Perhaps the most controversial of all Soviet poets, Sergei Esenin is certainly also one of the most popular, among both Russian émigrés and citizens. The popularity of his poetry never diminished in Russia, despite a period of twenty-five years during which his work was suppressed and his character defamed. Officially, Esenin was labeled the Father of Hooliganism, and his works were removed from public libraries and reading rooms. In the early 1950’s, however, his reputation was fully rehabilitated, and his poems have become widely available in Russia. In the twenty-first century, Esenin rivals Aleksandr Blok,Vladimir Mayakovsky, and even Alexander Pushkin as the most popular of all Russian poets.
Although Esenin welcomed and supported the 1917 October Revolution, he soon began to have second thoughts. He did not like the transformation that was taking place in the rural areas, and he longed for the traditional simple peasant life and the old “wooden Russia.” His flamboyant lifestyle, his alcoholism, and his dramatic suicide eventually brought him the scorn of the Soviet authorities.
The most important representative of the Imaginist movement in Russian poetry, Esenin at his best achieved a distinctive blend of deep lyricism, sincerity, melancholy, and nostalgia. Calling himself “the last poet of the village,” Esenin used folk and religious motifs, images of nature, and colorful scenes from everyday village life, which he painted with a natural freshness and beauty. His disappointment with his own life, his unhappy marriages, and his apprehensions concerning the changes he saw at every hand—all are reflected in the mood of unfulfilled hope and sadness that pervades his poetry.