by Olga BAZANOVA, journalist
Soon after the death of the poet Sergei Yesenin in 1925 his devotees began flocking to his homeland, the village of Konstantinovo near Ryazan, a town around a hundred miles to Moscow's south. The mother and sisters of our "last country poet" came up with note-books for guests to sign their names and make comments. Thousands of entries were made shortly afterwards with the request to establish a museum in Yesenin's parental home.
Sergei Yesenin was born on September 21 (Oct. 3 New Style), 1895, in his grandfather's home located in the very heart of the village. In 1910 the old dilapidated izba home was pulled down to make room for a new one ravaged by a fire twelve years after. The present home, now a museum, was put up in 1925 and renovated in 2001. In 1965 it welcomed the first visitors as the nation was marking the 70th birth anniversary of the poet. Four years later, in 1969, a literary exposition was opened at Lidiya Kashira's estate (Kashina was its last landlady). In yet another four years the Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God (architect Ivan Starov, 1779; this is an acting church now) became part of the Yesenin memorial complex. In 1984 all these moments, together with the village commons and the surrounding land- and vil-lagescape, were merged into one single museum and sanctuary under the auspices of the state.
The furnishings of the poet's country home are quite plain and primitive: a porch with gardening utensils, a yoke for carrying buckets... mortar-and-pestle... a corn bushel... Next comes a living room with Yesenin's bed and a chest where the poet kept books of his favorite authors like Alexander Pushkin*, Nikolai Gogol**, Nikolai Nekrasov, Lev Tolstoy, Mikhail Lermontov***, and Alexei Koltsov... The kitchen has a big Russian-style stove and a huge Russian samovar, a metal urn with a spigot used for boiling water for tea.
And here is the chamber, the clean part of izba overlooking the boundless water meadows stretching as far as the woods on the horizon. Right in the middle of the meadowlands is the Oka, a wide full-flowing river carrying its waters eastwards, on to the Volga. "A bowl of the blue sky above us. Silence, solitude," recalled Yekaterina, the poet's sister. Looking from the walls are family portraits
* See: V. Nepomnyashchy, "The Pushkin Phenomenon Through the Obvious", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1999. -Ed.
** See: "Gogol Birth Bicentennial", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2009. -Ed.
*** "A Guest Invited or Guest Sudden, He's Visited This Wondrous World...", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2005. -Ed.
and a certificate of merit awarded to 11-year-old Sergei "for good progress and excellent conduct" upon his graduation from the Konstantinovo elementary public school.
In 1995 this school housed an exposition timed for the Yesenin birth centennial and telling about the role of country schools in the education and upbringing of peasant children. Another display (now a museum) was devoted to the poem Anna Snegina, the Yesenian opus clas-sicum. Incidentally, literary museums are common in other countries, too; like that of the legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, the main character of mystery stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; in the United States, there is a Tom Sawyer museum dedicated to the boy glorified by Mark Twain; Spain has a museum of Don Quijote de la Mancha, el caballero de la triste figura, immortalized by Miguel de Cervantes... Germany and Latvia have museums telling about Baron Münchhausen, a great adventurer and lier, whose escapades are alive in many works of fiction. The Konstantinovo memorial "house with a mezzanine" brings together all prototypes and persons of his poem Anna Snegina (Yesenin visited this manor time and again, and made a detailed description of it; its interiors have been restored back to their original form).
Yesenin worked on his poem Anna Snegina—which he thought to be the best of what he had ever written—from October 1924 to January 1925. It covered the dramatic happenings in his native village during the 1917 revolution and the Civil War of 1918-1922, and drew pictures of nature and people's portraits. It contains personalistic elements, too—including the radiant memory of his first love, a "maid in a white cloak" living in a nice mansion amid a shady garden and its scarlet and white roses.
Anna Sardanovskaya, a great-niece of the Konstantinovo parish priest, is often called a prototype of the poem's heroine and the poet's first romantic flame, along with Olga Sno (Snegina), a Petrograd authoress. Most often, however, this is thought to be Lidiya Kashina (nee Kulakova) of Moscow, who would come to the family manorial estate in summer. The young lady was a rich landlord's daughter who graduated from a girls' private boarding school. A great theater, music and literature admirer and having a good command of French and German, she married Nikolai Kashin, a literary critic involved with the creative work of the playwright Alexander Ostrovsky.
