Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Early Poems of Sergei Esenin

First Snow by Nikolai Smirnov, a lover of Sergei Esenin's poetry

This painting hangs in my living room.  Right now I'm teaching a course in writing poetry by Skype using as models three 20th Century Russian poets:  Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelshtam, and Sergei Esenin.  I had trouble finding many good translations in English of Esenin, who is still much loved in Russia, his poetry made into songs.  He lived from 1895 to the end of 1925.  At first it was thought he died at his own hand, but later research shows that the Soviet government at the time had him killed.  These poems were written when he was fifteen and show his love of the village and rural life where he grew up.  When Nikolai Smirnov was in the U.S. (part of a Sister Cities exchange with Kostroma, Russia, and Durham, N.C.), we had a show of his work at the Masterpiece Gallery in 1998, and he recited Esenin's poetry to us.  Smirnov's portrait of Esenin hangs over my computer.  Thank you, Nikolai and Sergei for your images and your words.  Judy Hogan


Sergei Yesenin.  Poems for Poetry Class, Winter 2016. 

From his early years.  From Selected Poetry translated by Judy Hogan

p. 27, 1910

It’s already evening.
The dew sparkles on the nettles
I stand in the road
learning on a willow tree.

The light of the full moon
is falling on our roof
Somewhere far off
I hear the song of a nightingale.

Like a stove in the winter
everything is nice and warm.
And the birches stand
like huge candles.

And in the distance along the river
at the edge of the forest
a sleepy watchman is banging
his clapper board.

P. 29.  1910

There where the sunrise light
waters the cabbage rows
a young maple tree is sucking
at its mother’s pale green udder.

P. 31 1910

The crimson light of dawn
is weaving itself onto the lake.
The weeping woodcocks
are making the pine woods ring.

There orioles are crying
hidden in some hollow tree.
I’m the only one who’s not weeping.
In my soul it’s light.

Down the road toward evening 
I know you will come.  We’ll sit
on the fresh shocks
under the nearest haystack.

I shall kiss you, crush you like a flower
until you’re drunk.
When you’re intoxicated by joy
you won’t worry about gossip.

You’ll enjoy my caresses,
throw your silk bridal veil away.
I’ll carry you off to the bushes
until morning.

Let the woodcocks weep
as much as they want.
There’s a joyful melancholy
in the crimson dawn.

P. 33. 1910.

In the mist the flood water
licks the river silt.
The moon has dropped
her yellow reins.

The red haystacks in the fields
look like churches.
With a mournful croaking
the black woodcocks call me to all-night mass.

The dark blue grove
conceals your poverty.
I’ll pray secretly 
for your fate.

P. 35. 1910

White bird cherry blossoms are 
strewn on the wet green grass like snow. 
In the fields rooks walk along the rows
looking for shoots.

The silky grass bends low.
The pines smell of resin.
Oh, you meadows and forests,
how spring stupefies me.

Secret news gives me joy.
My soul is bright.
I’m thinking about my love. 
I’m singing only of her.

Shed your snow, bird cherries.
Sing, little birds.
I’ll run weaving through the fields
carrying flower foam.

P. 37, 1910

Clear little stars, high bright stars,
What are you keeping to yourself?
What are you hiding?  Stars, carrying 
with you such deep thoughts, what is 
this power you have to fill our souls?

Happy little stars, friendly little stars,
what makes you beautiful?
What gives you power?
How do you awake in us, stars without number
with your great strength, a burning curiosity?

And why, when you shine down on us,
do you beckon us to join you in the heavens?
Holding us close in your embrace
looking at us tenderly, caressing us!

Heavenly stars, you’re so far away.

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