Аннотация: Published by The Moscow Tribune on Nov.9, 1995
Yesenin's Lover Recalls Past
By Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen
Special to The Moscow Tribune
Looking at the monument to Sergei Yesenin that soars above Tverskoi boulevard, one might think the poet belongs to a long-distant past, that his era, the Silver Age - the first quarter of the 20th century - is over and done with. However, the gap between the 1920s and 1990s is no longer than the span of a human life, and some of those who were close to Yesenin's glory and tragedy are still alive.
Nadezhda Davydovna Volpin, a translator of poetry and fiction and herself a poet, was "Sergei's warmest affection," in the words of Alexander Sakharov, Yesenin's publisher and friend. Now 95 years old, Volpin is a sunny soul radiating friendliness and kindness. She treasures all the moments of her romance with Yesenin and recalls with her clear memory his personality against the background of the roaring 1920s.
"Sergei's poetry was absolutely sincere, in total accord with his inner life," Volpin said. "He never lied to himself in his poetry. It was his second ego, something even more important to him than life itself."
In "How Sergei Yesenin Lived", published in 1992 in Chelyabinsk, Volpin describes the diverse and multiple life in 1920s artistic circles that were the background for her complicated relationship with Yesenin. Her part of the book, "Rendezvous With a Friend," is full of love and suffering.
In Volpin's notes, Yesenin's image is a far cry from the conventional concept of what kind of person the poet was in life. "Today he is being depicted as a sugar plum," says Volpin. "That's not what he was."
Their relationship began in 1920 when Volpin was 20 and Yesenin 25. Already an acclaimed poet, Yesenin was a prominent member of the imagist school of poetry. Volpin, who spoke English, French and German, was just starting out as a poet and was a member of the Union of Poets.
Their relationship was difficult. Yesenin, a ready participant in the sexual revolution of the 1920s, had three children by two different women. Volpin was an innocent young girl. Yesenin was a spiritual bankrupt. Volpin was full of hope for the future.
On May 12, 1924, Volpin had a son by Yesenin and put an end to their staggering romance. By that time, Yesenin's love life was a complete tangle. He had married the American dancer Isadora Duncan in 1923 in a brief and stormy relationship - Duncan spoke no Russian and Yesenin no English - and had also been involved in a relationship with the wife of a Cheka (a predecessor to the KGB) agent.
This mess, together with his constant drinking, only strengthened Yesenin's ennui. Volpin wanted to put an end to her relationship with Yesenin by having a son.
Their last rendezvous took place 16 months before Yesenin's death. Many who were friends of both consider their break to be Yesenin's fault, but Volpin insists it was totally her decision and mourns it. "I loved Sergei with a big love," she said.
Describing the psychological condition of her beloved, Volpin says, "I was always worried about Sergei. It felt as if he were walking a tightrope with his eyes closed and might fall at any moment if someone hailed him." Volpin added, tears coming to her eyes, "He had always been carrying a suicide inside himself since we first met."
Yesenin, alone and with no home or noone to rely on, settled a score with life, committing suicide on Dec. 27, 1925 after writing his last poem with his own blood: "In this life there's nothing new in dying. But living, of course, is no newer."
Volpin carried on, bringing up her son and translating many great poets and novelists into Russian, including Ovidius, Hugo, Goethe, and Byron.
Volpin's son, Alexander Yesenin-Volpin, a well-known mathematician, was a human rights supporter and one of the organisers of the silent strike in the 1970s at the Pushkin monument in Moscow, after which he was persecuted and forced to immigrate to the United States in 1972. He currently lives in Boston, doing research in mathematical logic and writing poetry.
Although a line in the epigraph to her book reads, "the bitter bread of recollections," Nadezhda Volpin leaves the impression of a woman who has dealt with and overcome the past.
The only problem seeming to worry her currently is that none of her poetry has yet been published, with the exception of a couple of poems in her book of memoirs about Yesenin. Hopefully, the new times in Russia will enable poetry-lovers to get acquainted with Volpin's work, but in the meantime they will have to content themselves with poems by her lover of long ago.
"Yesenin was a true Russian," Volpin said, her grey-blue eyes smiling. "And not a 19th or 20th-century Russian, but an eighth-century Russian, a primordial Russian."