The Kashin estate was a cultural gathering place visited by poets Yefim Yantarev (Bernstein) and Nikolai Meshkov as well as an eminent zoologist of the day and Moscow University lecturer Grigory Kozhevnikov, a Moscow Maly Theater actor Ivan Khudodeyev (subsequently a silent cinema producer) and other noted people. Regular literary soirees were held there. In 1916 Sergei Yesenin also showed up there, already well-known in the literary quarters of St. Petersburg (Petrograd)—he had published his
first books of verses titled Radunitsa* (Petrograd, 1916). Put on display is a copy of this anthology donated to the museum by the landlady's son who has done a good deal in restoring the true picture of the estate by handing over photographs, letters and documents from the family archives.
Displayed in the manor's hall are early 20th-century photographs showing the last landlady of Konstantinovo, her father and the memorial grounds. Yesenin's visiting-card is also there. Next, in the drawing-room stands a table at which the poet worked getting ready his Anna Snegina for the press with the issue of the magazine Krasnaya Nov (No. 4, 1925) where the poem was first published in full; an ink-pot, ash-tray and other memorabilia. In Lidiya's room we see a desk with a paper-clip, a lorgnette, ivory calculus, silver-rimmed note pad... Also there we find an elegant chest of drawers made of mahogany, a tambour, a wicker case for needlework and the white cloak perpetuated in the poem.
By sheer miracle the manor has survived to this day, largely owing to Yesenin himself. Goaded by the Bolshevik slogan "Land to the Peasants!" they, the peasants, rushed to seize landed estates, setting manors on fire here and there. The same lot was in store for Lidiya Kashina's "house with a mezzanine" in 1918 (Lidiya and her family lived in Moscow at the time). As Alexandra, the poet's sister recalled, he addressed his village folks with these passionate words, "Hell, you gonna wreck and carry away whatever you could lay your hands on, and zilch! But you could have a school or a clinic in there. You don't have a fig now, see!" Yesenin's emotional speech saved the house. Soon after, a first-aid medical post was opened in it, and afterwards it provided homes to school teachers.
In 1990 the museum's cultural community center became the place of an exposition on Yesenin's creative path, with the Konstantinovo material lending a special charm. A photo of Yesenin's grandfather... a festive attire of a local girl... a birth certificate from the records of the Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God where Sergei's birth was registered... icons and household utensils.
These and other mementos give an insight into the folk poetical world where the budding talent got its wings. As here's a villagers photo taken in 1909 showing Sergei Yesenin, forteen then, with villagers against a backdrop of the church.
In 1913 Yesenin went to Moscow and took a job at the printing-house of Ivan Sytin, the book publisher. Simultaneously he attended lecturers on West European and Russian literature at the Department of History and Philosophy in Shanyavsky Public University. He took to creative writing, too, imitating Alexei Koltsov, Ivan Nikitin and Spiridon Drozhzhinin**, the poets whose writings were consonant with folk songs.
As Anna Izryadnova, Yesenin's first common-law wife, recalled, "he was lovely like a doll, with curls of hair and all that... His mood was downcast.., with nobody understanding him and editorial boards refusing the press, and his father scolding... He fell upon books, always reading in his spare hours...He worked in Sytin's printing-house up
* Radunitsa (raduszki)-a pagan Slav festival related to the ancestry cult and marked by commemoration feasts and other ritualistic events.—Tr.
** See: O. Bazanova, "Between Two Capitals", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2008. -Ed.
until the midsummer of 1914... In December he quit his job to give himself up to poetry alone. In January  his poems were published in the newspaper Nov and in the Parus, Zarya and other magazines." Thus the young poet's creations saw the light of day. This period of his life is illustrated with sights of Moscow of that time.
The following year, in 1915, Yesenin went to Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was named then) and went straight ahead to the master poet Alexander Blok*. This is how the maître put down his impressions: "A peasant of the Ryazan province, 19 years. His verses are fresh, clear, vociferous, verbose..." Blok backed the raw beginner warm-heartedly and showed him into the most exquisite literary salons of the capital. An obscure peasant lad became famous overnight. According to Maxim Gorky, one of the leading lights of Russian letters, "the city received him with great gusto, like a glutton gorging himself on strawberries in January". The budding author met Nikolai Klyuev**, a mouthpiece of the new country trend in Russian literature who influenced him greatly; he met Andrey Bely, Sergei Gorodetsky and other poets of the Silver Age***.
