Sergei Yesenin is Moscow’s dearest and most beloved poet of the rapidly-changing but exciting early 20th century landscape. This epoch is known as the Silver Agea creative period in the history of Russian poetry, on par with the Golden Age a century earlier of Russian poetry and culture. For Yesenin, Moscow was a living organism full of human emotions and contradictions, both easy to understand and an enigma. Yesenin loved Moscow and held it close to his spirit. He thought he would end his days in Moscow…
Young, handsome and very blond, 17-year-old Yesenin arrived in Moscow after graduating from a teaching college in 1912. His father had been working as a clerk in a butcher’s shop and hoped he would get a cushy job for Sergei in Moscow. He rented an apartment at 24, Bolshoy Strochenovsky LaneRussian: Bolshoy Strochenovskiy pereulok or Большой Строченовский переулок, and it is here that his son Sergei lived for one year while helping his father in the shop. This house was Sergei Yesenin’s only official residence in Moscow from 1912 to 1918. This surviving building now houses the Sergei A. Yesenin Moscow State MuseumRussian: Moskovskiy gosudarstvennyi muzey S. A. Esenina or Московский государственный музей С. А. Есенина. It has just one room but it is small, intimate and cozy.
The romantic and young poet, dreaming of literary fame, loathed his job at the butcher’s shop and, much to his father’s disappointment, he soon left both his job and the apartment. Yesenin’s friends from Surikov’s musical and literary groupRussian: Surikovskiy muzyikalno-literaturnyi kruzhok or Суриковский музыкально-литературный кружок found him working in the industry. He started as a proofreader at Sytin’s Printing CompanyRussian: Tipografiya Sytina or Типография Сытина at 71/5 PyatnitskayaRussian: Пятницкая Street. Yesenin’s first published poem The Birch Tree appeared in MirokRussian: Мирок, a magazine for children published by Sytinhe built the largest publishing house in pre-revolutionary Russia. The printing company building is still standing today and looks almost like it did in the early 20th century, despite its modern finishing and an additional upper floor. Meyer’s HouseRussian: Dom Meyera or Дом Мейера , whose annex now houses a subdivision of the Yesenin MuseumRussian: filial Muzeya S. A. Esenina or филиал Музея С. А. Есенина, is located at 4/2 Chernyshevskogo LaneRussian: pereulok Chernyshevskogo or переулок Чернышевского. Yesenin would often visit the literary café of Surikov’s literary group, which was located here.
In 1913, Yesenin became an auditor at the Department of History and Philosophy of the Moscow A. L. Shanyavsky People’s UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy gorodskoy narodnyi universitet imeni A. L. Shanyavskogo or Московский городской народный университет имени А. Л. Шанявского at 6, Miusskaya SquareRussian: Miusskaya ploschad or Миусская площадь. The Russian State University for the HumanitiesRussian: Rossiyskiy gosudarstvennyi gumanitarnyi universitet or Российский государственный гуманитарный университет is located here today. The family of Yesenin’s common law wife Anna Izryadnova, a co-worker from the same printing company, lived at 20, Tyoply LaneRussian: Tyoplyi pereulok or Тёплый переулок (today, Timura FrunzeRussian: Тимура Фрунзе Street). Yesenin would often accompany Anna here after their dates and visits to the university and the literary group. Their relationship did not turn out to be a very good one. Anna was simple and unsophisticated and thus did not manage to keep Yesenin interested in her for long and they split up, despite the birth of their son Yuri (Georgi) in December 1914.
In 1994, the apartment where Anna lived with her son after her separation from Yesenin (#14, 44, Sivtsev Vrazhek StreetRussian: ulitsa Sivtsev Vrazhek or улица Сивцев Вражек) was made, through the efforts of the People’s Artist of the USSR Sergei Nikonenko, into the Yesenin Cultural CentreRussian: Eseninskiy kulturnyi tsentr or Есенинский культурный центр, or the A. R. Izryadnova Memorial ApartmentRussian: Muzey-kvartira A. R. Izryadnovoy or Музей-квартира А. Р. Изрядновой. Yesenin’s ex-wife spent 20 years at this place, and it is here that her son Yuri, executed in 1937, was arrested on false charges. Sergei Yesenin would often come here to visit his son, and his mother Tatyana Fyodorovna Yesenina would sometimes stay here as a guest.
On his next visit to Moscow, Yesenin stayed at the Hotel LuksRussian: gostinitsa «Lyuks» or гостиница «Люкс» at 10, TverskayaRussian: Тверская Street. He was now more mature and experienced, having seen the October Revolution of 1917 in St. Petersburg, as well as having met poets and other people of influence. His first book of poems RadunitsaRussian: Радуница won him well-deserved fame and popularity. In Russia’s northern capitalSt. Petersburg, he married Zinaida Raikh, an editor of a political newspaper, whom he soon abandoned. Their divorce came through as late as 1921.
