One Less Hope: Essays on Twentieth-Century Russian Poets

By Constantin V. Ponomareff | Go to book overview

Alienation in Sergey Esenin’s Poetry221

A Thematic Overview

Esenin’s emotional and poetic appeal to a country that was still largely rural and half-illiterate, is all the more remarkable because so much of his poetry was an expression of alienation in a variety of thematic contexts.

The motifs of alienation were many in Esenin’s poetic work.222 There was, for instance, the outcast motif so poignantly expressed in his longer poem “Pugachev” (IV, 159-96, 1921), or in his Tavern Moscow poems (Moskva kabatskaya, II, 119-32, 149-52, 1922-23). Esenin’s identification with the animal world was similarly an expression of his feeling of alienation. We see this in a number of earlier poems (in 1914 and 1915), in his longer poem “Mares’ Ships,” (Kobyl’i korabli, II, 87-90, 1919), and also in his moving poem “Wolf’s End” (Volch’ya gibel’, II, 111-12, 1922), where his identification with the wolf became a metaphor for the end of his beloved village world through urban development. Elsewhere, his innate wish to merge with nature was memorably given voice in a poem of 1919:

Ya khotel by stoyat’, kak derevo,
Pri doroge na odnoy noge. (II, 91)

(Like a tree I’d like to be standing,/ By the road on one leg alone).

There is no doubt, that one of Esenin’s most painful, alienating experiences was the gradual disappearance of his familiar rural world, an experience that triggered an overpowering sense of his own uselessness and superfluousness. This state of mind was especially reflected in a series of 1924 poems such as “The Return Home” (Vozvrashchenie na rodinu, II, 159-63), “Soviet Russia” (Rus’ sovetskaya, II, 168-71), and others. But the first line of a poem of 1920 had already predicted his disappearance as a poet:

Ya posledniy poet derevni, (II, 97)

(I am the last poet of the village).

221 This essay - much revised - is based on my article “Death and Decay: An Analysis of S. A.
Esenin’s Poetic Form,” in Canadian Slavonic Papers, Vol. X, No. 2 (Summer, 1968), pp.
180-209.

222 See Sergey Esenin, Sobranie sochineniy, edited by A. T. Tvardovsky et al. (5 vols.; Mos-
cow, 1961-62), Further references to this edition will be given in the text. The poetry trans-
lations are mine.

-145-

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