Sergei Aleksandrovich Esenin was born in the small village of Konstantinovo, since renamed Esenino in the poet’s honor, in the fertile Ryazan province. His parents were poor farmers, and because his mother had married against the will of her parents, the Titovs, the couple received no support from their families. Esenin’s father had to go to Moscow, where he worked in a butcher shop, in order to send home some money. When he stopped sending the money, his wife had no other choice but to find work as a live-in servant. Her parents at last decided to help and took the young boy to live with them.
Esenin’s grandfather, Feodor Andreevich Titov, belonged to a religious sect known as the Old Believers; he frequently recited religious poems and folk songs, and he approached life with an optimistic vigor. Esenin’s grandmother sang folk songs and told her grandson many folktales. Both grandparents adored the young Esenin, who lived a happy and relatively carefree life. They made a great impression on the young boy.
From 1904 to 1909, Esenin attended the village school, where, with little effort, he graduated with excellent marks. His grandfather Titov decided that Esenin should become a teacher and sent him to the church-run Spas-Klepiki pedagogical school from 1909 to 1912. At first, Esenin was extremely unhappy in the new surroundings; he even ran away once and walked forty miles back to his grandparents’ home. Eventually, however, he became reconciled to his fate, and he was noticed by his teachers and peers for the unusual ease with which he wrote poetry. The boy with the blond, curly hair became self-confident and even boastful, which made him unpopular with some of his fellow students.
At the age of sixteen, after his graduation in 1912, Esenin decided not to continue his studies at a teacher’s institute in Moscow. Instead, he returned to his grandparents’ home and devoted his life to poetry. He was happy to be free to roam aimlessly through the fields and the forests, and his early poems reflect his love for animals and for the rural landscape. Although he also used religious themes in his early poems, Esenin was probably not very religious, certainly not as devoted as his grandfather. He was, however, very familiar with the religious traditions of the Old Believers and with the patriarchal way of life.
Esenin realized that to become known as a poet, he had to move to a big city. In 1912, he moved to Moscow, taking a job in the butcher’s shop where his father worked. He disliked the job but soon found work as a bookstore clerk, where he was happier. Esenin also joined the Surikov circle, a large group of proletarian and peasant writers.
Esenin lost his job in the bookstore, but in May of 1913, he became a proofreader in a printing shop. The work strengthened his interest in the labor movement, and though he never completely accepted the ideology of the Social Revolutionary Party, he distributed illegal literature and supported other revolutionary activities. To learn more about history and world literature, Esenin took evening courses at the Shaniavski People’s University in Moscow. With his goal of becoming a great poet, he recognized the need to broaden his education.
The foremost Russian writers of the time, however, lived in St. Petersburg rather than in Moscow, and in March of 1915, Esenin moved to Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was known between 1914, when Russia went to war against Germany, and 1924, when it became Leningrad). Upon his arrival, Esenin went to see Blok, who helped the young “peasant” and introduced him to well-known poets such as Zinaida Gippius, Feodor Sologub, and Vyacheslav Ivanov and to novelists such as Ivan Bunin, Aleksandr Kuprin, and Dmitry Merezhkovsky. The young poet Anatoly Mariengof became Esenin’s intimate friend. Esenin was appointed as an editor of the political and literary journal Severnie Zapiski , an appointment that brought him in contact with other writers and...
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