Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925)

  1. Confessions Of A Hooligan

Poem, 1913, 0'26".
Voice – David Burliuk
Recording – Unknown date, probably in 1956

Sergei Yesenin, real name Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin (b. Konstantinovo, Riazan, 1895- d. Leningrad 1925) is considered, along with Mayakovsky and Boris Pasternak, as one of the most important poets of the Silver Age of Russian-Soviet poetry. The son of peasants, he lived the life of a tramp and nomad, travelling with pilgrims to visit cathedrals and admire icons, reading or singing his poems to them as they waited in railway stations. He was called "the last village poet", because his poetic expression came from the ancestral feeling of peasants unaware of abstract comparisons, and for whom "every object is defined in comparison with another object". With the arrival of the October Revolution, Yesenin took the side of the Bolsheviks. He wrote revolutionary poems and a long work Another [Inonia] in which he set out his "peasant messianism" according to which the Revolution would bring to Russia the reign of the "mujik", an earthly village paradise. In Moscow in 1919 he set up the Imaginist literary movement, with poets Anatoly Marienhof, Vadim Shershenevich and Riurik Ivnev, proclaiming the supremacy of "the image per se" and conceived metaphors as "minor images" . The Imaginists also argued that a poem should be able to be read forwards and backwards, from top to bottom and vice-versa, as nuns use rosary beads. Yesenin soon abandoned the Imaginist group, declaring that "what matters isn't the image, but the poetic feeling of the world". He became very popular in Moscow and earned a reputation for being "a troublemaker, and outrageous"; in many of his writings he describes himself as a "hooligan" and social misfit. This poem, recited by the author on original recording, centres on these ideas, though his concept of hooligan isn't so much the preconceived idea that we have today of "superficial, dishonest, aggressive and disrespectful of the society to which one belongs", Yesenin rather sounds "a note oftenderness for those who are incapable of finding their way" - hence the feeling of despair, unease and protest in this poem, which really expresses Yesenin's own personal tragedy. His inability to adapt to the system, his failed romances (he married and separated from Isadora Duncan, then married Leo Tolstoy's granddaughter) and his alcoholism led him to hang himself in 1925, leaving written in his own blood: "Goodbye, my friend, without a gesture or a word / don't be sad and do not frown. / In this life, dying is nothing new / and living certainly isn't." The poet Mayakovsky, in a poem dedicated to his death, said: "The public have lost their resonant guitar-playing boozer".

Confessions of a Hooligan (extract)

It's not given to all men to sing,
Or fall at strange feet like an apple.

Here the greatest confession I bring,
With which ever a hooligan grappled.

I on purpose unkempt go about,
Head like an oil lamp on shoulders waring,
And I like through the gloom to shine out,
On your souls that autumn's baring.
I like when they're stories of abuse,
Like belching storm's tail, at me flinging,
I just harder between my hards crush,
My looks, like a soap bubble, swinging.
And gladly I at times like this recall.

[Translated by Jessie Davies]

Russian Futurists from the GLM Collection (1920-1959)
Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde (1908-1942)