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Very rare first edition of Tsvetaeva’s second book of poetry, containing two of her most famous poems. One of only 500 copies
An attractive example with the fragile original velvet binding unrestored.
When published in 1912, Tsvetaeva was twenty years old and the format of the volume, dedicated to her husband, the writer Sergei Efron, made it look like a small velvet-bound prayer book, hinting at the purity and innocence of childhood scenes described in Part I of the volume.
However ‘Fonar’, despite being largely preoccupied with childhood impressions, is a more mature and bolder book of poetry than Tsvetaeva’s first collection, ‘Vechernii albom’ (‘The Evening Album’, 1910). It touches on such themes as the fragility of happiness, suicide, feminist rebellion (foreshadowing Tsvetaeva’s affair with Sofia Parnok), the slow disappearance of the old Russia. It also establishes one of Tsvetaeva’s future leitmotifs – the nostalgia for the old noble Moscow (‘Domiki staroi Moskvy’).
The volume opens with an address to the reader, in which Tsvetaeva, almost apologetically, writes that ‘a woman’s book of poetry is nothing more than a magic lantern’. However, this address may have been false modesty on Tsvetaeva’s part. In ‘Fonar’ she embraces the feminine stance on life, focusing on her relationship with her mother and sister Asia, challenging at the same time the traditional vision of a woman as a shy ‘sheep’ (‘Tolko devochka’). The dream occupation of Tsvetaeva’s speaker is to be a military drummer (‘Baraban’).
‘Fonar’ consists of three parts. Part I is an ode to childhood, with its tragedies, like the mother’s sadness and bad marks at school, and joys – going ice skating or to the bookshop. It brings to mind Tolstoy’s novels and their images of pre-revolutionary Russia: governesses, ‘iamshik’ (the coachman), an old nanny, the first ball, the diamond shop in Tverskaia Street. The atmosphere of some poems is reminiscent of the style of the Russian artist Alexandre Benois, especially his Rococo paintings: in ‘Malchik s rosoi’ and in ‘Devochka-smert’ images of ‘a fancy blue shoe’, ‘a lace scarf’, roses and parquet floor evoke a long-gone era.
In Part II, the speaker is fifteen and bids farewell to childhood. The section features familiar attributes of teenage years: first kisses, Schiller and Byron, friendship oaths, and the youthful maximalism – ‘ia i mir’ (‘I and the world’, with ‘I’ taking the first place).
Part III concludes the life cycle structure of the volume, with its nostalgia for the lost innocence. Mature poems appear: a famous dedication to Sergei Efron (‘My s toboiu lish dva otgoloska’) and lyrical pictures of the Oka river and its environs (Tsvetaeva’s family owned a house in Tarusa and she spent many summers there).
‘Fonar’ received mixed reviews, but the prominent critic Piotr Pertsov praised the volume’s modesty, freshness and sincerity. ‘The volume’s quietness is better than the works of modern male poets, who pat the universe on the shoulder and fraternise with eternity. It is the quiet words that remain forever’ (‘Golos Moskvy’. 1912. № 70, 24 March. P. 5).
Robert Eden Martin (b. 1940; American lawyer and noted collector of Russian, British and American literature works).