Three Poems by Sergei Yesenin

A Song About Bread

Here it is, the harsh brutality,

The full meaning of human suffering!

The sickle cuts the heavy ears of wheat

The way they slit throats of swans.

Since time immemorial, our field

Has known the morning shudder of August.

Straw is tied up in bundles,

Each bundle lies there like a yellow corpse.

 

Carts, like hearses, carry them

Into the crypt: a barn.

Like a deacon, the driver,

Barking at the mare, heeds the funeral rites.

 

After that, with care, without anger,

Their heads are laid on the ground

And little bones are pummeled

Out of their thin bodies with chains.

 

No one ever thinks

That straw is also flesh.

The bones are shoved in the mouth of the cannibal mill

That grinds them with its teeth.

 

And then, fermenting the dough,

They bake piles of tasty viands...

That’s when the whitish venom enters the jug

Of the stomach to lay eggs of spite.

 

Condensing all the beatings into a loaf,

Distilling the reapers’ cruelty into redolent brew,

It poisons the millstones of intestines

Of those who eat this straw meat.

 

And the charlatan, the murderer, and the villain

Whistle like autumn across the entire country...

All because the sickle cuts ears of wheat

The way they slit throats of swans.

 <1921>


* * *

I don’t regret, I don’t call, I don’t cry.

All will pass like smoke from white apple trees.

Overcome with the gold of wilting,

I won’t be young anymore.

 

Touched with cold, you will no longer

Beat in the same way, heart,

And the land of birch chintz

Won’t tempt me to gallivant barefoot.

 

Nomadic spirit! Less and less

You stoke the flame of my lips.

O my lost freshness,

Mayhem of eyes and deluge of feelings!

 

These days I’m stingier in my desires,

My life—or did I dream you?

I might as well have galloped on a pink steed

On a sonorous early spring morning.

 

All of us, all of us will perish;

Quietly, copper leaves pour from maples...

Therefore, blessed be, forever,

Everything that’s come to bloom and to die.

<1921>

 

Letter to My Mother

Are you still alive, my dear old lady?

I’m alive as well. Hello, hello!

Let that ineffable evening light

Keep streaming over your hut.

 

They write to me that, barely hiding your fear,

You’ve gotten awfully sad over me,

That you often wander the road

In your tattered old-fashioned coat.

 

In the blue dark of evening,

You often see the same thing:

In a bar fight, someone has stabbed me

In the heart with a Finnish knife.

 

It’s nothing, my dear! Please calm down.

Just a terrible hallucination.

I’m not so hopeless a drunkard

As to die without seeing you.

 

I’m as gentle as I was before,

And I only dream of one thing:

To come back from my rebellious anguish

To our squat house.

 

I will come back when our garden,

White with spring, outstretches its branches.

But this time, don’t wake me up at dawn

The way you used to do eight years ago.

 

Don’t wake up the old expectations;

Don’t disturb all that didn’t come true—

I’ve endured loss and exhaustion

Far too early in life.

 

And don’t teach me to pray. Please don’t!

There is no going back to the old.

Only you are my help and my joy.

Only you are my ineffable light.

 

So forget your anxiety,

Don’t get so awfully sad over me.

Don’t wander the road so often

In your tattered old-fashioned coat.

 <1924>

One of the most important Russian poets of all time, Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) was a founding member of the short-lived but influential Imaginist movement, which stood in contrast to Futurism and was related to Imagism in English. Originally from the village of Konstantinovo, Ryazan Province, Yesenin spent most of his adult life in Petrograd (later Leningrad, now St. Petersburg), but most of his poetry continued to focus on nature and traditional rural life. In 1922 he married the American dancer Isadora Duncan, but their marriage was short-lived. Though he initially supported the Bolshevik regime, the poet became disenchanted with it, recognizing the encroaching and destructive effects of Soviet industrialization on the peasant population. According to the official account, on the night of December 27, 1925, he hanged himself after writing his final poem in his own blood, though many experts, relatives, and friends of the poet have disputed the official narrative.

 Translated by Anton Yakovlev