Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin (October 3rd 1895 – December 27th 1925) was a Russian lyrical poet.
Sergei Aleksandrovich Yesenin (sometimes spelled as Esenin) was born in Konstantinovo in the Ryazan region of Russian Empire to a peasant family. He spent most of his childhood in his grandparents' home. Sergei began to write poetry at the age of nine.
In 1912 the boy moved to Moscow where he supported himself working as a proofreader in a printing company. The following year Sergei enrolled in Moscow State University as an external student and studied there for a year and a half. His early poetry was inspired by a Russian folklore. In 1915, Sergei moved to St. Petersburg, where he became acquainted with fellow-poets Alexander Blok, Sergei Gorodetsky, Nikolai Klyuev and Andrey Bely. It was in St. Petersburg that he became well known in literature circles. Alexander Blok was especially helpful in promoting Yesenin's early career as a poet. Yesenin said that Bely gave him the meaning of form while Blok and Klyuev taught him lyricism.
In 1915, Yesenin published his first book of poems, Radunitsa, soon followed by Ritual for the Dead (1916). Through his collections of poignant poetry about love and the simple life, he became one of the most popular poets of the day.
His first marriage was in 1913 to Anna Izryadnova, a co-worker from the publishing house, with whom he had a son, Yuri. During the Stalinist purges, Yuri Yesenin was arrested and later died in 1937 at a Gulag labor camp.
"For the next two years (1915-1917), Yesenin and Klyuev were a team, living together most of the time. Collections of his poetry usually include his three love letters to Klyuev, without specifying to whom they were written." From 1916 to 1917, Yesenin was drafted into military duty, but soon after the October Revolution of 1917, Russia exited World War I. Believing that the revolution would bring a better life, he briefly supported it, but soon became disillusioned and sometimes even criticized the Bolshevik rule in such poems as The Stern October Has Deceived Me.
In August 1917 Yesenin married for a second time to an actress, Zinaida Raikh (later wife of Vsevolod Meyerhold). They had two children, a daughter, Tatyana, and a son, Konstantin. Konstantin Yesenin would become a well-known soccer statistician.
In September 1918, he founded his own publishing house called "the Moscow Labor Company of the Artists of Word."
In the fall of 1921, while visiting the studio of painter Alexei Yakovlev, he met the Paris-based American dancer Isadora Duncan, a woman 18 years his senior who knew only a dozen words in Russian, while he spoke no foreign languages. They married on May 2, 1922. Yesenin accompanied his new celebrity wife on a tour of Europe and the United States but at this point in his life, an addiction to alcohol had gotten out of control. Often drunk, his violent rages resulted in him destroying hotel rooms and causing disturbances in restaurants. This behavior received a great deal of publicity in the international press. His marriage to Duncan was brief and in May 1923 he returned to Moscow. He almost immediately became involved with actress Augusta Miklashevskaya and is rumored to have married her in a civil ceremony, although he had not obtained a divorce from Isadora Duncan.
That same year he had a son by the poet Nadezhda Volpin. Sergei Yesenin never knew his son by Volpin, but Alexander Esenin-Volpin grew up to become a prominent poet and activist in the Soviet Union's dissident movement of the 1960s with Andrei Sakharov and others. After moving to the United States, Esenin-Volpin became a prominent mathematician.
The last two years of Yesenin's life were filled with constant erratic and drunken behavior, but he also created some of his most famous poems. In 1925 Yesenin met and married his fifth wife, Sophia Andreyevna Tolstaya, a granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy. She attempted to get him help but he suffered a complete mental breakdown and was hospitalized for a month. Two days after his release for Christmas, he allegedly cut his wrist and wrote a farewell poem in his own blood, then the following day hanged himself from the heating pipes on the ceiling of his room in the Hotel Anglettere. He was 30 years old.
Although he was one of Russia's most popular poets and had been given an elaborate funeral by the State, most of his writings were banned by the Kremlin during the reigns of Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev. Nikolay Bukharin's criticism of Esenin contributed significantly to the banning. Only in 1966 were most of his works republished.
Sergei Yesenin's poems are taught to Russian schoolchildren and many have been set to music, recorded as popular songs. The early death, unsympathetic views by some of the literary elite, adoration by ordinary people, and sensational behavior, all contributed to the enduring and near mythical popular image of the Russian poet.
Sergei Yesenin is interred in Moscow's Vagankovskoye Cemetery.
Back to Russian Writers and Poets