"Russia's Sapho" and her circle of female friends

PARNOK, Sofiia

Vpolgolosa. Stkihi 1926-1927

[Half-Whispered. Poems 1926-1927]

Publication: Uzel, Moskva, 1928.

PARNOK, Sofiia, Vpolgolosa. Stkihi 1926-1927

An inscribed copy of Parnok’s last collection of verses: a very rare work by a Russian woman standing out in the literary landscape of the country.

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First edition of this last collection of Parnok’s poems: a fine copy inscribed by Parnok to the fellow poet Tikhon Churilin (1885-1946) whom the great poetess and Parnok’s lover Marina Tsvetaeva also esteemed as a brilliant poet. A member of various circles of Moscow avant-garde artists and poets, including futurists, Churilin had known both women for a decade when this edition appeared.

Extremely rare: limited to 200 numbered copies. We could not trace any other copy at recent auctions outside Russia; Worldcat locates only one physical copy in Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin outside Russia.

Born to a family of Jewish descent and gifted writers (such as her sister Elizaveta and brother Valentin Parnakh), Sofiia Parnok (1885-1933) became famous for her poetic talent and her lesbian relationships, about which she wrote openly – an exception in Russia at the time. She had in particular a romance with Marina Tsvetaeva in 1914-16: Tsvetaeva left her husband (temporarily) to move with Parnok, and wrote for her the cycle of poems ‘Girlfriend’ [‘Podruga’]. Tsvetaeva famously described this love as “the first catastrophe of [her] life”.

Written ten years later, these ‘Half-Whispered’ poems were inspired by Parnok’s summer holidays in the Kiev Oblast of Ukraine with her long-term partner, the actress Liudmila Erarskaia, and with her friend Olga Tsuberbiller, a noted mathematician at Moscow State University and the dedicatee of the work as a whole. Some of the poems are however dedicated to other women, including Erarskaia, Sofiia Chatskina (publisher and co-owner of the journal ‘Northern Annals’ [‘Severnyie zapiski]), Elizaveta Tarakhovskaia (Parnok’s sister, fellow poet and also playwright), as well as Iuliia Rimskaia-Korsakova-Veisberg, daughter-in-law of the composer and a composer herself – Parnok created librettos for two of her operas. The last poem in the collection is written in memory of the Silver Age poet Adelaida Gertsyk (1874-1925) who hosted the literary salon where Parnok met Tsvetaeva.

Parnok suffered from Graves’ disease since young age, and finished this poetical cycle when she was already deeply ill: “The poems she wrote in early 1927 showed her growing loneliness and resignation to the inevitability of her own death” (Burgin).

After 1928, her works remained unpublished and she made her living solely by translations. She died in 1933 after a heart attack caused by her illness. The poet Vladislav Khodasevich (whose wife had also received an inscribed copy of ‘Vpolgolosa’) wrote in her obituary: “She published many books that were unknown to the general public – all the worse for the public” (our translation).

The publisher of ‘Vpolgolosa’, Uzel (meaning ‘knot’), was an interesting project of a cooperative publishing house: in a time of growing State censorship, a group of poets including Parnok founded Uzel to have the liberty to publish their own works. The State censors first allowed its existence thanks to limited print runs, usually under 700 copies; the publishing house was nevertheless closed shortly after the present publication.


Tikhon Churilin (dedication on upper flyleaf in black ink: “Tikhonu Churilinu, poetu i cheloveku, s kotorym kogda-to vstretilas moia zhizn. Druzheski Sofiia Parnok. 21.IV.1932” [“To Tikhon Churilin, the poet and man with whom my life once met. With friendship, Sofia Parnok. 21.IV.1932”]); M. A. Vershvovskii (stamp to inside cover).


Lesman 1711 (copy no. 19, inscribed to Chatskina); Rozanov 3576 (no. 73, not inscribed apparently); Turchinskii 411; Burgin, Diana Lewis, Sophia Parnok: The Life and Work of Russia’s Sappho. The Cutting Edge: Lesbian Life and Literature. New York, New York: New York University Press, 1994, pp. 229–230.

Gromova, Natalia. Uzel. Poetry. Drushby. Razryvy. Iz literaturnogo byta kontsa 20-30kh godov. Moskva: Corpus, 2016.

Item number



Physical Description

Octavo (17 x 13 cm). 57 pp. incl. title, [5] pp. t.o.c.


Publisher’s printed wrappers.


Wrappers a bit stained, tears to spine ends with tears; block a bit loose, endpapers slightly stained.

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