Esenin, Sergey (1895–1925)
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Sergey Esenin was born into a peasant family in a village in the Russian province of Ryazan. He attended the traditional gymnasium, which was followed by several years at a teachers’ college. At the age of seventeen, Esenin wrote to a young woman infatuated with him that he had not yet decided whether the great love of his life would turn out to be a man or a woman. Handsome, ingratiating, and thoroughly opportunistic, Esenin came to St. Petersburg in 1915, where he made a tremendous hit with his early poems about his native Ryazin countryside and voiced a touching compassion for wild and domestic animals mistreated and tortured by humans. To further his literary ambition, he used his personal charm, his peasant origins (very fashionable at the time), and, where necessary, his appeal to gay men. His brief liaisons with gay poets Riurik Ivnev and Leonid Kannegiser opened many literary doors to him. The fashion for literary paysannerie had been launched earlier by Nikolai Kliuev, a powerful and openly gay poet who enjoyed great popularity. In April 1915, Esenin wrote Kliuev an admiring letter and, as a memoirist put it, Kliuev came to St. Petersburg and “took over Esenin, becoming his sole possessor.”