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The page of Jeszenyin, Szergej, English biography

Image of Jeszenyin, Szergej
Jeszenyin, Szergej
(Есенин, Сергей Александрович)


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.

He was a striking figure with his blonde hair like fields of rye, sparkling cornflower blue eyes, beautiful looks and a deep resonant voice. Donned in his blue peasant blouse, with golden silk cord, he attracted huge admiring audiences wherever he traveled in Russia. Chanting poems about the countryside, sweet Jesus, horses, clouds, revolutions, love and melancholic lanscapes... He all but sang the verses, and mesmorized his adoring audience with his passion and artistry. In his earlier poetry, the horse occupied a central theme. In fact, Yesenin envisioned himself as a foal maddened by the fire-breathing locomotive of industrialization.

Born on October 3, 1895 in Kostantinovo (now Yesinino) in the province of Ryazan in Central Russia, his parents soon moved to the city, leaving him in the care of his grandparents, who were devout Christians of the old faith(Old Believers). 'I remember the forest, the wide, deeply rutted road. I am with you grandmother, on the way to Radovetsky Monastery, some forty versts away.' Yesenin was a high spirited village boy full of mischief. His early poetry is about the sunsets, the animals,... the forests.

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. Traveling with her on dance tours, he acted the role of the hooligan in the most fashionable hotels and restaurants in America and Europe. 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.

The last two years of his life were marked by wild extremes of debauchery and heavy drinking. Despite these excesses, he wrote prolifically and his life is vividly recorded in the last poems. He traveled south to the Caucasus, where he seemed to recover from his melancholy. He met Shagane (Shagandukht Nersesovna Talyan), my Shagi, and began a cycle of love poems: Persian Motifs. In them he longs for that perfect love, of roses and the nightingale's song.

The momentary window of new hope was soon vanquished. In late December 1925, after spending some weeks in a mental hospital, he was found hanged with a strap from his suitcase in his room in the Hotel Angleterre in St. Petersburg. The previous day he had torn a page with a poem from his book and given this to his friend Erlikh but asked him not to read it in his presence. Erlikh read it on December 28, the day Yesenin died. It was a poem written in his own blood.

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