Published:  12:00 AM, 23 February 2017

Self-annihilation: Ultimate halt of dismayed poets


This article highlights two highly celebrated poets of Russia-Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sergei Yesenin. The suicidal propensity of these poets is reflected through some of their poems. Different disappointments in personal lives and some other inauspicious matters compelled them to put suicidal ends to their own lives.

Sergei Yesenin was born on 3rd October 1895 and reportedly committed suicide on 28th December 1925. He was one of the most esteemed poets in Russia during the 20th century. He attained fame for the lyrical beauty of his poems. Sergio Novikoff wrote in his book Sergei Yesenin's Poems: A Russian Reader with Explanatory Notes in English "Yesenin obtained inspiration from Russian folklore which is reflected in most of his earlier poems and allusions to the mythical characters and themes of ancient Russian fables made his poetry intensely rich and adorable to his native readers". Like Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sergei Yesenin also initially appreciated the Great October Revolution, but in course of time the direness of the Russian Civil War disenchanted him which is movingly expressed in his poem "The Stern October Has Deceived Me."

Sergei Yesenin got embroiled in a number of amorous affairs during his brief lifespan. He married Anna Izryadnova in 1913 but broke off with her in 1916. He fell in love once again with another woman named Zinaida Reich and married her too. However, Sergei Yesenin could not retain his relationship with Zinaida Reich for a long time either and the couple left each other in 1921. In 1922, Yesenin developed a love affair with an American-born French dancer named Isadora Duncan and soon they got into wedlock. The marriage lasted up to 1925. All these frustrated affairs depressed Sergei Yesenin remarkably.  According to Sergio Novikoff's book Sergei Yesenin's Poems: A Russian Reader with Explanatory Notes in English "Yesenin spent almost a year in a mental asylum of St. Petersburg to recover from an insidious psychological despondency, but the asylum's treatment failed to cure him".  In the same book Sergio Novikoff wrote "Yesenin, one of the greatest ever Russian bards, was found dead in Hotel Angleterre, St. Petersburg on 28th October 1925. As it appeared, he had hanged himself from the ceiling of the hotel room". His last poem "Goodbye My Friend, Goodbye", as viewed by Sergio Novikoff echoed his "sinister longing" to slay himself. Sergio Novikoff further wrote in his book that "Yesenin's suicide spurred a suicidal spree among his devoted fans, especially the female ones". It shows how immensely popular a poet Sergei Yesenin used to be while he was alive and he is still remembered with adoration by lovers of poetry in Russia and beyond.  The following lines are extracted from a couple of poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, one of the most luminous and famed Russian poets.

If I were dim as the sun,
at night I'd drill
with the rays of my eyes,
and also
all by my lonesome,
radiant self
build up the earth's shriveled bosom.
(''To His Own Beloved Self'')
I pull out
         of my wide trouser-pockets
duplicate
of a priceless cargo.
            You now:
read this
         and envy,
            I'm a citizen
of the Soviet Socialist Union!
(''My Soviet Passport'')
Born in 1893 in a Georgian village which was renamed Mayakovsky after his death, Vladimir Mayakovsky was the son of a forestry officer. While the anti-monarchy revolution was going on in 1905 Mayakovsky was politically involved with the local Social Democrats and when his family shifted to Moscow a few years later he joined the Bolsheviks. He publicized the principles and aims of his party until his arrest in 1908 which put him behind the bars for almost a year. The imprisonment turned out to be crucial to his literary and political growth, as he spent all his time within the four walls of the prison reading the classics of world literature. As he left prison he became a pioneer of the modern literary movement of Russia. He started to claim himself to be a futurist, embroiling himself in an artistic movement that opposed all that was old and hackneyed. The futurist literary trend of Russia spoke high of pace and progress as exposed by a famous saying by Mayakovsky "speed is our God", as quoted in Victor Terras's book Vladimir Mayakovsky. Vladimir Mayakovsky envisioned himself and the other literary figures who were his companions during those years as the visage of their time. From that period until the revolution of 1917 Mayakovsky remained one of the most vigorous poets of Russian literature. He wrote rebellious, turbulent verses and portrayed an anti-establishment image of himself and the poems he wrote during those days like "The Cloud in Trousers" and "To His Own Beloved Self" can be cited as the most significant ones of that time. He welcomed the October Revolution and produced posters, films and political poems in order to motivate the masses in favor of the socialist upheaval. Lenin's death deeply moved him and he recited his poem "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" countless times to audiences in factories, clubs and at party meetings all over the Soviet Union.

Vladimir Mayakovsky visited Europe and the United States during 1925-1926 and it was the time that gave birth to his poem "Back Home". However, the authoritarianism of the Soviet regime gradually started to disappoint him to some extent. He wrote a play titled The Bedbug at that time expressing hope for a lovely communist future, but it was rejected by the Soviet censor board. Nevertheless, he continued to write poems about equity for all, about the true spirit of socialism and most of his poems were bolstered with a strong patriotic spirit. He also had an emotionally tempestuous romantic life, including a long and intense affair with Lily Brik, a married woman whose sister Elsa afterwards got married to the French communist poet Louis Aragon. An acute despondency got hold of Mayakovsky in the following years and after a short stay in a rest home he, who had sharply slated another Russian poet Sergei Esenin for killing himself in 1925, committed suicide on April 14, 1930. As quoted in Victor Terras's book Vladimir Mayakovsky, in his suicide note Mayakovsky wrote: "Do not blame anyone for my death and please do not gossip. The deceased terribly dislike this sort of thing. Mama, sisters and comrades, forgive me - this is not a way out, but I have no choice. Lily - love me…..comrades - do not think I am weak-spirited. Seriously - there was nothing else I could do. Greetings."

Millions of readers around the world still feel thrilled as they read Vladimir Mayakovsky's poems and visualize the dreams he had cherished, which continue to exist till today through the perennial love of his admirers.  Suicide cannot reverse tough times. All pessimist litterateurs don't annihilate themselves. However, it's shockingly true that, the poets named and addressed above became disenchanted with the world around them following various failures in personal lives, both deciphered and unexplored, but perhaps they could have made further contributions to the arena of poetry if they did not commit suicide.  

The writer is a literary analyst for  The Asian Age

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