Esenin, Sergei

Esenin, Sergei Aleksandrovich


Born Sept. 21 (Oct. 3), 1895, in the village of Konstantinovo, now Esenino, in Riazan’ Oblast; died Dec. 28, 1925, in Leningrad; buried in Moscow. Soviet Russian poet.

Esenin was born into a peasant family. He moved to Moscow in 1913 and worked in a printing house; he attended the A. M. Shaniavskii Peopled University. His first published poem was The Birch, in 1914. He moved to Petrogradin 1915, where he became good friends with the poets N. Kliuev and S. Gorodetskii; he also met A. Belyi and A. Blok. Day of the Dead, Esenin’s first collection of verse (1916), attracted attention because of its heartfelt picture of nature and its “visual festiveness,” which Esenin himself later recognized as a living trait of the people’s attitude, linking it with the organic figurativeness of the Russian language and with ritual and ornamental art (Maria’s Keys, 1918).

Esenin’s attitude toward the October Revolution-enthusiastic, but with “a peasant’s bias” (in his words)—was reflected in the 1917–18 poem cycle (Otchar’, 1917; Oktoikh, 1918;Otherland, 1918;Pantocrator, 1919); it was a unique poetic “bible,” whose purpose, in Esenin’s conception, was to carry the “light” of art into a life renewed by the revolutionary whirlwind. But soon Esenin became aware that the real social and historical changes were incompatible with his peasant Utopia in Otherland, a land where the rivers flow “with milk and honey.” His distrustful and hostile defensive attitude toward “the iron guest”—the city—appeared in his works of 1919–21, such as Prayers for the Dead (Sorokoust), 1920;Mare Ships, 1920;A Song About Grain, 1921; and to some extent in the lyric drama Pugachev, 1921.

During 1919–23, Esenin was a member of the imaginist group. The link between the already established, original artist and imaginism was purely external, but the life-style of imaginist Bohemia played no small role in his destiny. Their pessimistic, decadent moods were reflected in the series Tavern Moscow (1921–24) and in the poem The Black Man (1925). However, Esenin could not live alienated from society, from the present, and from Russia (this became particularly clear to him during his travels abroad during 1922–23).

The years 1924 and 1925 were a turning point in his life. In Song About the Great Campaign, the collection Soviet Russia (1925), the poems “The Homecoming” and “Captain of the Earth,” and the introduction to the epic poem Guliai Pole, Esenin was trying to “understand at every moment a Russia upheaved by the Soviet commune.” The poet portrayed V. I. Lenin in his poems; he glorified the feat of the Baku commissars (Ballad of the Twenty-Six, 1924). In the 1925 poem Anna Snegina he realistically showed the new, revolutionary village life. Among the lyric poems he wrote at that time were the widely known series Persian Themes (1925 collection) and the poems Letter to My Mother and To Kachalov’s Dog. However, in spite of his sincere desire to cope artistically with “the different village life” and his respect for the new, international Russia, Esenin continued to feel himself to be the poet of “disappearing Russia,” of the “golden log izba.” In a state of severe mental depression, he committed suicide.

Esenin, whose poetry expressed the “inexhaustible ‘sorrow of the fields,’ love for everything living on earth, and charity” (M. Gorky, Sobr. soch., vol. 17, 1952, p. 64), is one of the most widely read Russian lyric poets and an outstanding renovator of poetic figurativeness. Esenin fathomed the romantic nature of the folk song and learned the art of lyric gesture from the chastushka (epigrammatic four-line song), and use of metaphor from the folk riddle. He thus escaped the danger of stylization and created an original poetic system, which freely combined melodiousness, picturesqueness, folkloric universality, and complexity of individual emotionality. There is a memorial museum in the village of Esenin’s birth. His works have been translated into many languages.


Sobr. stikhotvorenii, vols. 1–4. Introductory article by A. Voronskii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1926–27.
Soch., vols. 1–2. Introductory article by K. Zelinskii. Moscow, 1955.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Moscow, 1961–62.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Moscow, 1966–68.


Gorky, M. “Sergei Esenin.”Sobr. soch., vol. 17. Moscow, 1952.
Esenin: Zhizn’, Lichnost’, Tvorchestvo. Edited by E. Nikitina. Moscow, 1926.
Vospominaniia o Sergee Esenine. An anthology edited by lu. L. Prokushev. Moscow, 1965.
Naumov, E. Sergei Esenin: Lichnost’, Tvorchestvo, Epokha. Leningrad, 1969.
Iushin, P. F. Sergei Esenin: Ideino-tvorcheskaia evoliutsiia. Moscow, 1969.
Korzhan, V. Esenin i narodnaia poeziia. Leningrad, 1969.
Karpov, E. L. S. A. Esenin: Bibliografich. spravochnik. Moscow, 1966.