Featured in the exposition are their photographs, autographed books and an inscribed reprint from the Apollo magazine with Anna Akhmatova's poem At the Seaside (1914).
Yesenin's poetry is captivating in its straightforward, vivid imagery richly larded with folk idiom. Plants, animals and sundry natural phenomena come alive to merge with human beings into one grand picture. Guests always pause to take a look at the poet's first collection of verses, Radunitsa, hailed by critics and readership alike; the author presented this copy to his schoolmaster, Yevgeny Khitrov. Side by side are other lifetime editions, documents, manuscripts, illustrations, photos and that sort of thing.
His sudden fame flattered Yesenin's ego. Still, making a point in appearing before his audiences in plain peasant clothes—like Kluyev did for that matter!—Yesenin resented when his poetry was perceived as a soul-stirring arcadian, bucolic cartoon of the patriarchal, prayerful village. Later on, in one of his last poems, My Path (1925). Yesenin scoffed at the habitues of literary salons as "the emasculated rabble".
The poet hailed the February and October revolutions of 1917 with great enthusiasm. But many Bolshevik moves, especially with regard to the peasantry, rubbed him the wrong way. The motif of dissent and rebellion harking
* See: O. Bazanova, "At the Cross-Roads of Destinies", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2010. -Ed.
** See: O. Bazanova, "VolgaBalt Capital", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2009. -Ed.
*** See: M. Shaposhnikov, "Pushkin! Our Coveted Liberty We Praised After Thee", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2004. -Ed.
back to folklore sounded ever louder, reaching its climax in the poem Pugachev* (1920-1921).
It was at this point that Yesenin got in close touch with imagists** whose sway is manifest in stilted, bizarre images and in a vocal protest against the town, as seen in the poem Sorokoust ("Forty Days' Prayers for the Dead"). Featured in the Yeseninian exposition are four numbers of the magazine A Hotel for Travelers Through the Beautiful, the mouthpiece of imagists, together with publications by the Militant Order of Imagists in Petrograd, and books belonging to Yesenin, including Alexander Pushkin whom he worshiped.
In 1921 Yesenin met the famous American ballerina, the "bare-legged dancer" Isadora Duncan (1878-1927). The dear sweet "Urus" [Russian] enchanted her, it was a "love at first sight", and six months after, they became man and wife. But their matrimony was short-lived and landed on the rocks. They had violent quarrels during their tour of Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and the United States in May 1922-August 1923: the gulf was all too deep, and they separated upon their return to Russia. The memorabilia of that ill-starred marriage include pieces of furniture from a mansion in Prechistenka Street in Moscow, where the illustrious couple had lodgings, the poet's black jacket, his walking stick and top hat, and a trunk for storing things. The ballerina's tippet of swan's down is also there...
Yesenin experienced an outburst of creative activity at Batum, Georgia, in the winter of 1924/25. It was his "Batum winter" comparable to two Boldino autumns, in 1830 and 1833, of Alexander Pushkin***. "I'm going to heap a lot of stuff on you soon. It is but seldom that you write so much and with such ease", he wrote to his woman friend Galina Benislavskaya, working in Moscow for newspaper The Poor. It is there, at Batum, that Yesenin wrote his masterpieces like A Letter to the Grandfather, I have never been to Bosporus, Anna Snegina...He had warm meetings with the Tician Tabidze, Paolo Yashvili, Vasha Pshavela and other Georgian poets.
Yesenin wrote a great deal in his last years. His verses gained new depths and dimensionality. Among his best poems of these years are A Letter to a Woman, Persian Motifs, Russ Departing, Russ Shelterless, Home Coming, A Letter to Mother (You're Alright, My Old Woman?..), We're Going One by One, The Golden Grove Bidding Farewell... There is a lot of music in these poignant verses written by a man who saw and experienced so much.
Displayed in the closing hall of the Yesenian exposition are the sad memorabilia: the poet's death-mask, his briefcase, an inkstand from his suite in the Angleterre hotel in Petrograd (Leningrad) where Yesenin met his tragic death late in 1925. There is also a posthumous edition of collected works revised by the author. Placed close by are hand-written copies of Yesenin verses carried by front-line soldiers through the battles of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945...