In Moscow, Yesenin pursued his literary aspirations with renewed vigor and struck up a friendship with poets representing the Russian literary movement of imaginism. The imaginist poetsthey created poetry based on sequences of arresting and uncommon images, widely using metaphors’ legendary café Stoylo PegasaRussian: kafe «Stoylo Pegasa» or кафе «Стойло Пегаса» (in English, “Pegasus’ Stall”) featuring bright original interiors was located at 37, Tverskaya Street. Nothing survives of that café today, unfortunately. The building which belonged to the Bookstore of the Imaginist PoetsRussian: Lavka imazhinistov or Лавка имажинистов has survived, though (15, Bolshaya NikitskayaRussian: Большая Никитская Street). The owners of the bookstore were Yesenin and his new friend, poet and writer Anatoly Marienhof. Irresistible in his slick suit, Yesenin was very popular with buyers and successfully sold his poems. The two friends rented three rooms in shared apartment #46 at 5, Bogoslovsky LaneRussian: Bogoslovskiy pereulok or Богословский переулок, and the creative people of Moscow were frequent guests there. Today, a memorial plaque is seen at the house (which is still standing), but the lane has been renamed to PetrovskyRussian: Петровский.
There are plenty of “positive” locations in Moscow, where Yesenin, always so enthusiastic and spontaneous, would commit his “literary blasphemies”, winning the admiration of his listeners with his incredibly sonorous and picturesque poetry. His inexhaustible energy and passion for his art prompted him to prove himself everywhere, and the traces left by Yesenin are to be found in some hidden and inconceivable annals of urban memory.
Esenin used to take part in meetings and discussions with his fellow poets and perform in front of a living audience in the Press HallRussian: Dom pechati or Дом печати at 8a/3, Nikitsky BoulevardRussian: Nikitskiy bul'var or Никитский бульвар, which now houses the Central Journalist HouseRussian: Tsentralnyi dom zhurnalista or Центральный дом журналиста. Moscow abounds with such “creative” addresses relating to Yesenin. The following are some of them: the Higher Literary and Artistic InstituteRussian: Vyisshiy literaturno-hudozhestvennyi institut or Высший литературно-художественный институт, established by the Russian poet and writer Valery Bryusov in the former Solloguba minor Russian writer, author of novelettes, essays, plays, and memoirs’s mansion at 52, PovarskayaRussian: Поварская Street (today, 22, Tsvetnoy BoulevardRussian: Tsvetnoy bulvar or Цветной бульвар); the House of ScientistsRussian: Dom uchyonyh or Дом учёных at 16, PrechistenkaRussian: Пречистенка Street (today, the Club of the Russian Academy of SciencesRussian: Klub Rossiyskoy Akademii Nauk or Клуб Российской Академии Наук); and the Proletkult ClubRussian: Klub Proletkulta or Клуб Пролеткульта located at 18, VozdvizhenkaRussian: Воздвиженка Street in the “Moorish PalaceRussian: Mavritanskiy dvorets or Мавританский дворец” that once belonged to merchant Morozov. Yesenin even lived for some time in a house near the Proletkult TheatreRussian: teatr Proletkulta or театр Пролеткульта.
Yesenin was a frequent guest at Herzen’s HouseRussian: Dom Gertsena or Дом Герцена (25, Tverskaya Street), home to the Russian and Moscow Association of Proletarian WritersRussian: Rossiyskaya i Moskovskaya assotsiatsii proletarskih pisateley or Российская и Московская ассоциации пролетарских писателей. Yesenin would often read his poems to his fellow poets in this building, where a meeting was held in early 1926 to discuss how Yesenin was to be memorialised. Later, the first museum dedicated to Sergei Yesenin was opened in this building, but it did not last long due to the efforts of those who wished to detract from Yesenin’s legacy.
A monument to Alexander PushkinRussian: pamyatnik A. S. Pushkinu or памятник А. С. Пушкину, whom Yesenin loved and venerated, stands on Tverskoy BoulevardRussian: Tverskoy bulvar or Тверской бульвар not far from Herzen’s House. Yesenin visited the little square park at every opportunity. He would spend time in front of the monument and would always come here for Pushkin’s birthday bringing flowers, reading and listening to poems. During Yesenin’s funeral, his coffin was carried three times around the monument to Pushkin in an expression of sorrow and love on the part of Yesenin’s admirers.
Yesenin met the American dancer Isadora Duncan in the atelier of Georgi Yakulov, a stage designer, located at 10, Bolshaya SadovayaRussian: Большая Садовая Street, better known as the building where Bulgakov’s “bad” apartmentapartment number 50 from the novel 'The Master and Margarita' is located. The 26-year-old Russian poet and the 42-year-old “Divine Barefoot” fell in love at first sight. They lived in Balashov’s MansionRussian: Balashovskiy osobnyak or Балашовский особняк at 20, Prechistenka Street, where the rehearsal room of the ballet dancer Aleksandra Balashova was had been handed over to Duncan for her modern dance classes in which she taught Moscow’s children. In May 1922, the lovers married at the Khamovniki Civil Registry OfficeRussian: Hamovnicheskiy ZAGS or Хамовнический ЗАГС at 3, Maly Mogiltsovsky LaneRussian: Malyi Mogiltsovskiy pereulok or Малый Могильцовский переулок. Isadora often danced in front of her Moscow admirers in Zimin’s TheatreRussian: teatr Zimina or театр Зимина at 6, Bolshaya DmitrovkaRussian: Большая Дмитровка Street, while Yesenin, who accompanied his wife to each of her performances, waited for her in a loge. Today, this building belongs to the Moscow Operetta TheatreRussian: Teatr operetty or Театр оперетты on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street.
