Sergei Aleksandrovich Esenin

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Sergei Aleksandrovich Esenin

The poetry of the Russian author Sergei Aleksandrovich Esenin (1895-1925) reflects the impact of industrialization on Russian rural life. The novelty of his works and his flamboyant personality attracted the attention of artistic circles in Russia and abroad.

Sergei Esenin was born on Oct. 3, 1895, in the Ryazan Province. His parents were of peasant stock. He was raised from the age of 2 in the home of his grandfather. Esenin's youth was rough and adventurous. He learned to ride horseback at the age of 3 and soon took part in farming and in hunting expeditions. After graduating from the local provincial school in 1909, Esenin studied for 3 years in a Russian Orthodox church school; the Russian Orthodox religion had a strong effect on his political views and on the thematics of his poetry. In 1912 Esenin went to Moscow, where he studied at the Shanyavsky People's University. While there he worked at various jobs and began to write verse. His first poems were published in 1914.

In 1914 Esenin moved to Petrograd (later Leningrad, now St. Petersburg) and immediately became a literary celebrity. He made the acquaintance of the symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok and was a frequent visitor at various literary salons. He had a completely uninhibited, raucous personality. He would often become intoxicated and proclaim his verse at the top of his voice. Army service interrupted his career in 1916, but soon after the Russian Revolution he was discharged, and he returned to Petrograd.

Shortly after the Revolution, Esenin married the dancer Isadora Duncan. She, like many Western artists of the period, was flirting with the new and promising ideas emanating from the Soviet Union after the Revolution. But Esenin had seen the devastating effect of these ideas on the traditional peasant culture which he cherished, and their marriage was stormy. In 1922 and 1923 Esenin and his wife toured abroad, stopping in Germany, France, Austria, and the United States. In 1925 Esenin found himself abandoned and alone in Leningrad, suffering from alcoholism. On the night of Dec. 27, 1925, he cut his wrists, wrote his last poem in his own blood, and hanged himself.

Esenin's poetry is inspired by a sensitivity to nature, unsullied by modern life and free of the effects of industrialization. He is a poet of the Russian village and of the Russian peasant in his rural setting. His appreciation for nature is primitive and religious, almost pantheistic. His poems after the Revolution portray the devastating effects which the encroachment of industrialization had on traditional rural life. A typical juxtaposition in his poetry is that of a colt to the iron horse of the railroad. His style and language reflect the rhythm and color of Russian peasant speech. One of the founders of the short-lived imagist movement in Russian poetry, Esenin often uses liturgical words and bright, contrasting images. He viewed human nature as fundamentally dual, and his poetry portrays the struggle between creative and destructive forces in human life.

Further Reading

An exceptionally good study of Esenin's life and personality is Frances De Graaff, Sergei Esenin: A Biographical Sketch (1966). Irma Duncan, Isadora Duncan's Russian Days (1929), is a good account of Esenin's marriage to Isadora Duncan. The best critical study of Esenin's poetry is found in Renato Poggioli, The Poets of Russia, 1890-1930 (1960).

Additional Sources

Esenin: a biography in memoirs, letters, and documents, with previously untranslated prose works and correspondence by Esenin, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1982.

McVay, Gordon, Esenin: a life, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1976. □

Yesenin, Sergei Alexandrovich

views updated May 29 2018


(18951925), popular poet of the Soviet period, known for his evocations of the Russian countryside and the Soviet demimonde.

Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin (also spelled Esenin) born in 1895 in Konstantinovo, a farm village in the Riazan province, where he attended school. He came to prominence in Petrograd in 1915 as part of a group of "Peasant Poets." His early work was noted for its elegiac portrayal of rural life and religious themes.

Yesenin was an ambivalent supporter of the October Revolution and the Soviet state. He tried to write on revolutionary themes, but his explorations of intimate relationships, urban street life, and the disappearance of old rural Russia were more popular. Yesenin was also known for his charisma, heavy drinking, and scandalous behavior. He was married three times, once to the American dancer Isadora Duncan. Yesenin committed suicide in December 1925, shortly after writing his final poem, "Good-bye, My Friend, Good-bye," in his own blood.

Yesenin's popularity continued after his death, as readers were drawn to his unconventional lifestyle and introspective poetry. This concerned the Communist leadership, who believed that Yesenin had both reflected and encouraged a growing sense of disaffection and "hooliganism" among Soviet youth. Numerous attacks on "Yeseninism" appeared in the Soviet press in 1926 and 1927. He was also criticized by the so-called proletarian writers for his anti-urban bias and individualism. As a result, official policy toward Yesenin's works was ambivalent, and no new editions of his work were published between 1927 and 1948.

There was increased interest in Yesenin's work in the 1960s and 1970s. His influence was evident on the rising generation of bard-singers, such as Vladimir Vysotsky, and also on the emerging "Village Prose" movement. One of Yesenin's illegitimate sons, Alexander Volpin-Yesenin, was an early dissident and human rights advocate. Major collections of Esenin's work include Radunitsa (1916), The Hooligan's Confession (1921), and Selected Works (1922).


McVay, Gordon. (1976). Esenin: A Life. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis.

Slonim, Marc. (1977). Soviet Russian Literature: Writers and Problems, 19171977, 2nd rev. ed. London and New York: Oxford University Press.

Brian Kassof

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