"My Child, Spouse, and God": Kljuev's Esenin

J. Alexander Ogden, University of South Carolina

In the poetry of Nikolai Kljuev, the figure of Sergei Esenin inspires emotions ranging from intense devotion and ecstatic love to extreme disillusionment and scorn. Kljuev's works from the late 1910s and the 1920s trace the progression of these poets' relationship, the details of which have been hotly debated both at the time and by current writers in Russia. Some have sidestepped the question of what kind of relationship Kljuev and Esenin had; others have blamed an evil Kljuev for trying to corrupt an innocent farm-boy (Stanislav and Sergei Kuniaev). Gordon McVay, in addressing Esenin's possible homosexuality, decides that the evidence is inconclusive (Esenin: A Life, 68). At least within the narrative created by Kljuev, however, the relationship between the poets is a tempestuous and physical one.

This paper explores the poetic image of Esenin in poems from the second volume of Kljuev's collection Pesnoslov and from his narrative poems of the 1920s. The analysis focuses in particular on three issues in Kljuev's Esenin poems: the numerous and contradictory roles that Kljuev creates for Esenin, consciously confusing their relationship (Esenin as brother, spouse, son, God, etc.); the ways Kljuev connects Esenin to his own deliberate creation of a "peasant poet" identity and a defiant stance vis-a-vis "educated" poets; and Kljuev's use of scandal, creating an intentionally provocative and extravagant portrayal of the relationship. In discussing features of the role in which Kljuev casts Esenin, I draw supporting material from the poets' correspondence and from periodical and memoir accounts from the period.