Art as the Cognition of Life

In Memory of Esenin

Sergei Yesenin was one of the most popular and well-known Russian poets of the 20th century. Born in a small village to a strict, religious peasant family, Esenin’s poems expressed a longing for life, one that was fading and superfluous in an age of “iron” figures. “City, city, you fight us savagely, Christen us carrion, call us dirt. The fields grow chillier in dumb anguish As telegraph poles transfix the earth.” He yearned and loved and kept this “secret world” of his close to his heart.

Voronsky had known the poet for only a couple of years—meeting in 1923, he died at the age of 30, in 1925, of suicide. He was a sensitive heart, not dumb as the stereotypical image of the dull and god-fearing peasant, but close to the earth and wishing to be closer to people. The ensuing terrible deprivations of the Civil War, and the defeat of the revolution in Germany and the rest of the West drove Esenin, along with many others, to a material and spiritual despair. Yesenin faced his sorrows with alcohol and hung himself in Leningrad.

Voronsky on his first meeting with Yesenin, in his editorial office (p.235):

The image immediately suggested a strange duality: through the foppish exterior of a flaneur or dandy from the city streets, one could detect the simple, thoughtful, perhaps wistful or sorrowful, but thoroughly familiar visage of a Russian man of average means. And most importantly: one visage underscored the unlikelihood and unreasonableness of being combined with the other, as if someone had mechanically forced them to join without any apparent reason or obvious intention. That is how Esenin remained in my mind until the end of his days, not only with regard to his external appearance, but in every other sense as well.

On the poet’s alienation from modern society, and by extension, all of us, our own alienation (p.244):

…But what is most troublesome in modern civilization is that, in place of immediate human relations, it offers material and ideological fetishism, a love for things and illusions. Serving things and ideas obscures the immediate relations between people. The instincts of man are such, however, that, rather than a dream or an illusion, a thing or a poem, he needs to latch onto a live, concrete fellow human being; a human needs to sense another’s being, to help him and to work for his sake. …He had to worry about living things so that they in turn would worry about him. The modern city, which Esenin knew well, neither gave this to him, nor was able to do so. He cracked under the strain.