Last Poet of the Village' Biography and poetry of Sergey Aleksandrovich Yesenin (1895-1925)
I don't pity, don't call, don't cry I don't pity, don't call, don't cry, All will be gone, like haze from the white apple trees. Seized by the gold of withering, I will never be young again. My heart, touched by the chill within, You will not beat as before, And the cotton birches of the countryside No more will lure me to gad about barefoot. From 'I don't pity, don't call,...' 1921 Translated by Lyuba Coffey
Sergey Yesenin, c. 1919 Sergey Yesenin is without doubt the most profoundly Russian of all the poets of the Revolution. Sometimes dismissed by elitist poetic circles as a 'peasant poet', Yesenin was in fact an extremely gifted lyricist, an intellectual and a celebrity. He was the poet of the people, not only during the early days of the Revolution but long after his death in 1925 at age 30. His poetry survived through the Stalinist period, despite official disapproval of his works. His little books of poetry, often in tatters, could be found in the hands of migrant workers and Red Army soldiers. Many of his poems are learnt by heart at school. They have been set to music and are popular songs in modern Russia. His poetry, deceptively simple in structure, is fresh, sincere, melancholy and full of fire.
Alone, I am standing in the bare plain, While the cranes are carried far away by the wind; I am full of thoughts about my joyous youth, But I regret nothing from the past. I do not regret the years squandered in vain, I do not regret the lilac blossom within my soul. In the garden, a fire of rowan-berries is burning, But it cannot warm anyone. The rowan-berries in clusters, will not be scorched, The grass will not grow yellow and perish. As the tree gently lets fall its leaves, So I let fall melancholy words. From 'The golden grove has ceased to speak...' 1924 Translated by Dimitri Obolensky Yesenin in 1915
His wife's Yesenin was married five times in his short but very full life. His first marriage was to Anna Romanovna Izryadnova in 1913. They had a son Yuri in 1914. The second was to Zinaida Nikolayevna Riykh, an actress, in 1918. She bore him a daughter Tatiana and a son Konstania the following year. A year later they separated and he began the life of a wandering Bohemian poet. He was divorced from Riykh in October 1921 at the time when he first became acquainted with Isadora Duncan, the famous American dancer. In 1922 they were married and sailed for America on the 'Paris'. He was suspected of being a subversive and was held briefly on Ellis Island with his wife. The short stormy marriage was all the more remarkable, not that he was 17 years younger, but because he spoke no English and she no Russian. A year later, in 1923, they were separated. Next there was a civil marriage to Galina Arturovna Benislavskaya, his secretary. Also in that same year he had a son Alexandr by the poet Nadezhda Davidnova Volpin. Yesenin never saw Alexandr. Ironically, Alexandr Sergevich Volpin-Yesenin later became a well known poet in the dissident movement in Russia in the 1960s. In March 1925, Yesenin became acquainted with the grandaughter of Leo Tolstoi, Sophia Andreyevna Tolstoya. She became his last wife. Isadora Duncan and Yesenin, 1922 Zinaida Nikolayevna Riykh
Yesenin's 'simplicity', the songlike qualities, sincerity and lyricisms are all reflected vividly in his poetry. They imbue his personal psyche. He called his poems about animals 'a paean to animal rights'. His melancholic imagery in the poem about the red-manedcolt is a stark prophecy concerning today's dehumanized, urban society. The death of Yesenin, the most Russian of poets, marked the end of the Bolshevik regime's tolerance of artistic freedom. But his legacy traveled well in the sacks of migrant workers and Red Army soldiers, through all the years of the Soviet Russia. And his voice rang out in the lyrics of popular tunes all over his beloved 'Rus'. His verses about folklore, themselves became folklore.
A Letter to Mother Are you still alive, my dear granny? I am alive as well. Hello! Hello! May there always be above you, honey, The amazing stream of evening glow. I've been told that hiding your disquiet, Worrying about me a lot, You go out to the roadside every night, Wearing your shabby overcoat. In the evening darkness, very often, You conceive the same old scene of blood: Kind of in a tavern fight some ruffian Plunged a Finnish knife into my heart. Now calm down, mom! And don't be dreary! It's a painful fiction through and through. I'm not so bad a drunkard, really, As to die without seeing you. I'm your tender son as ever, dear, And the only thing I dream of now Is to leave this dismal boredom here And return to our little house. And how! I'll return in spring without warning When the garden blossoms, white as snow. Please don't wake me early in the morning, As you did before, eight years ago. Don't disturb my dreams that now have flown, Don't perturb my vain and futile strife For it's much too early that I've known Heavy loss and weariness in life. Please don't teach me how to say my prayers! There is no way back to what is gone. You're my only joy, support and praise And my only flare shining on. Please forget about your pain and fear, Please don't worry over me a lot Don't go out to the roadside, dear, Wearing your shabby overcoat
The Birch Tree/Береза Under my window Tucked in the snow White birch retired Clad in silver glow. On the fluffy branches Snowy-trim with silver-tinge Melted around catkins Forming white fringe. Like golden fires Snow-flakes blazed While birch stood still Asleep, or amazed. Meanwhile, lazily Strolling around, Dawn threw more “silver” On the twigs (and ground). Translated from original by K.M.W.Klara Белая береза Под моим окном Принакрылась снегом, Точно серебром. На пушистых ветках Снежною каймой Распустились кисти Белой бахромой. И стоит береза В сонной тишине, И горят снежинки В золотом огне. А заря, лениво Обходя кругом, Обсыпает ветки Новым серебром. 1913
The Stars/Звезды Tiny stars, bright stars, high stars! What are you keeping-in, and what are you hiding? How do the tender, deep-thoughts of stars, Keep my soul captive, without binding? Private stars, compact stars! Is it your beauty, knowledge, or might? What great power, o heavenly stars, Keeps my fascination burning at night? Why when you shine, do you lure me hard, To the embrace of the wide sky? You look tenderly, you caress my heart Heavenly stars, stars from afar, why? Translated from original by K.M.W.Klara Звездочки ясные, звезды высокие! Что вы храните в себе, что скрываете? Звезды, таящие мысли глубокие, Силой какою вы душу пленяете? Частые звездочки, звездочки тесные! Что в вас прекрасного, что в вас могучего? Чем увлекаете, звезды небесные, Силу великую знания жгучего? И почему так, когда вы сияете, Маните в небо, в объятья широкие? Смотрите нежно так, сердце ласкаете, Звезды небесные, звезды далекие! 1911-1912