Sergei Esenin’s poetry can be divided into two parts: first the poetry of the countryside, the village, and the animals and, second, the primarily postrevolutionary poetry of Moskva kabatskaia (Moscow the tavern city) and of Rus’ sovetskaia. Generally, the village poetry is natural and simple, while many of the later poems are more pretentious and affected. The mood of country landscapes, the joys of village life, and the love for animals is created with powerful melodiousness. The poet’s sincere nostalgia for “wooden Russia” is portrayed so strongly that it becomes infectious. Esenin creates idylls of the simple Russian village and of country life with the freshness of a skilled painter, yet the musicality of his verse is the most characteristic quality of his poetry. His simple, sweet, and touching early lyrics are easy to understand and are still loved by millions of readers in Russia.
As a “peasant poet,” Esenin differed from some other Russian peasant poets of the time, such as Nikolai Klyuyev and Pyotr Oreshin. Esenin stressed primarily the inner life of the peasant, while the others paid more attention to the peasants’ environment. His peasants are free of material things, even though they are part of their environment, while in the work of other peasant poets, things are preeminent.
Esenin’s early poems chiefly employ the vocabulary of the village; they reveal the influence of the chastushki, the popular folk songs widely heard in any Russian village. When he arrived in Petrograd, Esenin presented himself as “the poet of the people”; dressed in a peasant blouse adorned with a brightly colored silk cord, he chanted his poems about harvests, rivers, and meadows.
When Esenin moved to Petrograd, he began to learn the sophisticated techniques of the Symbolists, particularly from the poet Blok. Esenin was able to create a complete picture of a landscape or a village with a single image. He continued, however, to maintain the melancholy mood and the sadness that would always be typical of his poetry.
At the time of his suicide, Esenin was still quite popular, both in the Soviet Union and among Russianémigrés. Beginning in 1926, the State Publishing House published Esenin’s collected works in four volumes, but many poems were missing from this edition. By that time, the “morally weak Eseninism” had been officially denounced. In 1948, a one-volume selection of Esenin’s poetry was published, and it sold out immediately. By the early 1950’s, Esenin was fully rehabilitated, and in 1961, a five-volume edition appeared, which has since been reprinted several times. According to Russian critics, Esenin’s tremendous popularity can be explained by the fact that his poetry was consonant with the feelings of the Russian people during the most difficult days in their history.
All Soul’s Day
Esenin’s first collection, All Soul’s Day, radiates happiness, although it is not free of the melancholy typical of his works. These early poems express the joy of village life, the poet’s love for his homeland, and the pleasures of youth; even the colors are light and gay: blue, white, green, red. Esenin employs religious themes and Christian terminology, but the poems are more pantheistic, even pagan, than Christian. All Soul’s Day was well received by the critical Petrograd audience, and this response immeasurably boosted Esenin’s confidence. The poet was only twenty years old when he proved his mastery of the Russian language....
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