Sophia Parnok was a poet. She was Russian. And she was a woman who loved other women - a lesbian.
Sophia, referred to in a biography as Russia's Sappho, "... early on asserted that her own lesbian identity was both innate and potentially positive."
In 1905 (when she was 20) Sophia ran away with an actress to Western Europe. That was the year she wrote this poem:
Just listen, how amidst inspired dreaming
the soul will suddenly lay bare its secret curves.
Let your thought illuminate them brightly
with creation’s breath in an audacious surge.
You will see, then, how the endless distance
so easily and wondrously removes its haze,
and there upon a lofty pedestal of marble
the depth of worlds feels Beauty’s silent gaze.
"Back in Russia, she briefly married to free herself from her family's influence, then left her husband in 1909 and began supporting herself by writing and translating.
In 1914, she fell in love with the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, and Sophia's first book, Poems (1916) "...included poems addressed to Tsvetaeva that are probably the first obviously lesbian love poems ever written [and published] by a Russian woman.
When she started publishing poems inspired by Sappho (such as The Roses of Pieria (1922) and The Vine (1923), "...critics were more hostile; ultimately, the Soviet literary establishment showed its disapproval by ignoring her."
Though she died in 1933, Sophia's work and impact were rediscovered by Russian readers in the 1990s.
Two more of her poems to enjoy:
I know profoundly well – you’ve shown me everything,and
the breathing of the skies, and speech of mighty billows
and twinkling of the stars within the depths of air,
and lightning’s vivid laugh in gloomy quietude
you’ve given me with you in brilliant consonance.
So let that farewell cry, as always, sound above me!
I have a heart so that it can be broken!
I know too well that last, that grievous moment,
when happiness can’t help but be forsaken –
but through the garden joyfully I’ll go!
So what if a new loss lies in my future,
– My heart’s so happy in its secret fever:
love summons me, and I won’t contradict her
I see: you’re getting off the streetcar – utterly beloved
a breeze, and in my heart it breathes you’re – utterly beloved
I can’t tear my eyes from you because you’re – utterly beloved!
And however did you come to be so – utterly beloved?
You, she-eagle from Caucasian glaciers, where in heat it’s cold.
You, carrier of a very sweet contagion, who never has a cold.
You, beclouder of your lover’s reason with logic clear and cold.
All five senses reel from your intoxication – utterly beloved!
Sophia being an out, proud lesbian poet in Russia's history? That's something to celebrate!
Quotes above taken from pg. 431 and 432 of "Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia" by Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson. Cited source "Sophia Parnok: The Life and Work of Russia's Sappho" by Diana Lewis Burgin (1994).
The photo of Sophia and more of her poetry, translated by Diana Lewis Burgin, were found here.
Add To The Celebration:
Who are the Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Queer Russians you'd like to celebrate? Tell me your favorites in comments, or by twitter, and on the final day of the Olympics, I'll run a rainbow variety-pack post with everyone's suggestions!
Please Note: Given the situation in Russia, I'm thinking we should keep it to either people who are no longer living in Russia or are historical. I'd hate to create a list that then would be used against people by a repressive, anti-LGBTQ regime.
Having said that, there is a lot of Queer Russian heritage to explore and so many LGBTQ Russians we can celebrate!
Bonus: Check out this fun video ad from Norway that pokes fun at Russia's anti-gay laws!