Yesenin's life was cut short when he was but thirty. Yet he had seen a lot in this sublunary world—in aristocratic literary salons and in foreign parts, too. He had gone through fire and water, as the saying goes. Still, he always thought back to his native land, "pensive and tender", and its monastery near Konstantinovo, a sanctuary he visited on church holidays. "Like a heartsick crane, I came to love this monastery on a mount high..."
This spiritual center, one of this country's oldest, was founded late in the 12th and early 13th centuries by Christian fathers. They trekked here with an icon of St. John the Divine, a saint worshiped in Russia above all. This icon was among the holies sent by the Eastern Roman Empire to Russ that had embraced Christianity. As legend has it, the apostle's image was painted by an orphan boy in Constantinople, his hand guided by the saint himself. The ascetics dug caves on the mountain's slope with its salubrious water springs (still there!) which they used as their homes that have survived to this day.
* With reference to Yemelian Pugachev, the chief of the mass peasant uprising of 1773 and 1774.—Tr.
** Imagists—affiliated with imagism, a trend in early-20th-century Russian poetry with a heavy emphasis on poetic imagery. Imagists made much of metaphors and épatant. striking similes along with anarchist motifs. -Ed.
*** Pushkin lived through two inspirational autumns, in 1830 and 1833, in his family estate Boldino in the Nizhni Novgorod province producing such masterpieces as The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin (1830), Dramas, also known as The Little Tragedies (1830), A Little House at Kolomna (1830), the narrative chronicle A History of the Goryukhino Village, A Tale of the Pope and His Servant Balda (in the form of a fairy-tale. 1830), the narrative poem The Bronze Horseman (1833), The Tale of the Fisherman and the Golden Fish (1833), The Tale of the Golden Cockerel (finished at Boldino in 1834), and lots of short poems and verses. While in Boldino Pushkin brought out the final chapters of Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse (1830), and wrote several critical essays. -Ed., Tr.
This is the Monastery of St. John the Divine thought to be founded by monks of the Kiev-Pechery Lavra*.
St. John the Apostle is said to have saved the monastery from the hordes of Batu Khan who besieged the citadel. St. John admonished the khan to go in peace. Departing, Batu left a golden seal as a pledge of peace. It had been kept in the monastery up to the year 1653 when it was melted for gilding a large holy water chalice of the Dormi-tion Church of the Ryazan kremlin (now kept at the Ryazan museum of local history)**.
In the 16th and early 17th centuries the cloister was a target of marauding raids by the Crimean Tatars who sacked and burnt it. Small wonder, for the sanctuary was protected by a wooden fence. Only in the 1650s a stone wall was put up beyond the Holy Gate, still there, in the shape of a cube surmounted by a small dome with a cross; the interiors are decorated with frescoes in the style of local mural-painting.
The stone Church of St. John the Apostle dates back to the latter half of the 17th century, and so does a small hipped-roof belfry (architect, Yuri Yarshov). The cloister, quite well off up until 1764, suffered greatly as Empress Catherine II sequestered nearly all its lands; little by little it fell into decay. In 1860, David Khludov***, a rich merchant and landowner, helped this and other impoverished monasteries of Central Russia with munificent donations. It thus became possible to restore the St. John Church and put up another one, the Dormition Church with three altars. Also built were a two-storey dormitory for pilgrims, a three-storey fraternity house and an 80-meter belfry (1901, architect Ivan Tsekhansky).
In 1930 the cloister was closed down; it was given back to the Orthodox Church only in 58 years. Large-scale restoration works were launched then. A new iconostasis sanctified the St. John Church (its icons created by Ryazan masters in the Old-Rus style); architects renovated the Church of the Tikhvin Icon of Our Lady and the Church of Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, and built a chapel consecrated to the Iver Icon of the Theotokos in the Holy Gate. A spacious font is under construction. Plans are afoot to restore the ancient skete caves as they were. The monastery "on a mountain high" has seen its second birth and is hosting many guests.
* Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, founded in 1051 by the monk Anthonius and his pupil Feodosius.
** See: O. Bazanova, "Two Capitals of Grand Principality", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2010. -Ed.
*** See: O. Bazanova, "Favorite Town of Dmitry Donskoi", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2010. -Ed.
Опубликовано 30 августа 2021 года
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