Autumn melancholy in Esenin

Autumn birch trees in Belarus

Esenin, though not well-known in the west, is a very popular poet in Russia. Active in the early 20th century, he is the poet of the countryside and of nostalgia for the beauty of nature. Having achieved early success, he was lionised in St Petersburg society and literary circles. But success brought its own curse and a year after this poem was written, he hanged himself in a room at the Hotel Angleterre in the capital.

The poem seems to express the anguish or conflict he felt in the contrast between his current way of life in the big city and the beauty and simplicity of the countryside.

In Russian the poem has a particular rhythm and also rhymes, this musicality contributing to its distinctive melancholy tone and atmosphere. I have been trying to find a way of rendering this poem into English while maintaining both rhyme and rhythm, but all my attempts overcomplicate it and pack out the lines simply to make the metre work. Here’s one attempt at the first stanza:

The birch wood all in golden autumn dressed
Beguiles me into staying with its song,
And mournful cranes now flying home to rest
Show not a shred of pity for the throng.

So, I’l go with this for now:

The golden trees, speaking
In their own bright birch tongue, dissuaded me,
And sad cranes flying overhead
No longer feel sorry for anyone.

Who should they feel sorry for? For еvery wanderer in the world
Will pass by, call in and then leave home again.
The hemp field dreams of all those who have gone
While the broad moon shines over the blue pond.

Standing alone amid the bare plain,
While the wind carries the cranes off into the distance,
My head is full of thoughts of my happy youth,
But I don’t regret a thing about my past.

No regrets for the years wasted in vain,
No regrets for my soul’s lilac hue.
In the garden the fire of a red rowan burns,
But it can’t consume anyone.

The rowanberry clusters are not burnt,
The grass will not disappear from its yellowness.
As a tree silently drops its leaves,
I let fall sad words.

And if time, scattering them in the wind,
Rakes them all into into one useless heap,
Say this…that the golden trees
In their sweet tongue, dissuaded me.

. [1924]

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