Portrait of Yesenin by Yuri Annenkov (1923) / Image courtesy of Артпоиск
One doesn’t get far into conversations with Russians about peasant poet Yesenin before grandiose words like ‘soul’ and ‘motherland’ begin to gush in. Yes, he’s that sort of figure for them, and as an outsider, I know I’ll never really get it. He makes them say bizarrely sentimental things like, “Amid all the brilliance of Russian literary geniuses, the name of Sergei Yesenin bestows a special nectar of happiness upon the Russian heart.” (I’m serious, someone actually wrote that.)
In any case, today marks the 120th anniversary of his birth. Here’s a poem.
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Hopes, painted by the autumn cold, are shining,
My steady horse plods on, like quiet fate,
His moist dun lip is catching at the lining
When the coat, flapping, flutters and falls straight.
On a far road the unseen traces, leading
Neither to rest nor battle, lure and fade;
The golden heel of day will flash, receding,
And labors in the chest of years be laid.
Translated by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky
From Modern Russian Poetry: An Anthology (1921)