translated by A'Dora Phillips and Gaëlle Cogan, with an introduction by Catherine Ciepiela.


“The most peculiarly excitable and brilliant and perhaps the most individual style in twentieth-century Russian poetry.”
— Claudia Roth Pierpont, The New Yorker


Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) was one of the most renowned poets of 20th-century Russia. Her life coincided with years of extreme turbulence in Russian history. She left Russia in 1922 with her daughter and her husband, Sergei Efron. In 1925 the family settled in Paris where they lived in poverty. In 1939 Tsvetaeva returned to the Soviet Union. Following the arrest of her husband and daughter, she hanged herself on August 31, 1941.

A’Dora Phillips holds an MFA in Fiction from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a PhD in English (Creative Writing Fiction) at the University of Cincinnati. She taught writing for five years at UMass-Amherst and currently serves as an associate mentor in the City University of Hong Kong’s low-residency MFA program. In addition to writing, she studied traditional drawing and painting for many years, and has made her home in such places as Turkey, Romania, Italy, France, and the Czech Republic–experiences that inform her translation and writing.

Gaelle Cogan is a physical therapist and translator. She holds an MA in American Literature from the Université Paris IV-Sorbonne, and two diplomas in Literature and Languages from the École Normale Supérieure (Paris) and in Physical Therapy from the Lausanne University of Health Sciences, respectively. Her translations include Marina Tsvetaeva’s Letter to the Amazon (UDP). Her work has been featured in Rehauts as well as supported by a ProHelvetia grant and a residency at the Espace Van Gogh in Arles.

Catherine Ciepiela is a scholar and translator of Russian poetry who teaches at Amherst College. She is the author of The Same Solitude (Cornell 2006), a study of Marina Tsvetaeva’s epistolary romance with Boris Pasternak, and co-editor, with Honor Moore, of The Stray Dog Cabaret (NYRB 2007), an anthology of poems by the Russian modernists in Paul Schmidt’s translations. She also edited the recent anthology Relocations: Three Contemporary Russian Women Poets (Zephyr Press 2013) featuring the poetry of Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova and Maria Stepanova. Her translations of Marina Tsvetaeva and Polina Barskova have appeared in The Nation, The Massachusetts Review, Seneca Review and elsewhere. She is currently working on translations of Polina Barskova’s poetic prose.