Radunitsa, 1915 (All Soul’s Day, 1991)
Goluben’, 1918 (Azure, 1991; includes “Preobrazhenie,” “Transfiguration,” “Prishestvie,” “The Coming,” and “Inonia”)
Ispoved’ khuligana, 1921 (Confessions of a Hooligan, 1973)
Stikhi skandalista, 1923
Moskva kabatskaia, 1924
“Cherni chelovek,” 1925
Persidskie motivi, 1925
Rus’ sovetskaia, 1925
Strana sovetskaia, 1925
Anna Snegina, 1925
Sobranie sochinenii, 1961-1962 (5 volumes)
Selected Poetry, 1982
“Kliuchi Marri,” 1918
Sergei Esenin (yih-SYAY-nyihn) was born into a peasant family in the village of Konstantinovo–since his death officially renamed Esenino–in Ryazan province, Russia. When he was two years old his father moved to Moscow, and the boy was brought up by his grandparents. At the age of nine he began to write poems. He attended the village elementary school until the age of twelve, when he was sent to a teachers’ college. There he read Alexander Pushkin for the first time and decided that the life of a teacher was not for him.
In the spring of 1912 he went to Moscow and at first lived with his father. Soon, however, he became involved with the Surikov Circle, a collection of working-class and peasant writers. He found work at a printing press and registered at the Shanyovsky People’s University, where he attended a miscellany of lectures. During this time he was writing a great deal, but although he sent many of his poems to St. Petersburg magazines, none was accepted for publication. In 1914 he decided to go to St. Petersburg, and there he met Nikolai Klyuyev and Aleksandr Blok, both of whom greatly influenced his work.
With Klyuyev’s help Esenin’s first collection of poems, Radunitsa, was published in 1915. The work was an immediate success. Shortly afterward, however, Esenin was drafted into the army and in 1917 was sent to the front. The contemporaneous advent of the revolution surprised millions of Russians, and countless numbers of soldiers simply deserted, Esenin among them. He returned to St. Petersburg and his writing, and in 1919 he published the poem “Inonia,” which exalted the revolution and prophesied what Esenin called the restoration of village “wooden” Russia.
Esenin had married the actress Zinaida Reich in 1917, but they had soon after become estranged. In 1919 he joined the circle of Moscow Imaginist poets, a group of literary bohemians. Many critics trace Esenin’s wild life with the Imaginists–which involved brawls, prostitutes, taverns, and jails–to a disillusionment with the revolution. He met famous American dancer Isadora Duncan, who was then in Moscow, and in 1922 they married. Though neither could speak the other’s language, they had a bond in their extravagant and dissipated style of living. They made a grand tour of Western Europe and the United States, but in 1923 they separated, and Esenin returned to Russia.
Esenin described his psychological experiences during those years in such poems as Moskva kabatskaia (Moscow of the taverns) and Confessions of a Hooligan. In 1925 he married a granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy; she remained his faithful companion during his increasingly prolonged depressions. That year he published “The Black Man,” a confessional narrative. Esenin continued to drink and began to write lyrics in which he prophesied his own death. On December 28, 1925, alone in a Leningrad hotel room, he cut his wrists, wrote a farewell poem with his own blood, and hanged himself. The last lines of that poem fix his mood: “In this life to die is nothing new, but, of course, there is as little novelty in living.”