“By degrees we find we’re all departing” (“Мы теперь уходим понемногу”), Sergei Yesenin

Yesenin on the beach in Venice in 1922, during a holiday with Isadora Duncan
Yesenin on the beach in Venice in 1922, during a holiday with Isadora Duncan

Today is the ninetieth anniversary of Yesenin’s death. His body was discovered in a room at the Hotel Angleterre in Leningrad.

A friend is determined that Yesenin was murdered – the official version is that he killed himself. Here (in Russian) is an article she shared with me, based on an interview with the poet, Nikolai Nikolayevich Braun, who says his father, Nikolai Leopoldovich Braun (another poet), was among those asked to sign a paper recording Yesenin’s death as suicide. He refused to do so. It is suggested that Yesenin’s injuries pointed to his having been roughed up during an interview with the Cheka that went wrong. His bacchanalian lifestyle had drawn increasing attention to him, and it is further suggested that Yesenin shared a mistress with Trotsky, and that he was reburied in a corner of the Vagankovo Cemetery in Moscow, away from the headstone still visited by many.

It doesn’t seem unlikely – but it’s probably impossible to prove…

Yesenin wrote this poem a year before his death. It perhaps lends some weight to the idea that he would never have killed himself – he expresses here a love for this life and a horror of the “silent land” for which those who die are bound. It was not at all easy to translate. A particular problem was presented by the penultimate stanza: “Не звенит лебяжьей шеей рожь” means “The rye doesn’t chime with swans’ necks”, which I found more than a little mystifying. I recast the image, but retained the swans’ necks and the rye…


By degrees we find we’re all departing
For the same serene and silent land.
And perhaps when soon that course I’m charting
Some possessions I will have to hand.

Sweetest silver birches’ straggling covert!
Mother earth’s horizon’s sandy plain!
Hosts departing face me in mid-hover –
I don’t have the strength to hide my pain.

In this world I fear I’ve too much cherished
All that turns the spirit into flesh.
Peaceful aspens, leafy tendrils stretching,
Gazed upon the sky through branches’ mesh.

In the stillness of my contemplation,
Many songs about myself I’ve spun,
In this sullen world of desolation
Found in life and breathing joy’s begun.

Women’s kisses have been inspirations –
Crushing flowers on the grassy spread –
Demons, like young brothers’ altercations,
Never made me batter any head.

Thickets there, I know they do not flower,
Swan-necked lazy rye it doesn’t shake.
Thus I find this host’s departing power
Causes me to shudder and to quake.

Certainly, in that host’s destination
Fields of corn in mist they do not glow.
Those I love they therefore find their station
Here with me on planet earth below.


Мы теперь уходим понемногу
В ту страну, где тишь и благодать.
Может быть, и скоро мне в дорогу
Бренные пожитки собирать.

Милые березовые чащи!
Ты, земля! И вы, равнин пески!
Перед этим сонмом уходящим
Я не в силах скрыть своей тоски.

Слишком я любил на этом свете
Все, что душу облекает в плоть.
Мир осинам, что, раскинув ветви,
Загляделись в розовую водь.

Много дум я в тишине продумал,
Много песен про себя сложил,
И на этой на земле угрюмой
Счастлив тем, что я дышал и жил.

Счастлив тем, что целовал я женщин,
Мял цветы, валялся на траве,
И зверье, как братьев наших меньших,
Никогда не бил по голове.

Знаю я, что не цветут там чащи,
Не звенит лебяжьей шеей рожь.
Оттого пред сонмом уходящим
Я всегда испытываю дрожь.

Знаю я, что в той стране не будет
Этих нив, златящихся во мгле.
Оттого и дороги мне люди,
Что живут со мною на земле.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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