The newlyweds did not live in perfect harmony, and they began quarrelling almost right after their wedding. When drunk or after a yet another scandal, Yesenin was sometimes unwilling to go home and slept over at his friends’ houses. The journalist Ivan Ivanovich Startsev, a good friend of Yesenin’s, was always ready to put him up in his apartment at 43, Oruzheyny LaneRussian: Oruzheynyi pereulok or Оружейный переулок. In those days, this 8-storey building was perceived as a real skyscraper in Moscow. Yesenin would often come here afterwards, in 1924, and he would perhaps have come more often were he not afraid of disturbing Startsev’s family.
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After their return from a trip abroad, the couple settled again in their Prechistenka house, but their relationship, which had always been troubled, became altogether unbearable. Yesenin moved to the apartment of his secretary Galya Benislavskaya, who had been in love with him since 1920. He lived in this house for almost a year and a half, at 2, Bryusov LaneRussian: Bryusov pereulok or Брюсов переулок. Later, Yesenin’s sisters Katya and Shura joined him here. Yesenin would often show up drunk and beaten up after quarrels, scandals and scuffles. He was treated with sympathy and he and his friends anticipated new adventures after each of these incidents.
9, PokrovkaRussian: Покровка Street was the living place of Valentin Volpin, the cousin of poet Nadezhda Volpin, who had an affair with Yesenin, which led to the birth of Yesenin’s fourth child, Aleksandr, in May 1924. Despite Yesenin’s stormy relationship with Nadezhda, Valentin had been friends with Yesenin since his mission to Tashkent, where they met in 1920.
In 1925, after his divorce from Isadora Duncan, Yesenin married Sofya Andreyevna Tolstaya, granddaughter of the renowned writer Leo Tolstoy. The newlyweds settled in a house located at 3, Pomerantsev LaneRussian: Pomerantsev pereulok or Померанцев переулок. This marriage was not a happy one either, because Yesenin felt no love for his wife; instead, he kept drinking and slept elsewhere. His friends believed that the reason for his marriage to Sofya Tolstaya was Yesenin’s admiration for her kinship with the famous Russian writer. The aristocratic Sofya forgave and pitied her beloved husband.
Yesenin’s “light step” known to “every dog” “in the elm city” gave rise to other traces that Yesenin left in the streets of Moscow. His long-time struggle with the harsh conditions of being creative as well as his volcanic temper had an adverse impact on his health. Tired of Yesenin’s endless drinking, scandals and suicide threats, Sofya persuaded her husband to undergo medical treatment in Professor Gannushkin’s commercial mental health clinicRussian: platnaya psihonevrologicheskaya klinika professora Gannushkina or платная психоневрологическая клиника профессора Ганнушкина. Yesenin left without completing his therapy and went to LeningradSaint Petersburg, only to be brought back to Moscow in a coffin.
The funeral ceremony took place in the Press Hall at 8, Nikitsky Boulevard. After a stop by the monument to Alexander Pushkin, the coffin was taken to Nikitsky Vorota SquareRussian: ploschad Nikitskie vorota or площадь Никитские ворота, Kudrinskaya SquareRussian: Kudrinskaya ploschad or Кудринская площадь and further on to Krasnaya PresnyaRussian: Красная Пресня Street. The funeral procession held up traffic. All of Yesenin’s wives (except for Isadora who had gone to Europe), his friends and a crowd of his admirers came to the Vagankovo CemeteryRussian: Vagankovskoe kladbische or Ваганьковское кладбище to bid a final farewell to this renowned Russian poet. The Moscow Art TheatreRussian: Moskovskiy Hudozhestvennyi teatr or Московский Художественный театр held a special memorial for Sergei Yesenin at 3, Kamergersky LaneRussian: Kamergerskiy pereulok or Камергерский переулок. One year later, Galya Benislavskaya shoot herself on the tomb of her beloved. They say that the girl’s ghost can be seen on Yesenin’s tomb, which is one of the cemetery’s most visited places, covered with flowers all year round.
Moscow remembers one of its favourite poets. Yesenin’s poems echo across the city, and his quiet steps are still present in the everyday bustle of the city streets. Yesenin’s traces echo through the squares and streets, and in many Moscow houses… In fact, they are so numerous that you just need to look for them. If you look, you will find them for sure.© 2016-2023 moscovery.com