An Attempt at Jealousy

Original by Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated, from the Russian, by Aster Fialla & Lev Nikulin

How could you live with someone new?
Easily, huh? One row and – gone!
Like a shore that shrinks from view
How quick the memory sailed on

Of me, the island floating o’er
(Across the sky – not in the sea)!
Souls, oh Souls! You’re siblings more
Than lovers, all you’ll ever be!

How could you live with one that’s merely
Simple? Sans divinity?
Dethrone the queen so cavalierly?
Renounce your crown and sovereignty?

How could you live – or do you slack?
How could you shiver, sit or stand?
Your vapidness comes with a tax;
How could you pay it, beggar man?

“Enough! Your fits drive me insane –
I’ll rent a house away from here!”
How could you, with some random Jane –
My beloved, chosen dear!

Your diet’s cheap and full of grit –
When it turns stale, don’t dare lament…
How could you live with counterfeit –
You, who conquered Sinai then!

How could you live with someone strange,
So common? Is her rib dear, now?
Does Zeus’ shame, so like a rein
Not lash against your sorry brow?

How could you live – and are you healthy?
Sing out? Do you think you can?
When conscience ulcerates your belly,
How could you manage, beggar man?

How could you live with market wares, huh?
The tax you pay – how high’s the fee?
After marbled, grand Carrara,
How could you live with the debris

Of shoddy gypsum? (Carved of stone –
God – and shattered all to hell!)
How could you live with scraps alone –
You, who once knew Lilith well!

Could you say you’re truly merry
With this trinket? Cold to myths,
How could you keep this ordinary
Woman, wholly lacking sixth

Think hard: are you truly glad there?
No? A chasm without end –
How can you live, dear? Is it sadder,
Or the same as me with him?



Попытка ревности

Как живётся вам с другою, —
Проще ведь? — Удар весла! —
Линией береговою
Скоро ль память отошла

Обо мне, плавучем острове
(По́ небу — не по водам!)
Души, души! быть вам сёстрами,
Не любовницами — вам!

Как живётся вам с простою
Женщиною? Без божеств?
Государыню с престола
Свергши (с оного сошед),

Как живётся вам — хлопочется —
Ёжится? Встаётся — как?
С пошлиной бессмертной пошлости
Как справляетесь, бедняк?

«Судорог да перебоев —
Хватит! Дом себе найму».
Как живётся вам с любою —
Избранному моему!

Свойственнее и съедобнее —
Снедь? Приестся — не пеняй…
Как живётся вам с подобием —
Вам, поправшему Синай!

Как живётся вам с чужою,
Здешнею? Ребром — люба?
Стыд Зевесовой вожжою
Не охлёстывает лба?

Как живётся вам — здоровится —
Можется? Поётся — как?
С язвою бессмертной совести
Как справляетесь, бедняк?

Как живётся вам с товаром
Рыночным? Оброк — крутой?
После мраморов Каррары
Как живётся вам с трухой

Гипсовой? (Из глыбы высечен
Бог — и на́чисто разбит!)
Как живётся вам с сто-тысячной —
Вам, познавшему Лилит!

Рыночною новизною
Сыты ли? К волшбам остыв,
Как живётся вам с земною
Женщиною, бе́з шестых

‎Ну, за голову: счастливы?
Нет? В провале без глубин —
Как живётся, милый? Тяжче ли,
Так же ли, как мне с другим?


Translator’s Note:

This submission is an experiment in co-translation and co-creation across languages and skillsets, taking as its subject Tsvetaeva’s often-translated poem “An Attempt at Jealousy [Popytka revnosti].” To produce this piece, Lev provided a precise prose translation of the poem that Aster then versified to match the meter and rhyme scheme of the original; we then refined the text together to attempt to capture Tsvetaeva’s fine shades of meaning and high emotional drama.

We consider this collective approach especially well-suited to Tsvetaeva, who engaged in poetic exchange and translation herself. She established poetic connections with poets both dead (Pushkin) and living (Pasternak, Rilke), famously forging her blistering cycle “Girlfriend [Podruga]” after her tumultuous relationship with poet Sophia Parnok. She translated from languages she knew and others she did not (Polish, Yiddish, Spanish). As Tsvetaeva entered into poetic conversations with other poets, we have tried to do so with her and with the others who have tackled her work in general and this piece in particular. In this translation, we most prioritized the communication of the vicious, biting tone of the original, searching for an emotional throughline which would carry Tsvetaeva’s bitter and acerbic breakup poem to the reader across language and time period. 


Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) is a monumental figure within Russian poetry, remembered for her layered and intricate wordplay, audacious explorations of the highs and lows of emotions and relationships, and more recently for her poetic experimentation with gender and sexuality. Born into a wealthy family, she started a career as a poet, witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1917, then later left the Soviet Union for Europe in 1922. In emigration, she lived in poverty but produced some of her finest work. In 1939, she returned to the USSR, where her family experienced hardship under Stalin’s regime; her daughter was arrested and her husband executed. She was evacuated in 1941 and died of suicide in Yelabuga, Tatar ASSR.


Aster Fialla (se/er) is a freelance illustrator, poet, and game developer in roughly that order. Check out samples of the former two at and the latter at

Lev Nikulin (he/they) is an academic specializing in horror, the Gothic, science fiction, genre studies, and LGBT studies in 19th and 20th century Russian literature and film. He currently works as a Postgraduate Research Associate and Lecturer at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University. Tsvetaeva’s The Swain [Molodets] is his favorite vampire story. Follow him at his website,