Sergey Yesenin - Two Biographies


Sergey Esenin's flamboyant personality, peasant origins, and craving for self-destruction have forever canonized him as Russia's favorite "hooligan poet." Esenin died at the age of 30, tired of life and poetry. His suicide, still a mystery, triggered a wave of suicides among his fervent adepts. The novelty and magnitude of his continues to astonish his readers.

Sergey Esenin was born into a peasant family on 3 October 1895 in the village of Konstantinovo (now Esenino), in the Ryazan region. His parents worked away from home and displayed little concern for their son, who, at the age of two, was put under the care of his maternal grandparents. According to Esenin, no one had a greater influence on him than his grandfather, a member of the Old Believers, a group of Russian religious dissenters who refused to accept the liturgical reforms imposed upon the Russian Orthodox Church by the patriarch of Moscow, Nikon, in the 17th century. Esinin’s grandfather was well versed in religious literature, and successfully fused his spirituality with a practical approach to life; Esenin admired the symmetry of his grandfather’s life and saw him as a true role model.

From 1904 to 1909, Esenin attended the village school, continuing his education in the church boarding school for prospective teachers. It was during this time that he seriously took up poetry.

Upon the request of his father, a merchant's manager, Esenin moved to Moscow in 1912. In March of 1913, Esenin got a job as a proofreader at Sytin's printing house, where he gained access to a great variety of Russian texts. He joined a group of peasant and proletarian poets known as the Surikov Circle, and occasionally presented his works. In the fall of 1913, Esenin subscribed to the Shanyavsky People's University and attended lectures there on history and philosophy for a year and a half as an external student.

Blessed with good looks and a charming personality, he fell in love frequently and entered quite a number of romantic relationships. He married his first wife, Anna Izriadnova, a co-worker from the publishing house, in the winter of 1913 and lived with her for two years. They had a son, Yury, who in 1937 was persecuted and died in a labor camp.

Esenin's first publication appeared in January of 1914 in the Mirok children's magazine. His poem, “The Birch Tree,” is still a part of the Russian school curriculum and is learned by heart by every elementary school student.

In 1915, Esenin moved to Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), where he thought he would have a greater chance of expanding his literary activity.

In Petrograd, he received a warm welcome from another great poet, Aleksandr Blok, who helped him gain entrance to the city’s literary circles. Esenin met Anna Akhamatova and Nikolay Gumilev and formed a close relationship with the peasant poet Nikolay Kluev, with whom he organized recitals of poems at literary salons, dressing in peasant clothing.

In 1916-17, Esenin served in the military as an orderly on a sanitary train. While working in the infirmary, he had the opportunity to read his poems to the Empress and her daughters, who paid a visit to the facility. Esenin defected from the army shortly after the Revolution of 1917. During the years of the Civil War he extensively toured the country, visiting Murmansk, Archangelsk, the Crimea, the Caucasus, and other places.

In 1916, his first collection of poems, “Radunitsa” (the pagan holiday signifying the commemoration of the dead), was published. In it, Esenin described traditional village life and folk culture, the "wooden Russia" of his childhood, and his pantheistic belief in Nature. In his early poems, Esenin portrayed the Russian countryside melancholically or romantically, and adopted the role of peasant prophet and spiritual leader. The Soviet politician and literary theorist, Leo Trotsky, claimed that Esenin “smelled of medievalism.” On the other hand, Ilya Ehrenburg writes in his memoirs “People, Years, Life” (1960-65), that another prominent writer, Maxim Gorky, was deeply moved and cried when Esenin read him his poems.

In March of 1917, Esenin met his second wife, Zinaida Raikh, an actress. With her he had a daughter, Tatyana, and a son, Konstantin. The marriage however, didn't even last a year. ...

Sergei Esenin (spelled also Yesenin)

The "prodigal son" of Russian poetry, whose self-destructive life style and peasant origins marked his work throughout his relatively short career. Esenin died at the age of 30, tired of life and tired of poetry. His suicide in Leningrad triggered a wave of imitative suicides. Esenin became a myth and legend, and he is still one of the most beloved poets in his country.

"There are poets... who have their hour, Aseev, poor Klyuev - liquidated - Sel'vinsky - even Esenin. They fulfill an urgent need of the day, their gifts are of crucial importance to the development of poetry in their country, and then they are no more." (Boris Pasternak in 'Conversations with Akhmatova and Pasternak' by Isiah Berlin, 1980)

Sergei Aleksandrovich Esenin (also transliterated Sergey Yesenin) was born in Konstantinovo (now Yesenino), into a peasant family of Old Believers, who were in Russia considered religious dissidents. Esenin was raised by his maternal grandparents. Already in his childhood, he started to compose verse. From 1904 to 1909, he attended the village school, and then the Spas-Klepiki church boarding school. During this period he started to write poetry seriously. Upon the advice of his teacher, he moved to Moscow to pursue his writing career. Esenin worked for a year in Sytin's printing house. He joined a group of peasant and proletarian poets, the "Surikov" circle, and occasionally he also attended lectures at Shaniavskii University. In 1913-15 he lived with Anna Izriadnova; they had one son. In 1917 he married Zinaida Raikh; they had one daughter and one son.

Esenin's first verse were published in the Moscow journal Mirok in 1914. He moved in 1915 to Petrograd, where he began to achieve fame in the literary salons. Among his acquaintances were Aleksandr Blok, Sergei Gorodetskii and the peasant poet Nikolai Kliuev, with whom he formed a close friendship. In his first collection of poems, Radunitsa (1916), Esenin wrote about traditional village life and the folk culture, the "wooden Russia" of his childhood, and his pantheistic belief in Nature. The title of the collection referred to a folk funeral ritual, the "Commemoration of the Dead". "They say I'll become an illustrious / Poet of Russia soon," Esenin predicted in 1917. In his early poems Esenin viewed the Russian countryside melancholically or romantically, and adopted the role of peasant prophet and spiritual leader. Esenin also composed poems with religious themes - his Christ was a defender of the poor and discriminated. The Soviet politician and literature theorist Leo Trotsky claimed that Esenin smelled of medievalism. On the other hand, Ilya Ehrenburg tells in his memoirs People, Years, Life (1960-65), that Maxim Gorky was deeply moved and cried when Esenin read him his poems.

In 1916-17 Esenin was in military service in Tsarskoe Selo but deserted from the army after the 1917 February Revolution. He returned to Moscow in 1918. Esenin was a founding member of the Imaginist movement, which shocked conservative critics with avant-garde poetry and playful blasphemy. He issued several volumes of verse, and contributed to a number of Imaginist collections. The Imaginist poet Anatolii Mariengof (1897-1962) became his friend; they shared the same apartment and wrote poems at the same table. Their life Mariengof chronicled in his memoir, Roman bez vra'ia (1927). Mariengof's only son, Kirill, committed suicide by hanging, like Esenin, in 1940.

Esenin hoped that the Revolution would lead to a better future for the peasantry, a new age, of which he crystallized his visions in Inoniya (1918). Later, in 'The Stern October Has Deceived Me', Esenin revealed his disappointment with the Bolsheviks. By the 1920 Esenin realized that he was "the last poet of the village". The long poetic drama Pugachyov (1922) was influenced the spirit of the time and glorified the 18th-century rebellious peasant leader. Confessions of a Hooligan (1921) revealed another side of Esenin's personality - provocative, vulgar, wounded, anguished. 'The Black Man' is considered Esenin's most ruthless analysis of his failures and alcoholic hallucinations.

After divorce in 1921, Esenin married in 1922 the famous American dancer Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), who had opened a ballet school in Moscow. He followed her on tour to western Europe and the United States in 1922-23. Mariengof has later written in an essay, that Isadora herself did not fascinate Esenin, but her fame. When he watched her devouring cold roast mutton, Esenin lost completely his own appetite. Their journey abroad was a disaster for Esenin, who wished that his poetry would be well-received. "Only abroad," wrote Esenin, "did I understand how great are the merits of the Russian Revolution which has saved the world from a horrible spirit of philistinism." From America Esenin did not find anything good but the fox-trot dance. In 1923 he returned to Russia, suffering from depression and hallucinations. According to Mariengof, during the journey Esenin became an alcoholic, and his determination to end his life turned manic: he threw himself in front of a local train, tried to jump from a window of a 5 store building, and hurt himself with a kitchen knife. In the cycle 'Liubov' khuligana' (1923) he took distance to his earlier anarchism, and relied on the healing power of love. Some of his most celebrated lyrics - addressed to his family and village - belong to this period. In these works Esenin's major theme was hopelessness. He used straightforward language, without the ornaments of his imaginist lyrics.

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