We find the following poem, which is translated from the Chinese, at the crossroads of three lives and three equally astounding deaths. The first of this trinity is the Russian lyric poet Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin (or Esenin) whose name is also the title of the poem. Yesenin’s verses make for gentle counterpoint set against his raucous and profligate style of living. Lamenting in Don Juan his lack of emotion with regard to women, he resigned himself to a romantic whirlwind of ever-changing partners, the most famous of whom would be the American dancer Isadora Duncan.
Duncan, more than flamboyant, was a revolutionary spirit. “The dancer of the future,” she claimed, setting down a foundation of modern dance, “will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the human body.” Through dance, Duncan sought to connect with primordial vibrations of the sea, of music, of life. As contemptuous of conventional mores as of restrictive ballet costume, she swept, trailing ribbons and silk, from one affair to another, and into and out of her marriage with Yesenin.
After marrying in 1922, without more than a handful of Russian words and a bit of French between them, the couple sallied forth on a tour of Europe and America. Yesenin, growing more and more furious, alcoholic, and mentally disturbed, made scenes, broke up hotel rooms, and was arrested. After his release, he returned to Moscow where he worked his way through a number of women. In a fifth and last marriage, he wedded the granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy, who attempted to get help for him before his 1925 breakdown and hospitalization. After his release, Yesenin bled himself into a Grecian urn, wrote his last poem in his own blood, and hung himself from the heating pipes of his hotel room.
Duncan died in Paris in 1927 soon after hopping into a car with the ironic comment, “I am off to meet love.” Her scarf, flying behind her, was snatched up by the rear tire and spun about the axle, strangling her.
The third of these tragic geniuses is the writer of the poem, the Chinese poet Haizi (海子 or Son of the Sea) now quite a noted figure in China. Like Yesenin, Haizi is a poet of the wheat fields, simple towns and trees of the countryside. His poems take up a constellation of reappearing motifs–the moon and sun, spring, wind, sisters, dead horses and tigers and the like–producing alchemical and sometimes bewildering compositions. In translation, their strangeness is multiplied by differences between Chinese and English, with symbols and concepts that sometimes must be hunted down and transformed. This particular poem, written in 1986 and 87, is not entirely finished and leaves unanswered the “fate of genius”. For himself, Haizi answered it in 1989, lying down in the path of an oncoming train with a copy of Walden, the bible, and a collection of Joseph Conrad’s stories. He was 25 years old, five years younger than Yesenin in death.
Poet Yesenin (mother poem)
Stars, shine clear.
Give birth to a poet.
The lake has conceived.
From this pregnancy:
A flower’s miniscule fist. From this pregnancy
Yesenin is born.
Wildflower town: black as pitch
As if no one lived there.
Wildflower, princess of my town
In quiet, bitter northlands:
Give birth to a poet.
In whose window, from whose house
Does the flame shine out:
A serene-burning lamp, a wildflower?
In this muddy lamplight,
Yesenin is born.
2 Native Clouds
Native land’s two children
Across the water.
Please, door of cloud,
For those fortunate ones, open.
And the eye on the mountainside,
In mourning, with no place to hide,
Let that too be opened.
3 Little Girl
Little girl, resting your head on axe and water,
While sleeping peaceful, go
Into the spring,
The beach. A field.
A little girl.
A beautiful fallen limb
From the god.
A little girl.
A beautiful horse.
Two drops of water.
Two symmetrical breasts.
4 Poet Yesenin
I am a Chinese poet.
Son of paddy-field valleys.
Son of the tea flower,
And yet, son of Europa.
A son is called Italy.
A daughter is called Poland.
I have suffered beyond knowing
And am destitute.
The day’s sun goes down with waves.
I reach a Persian beer hall.
No one calls me.
Roof in the ancient town of Liang Zan.
Facial features like evening.
Sitting in a pub as if sitting in a drop of beer.
Sitting in a drop of water.
The cranes fly off.
The table is lifted away.
The corpse is raised up.
The disconsolate poet sits in his room.
He is still sitting:
You never predicted
That spring would return to earth.
Following my death, Earth shall be the woman I love.
Beauty is you.
But I am ugly.
Within the earth,
Dead, yet in summer born again.
5 Enter the King
The breeze slips over this hill country.
In lands of maize, each kernel is thin.
I heat water, observing small, winsome leaves
Each tiny leaf is rustling.
Far away burns the sun,
Flooding this empty mountain valley.
The leaves are rifles and marriage beds collected from the gods.
Round shield are engraved with characters no one understands.
6 Alcoholism #1 (Sketch)
7 Alcoholism #2 (Sketch)
8 Prostrate, Drunk: Hometown
Drunk in the night, on the earth, in the land of my nativity,
I cruise in blue moonlight.
I feel it in my heart, a constellation of four radiant arrows.
On the earth, drunk, bearing a crown upon my head,
Bearing May wheat upon my head,
Bearing a woozy roof upon my head
Or stars. Drunk, upon the earth.
Earth, you were drunk before me,
Your features sombre with drink before mine.
I wish to help you on your way,
I am a drunk;
I call the earth my brother, water my sister,
The forest my lover.
I have insomnia, flowers that can’t be plucked
I watch my mouth
For fear of banging my head.
Over my neighbors descends the dawn.
My two feet trample the streets of my native town and become a lover’s.
In the dusk I limp about.
With southern constellations I rise,
My hands dancing, mouth muttering,
This rapid and profound soaring,
I accomplish with my heart
I feel I must remain firmly seated on my own body,
In my native land, a name,
A beautiful poem,
A hometown night drunk on earth.
9 The prodigal’s journey
I am a wastrel.
I am donning a hat of wave-water.
I am donning a floating ceiling.
The lamp extinguishes me.
My home catches up with me.
I come to the beer hall and the city.
I am originally the country’s son and brother.
Upon graduating from missionary school,
I should have been that young teacher
In the fading mists of the river bank;
Should have joined an innocent country girl
Diving into the net of love.
Why then do I head to the tavern
And to the city?
Although I once rested with a cow and puppy
In Saint Lucia’s heaven,
Although I formerly dwelt in hill country,
Although I exchanged songs with the deaf,
Although at 22, I barely made a peep,
Although I love you Mother, Father,
I find myself at the tavern: a Russian cabin’s ground floor,
Sobbing over the edge of my glass,
Reciting mad poems
For savage people I don’t know.
I want to go home.
Want to turn round and head to the land of my nativity.
Thrust my head in flowers.
I’d like to take up a reserved style of communication,
There in my home.
I would like to thrust my head in wildflowers.
10 Destroyed life
At this very moment upon the beautiful village grounds,
Tough, pungent wheat
Says let’s part ways
His two hands tightly clasped.
Light the candle. Burn the old poems.
Speak the words to break it off.
Separate the hands that have braided a girl’s hair
As lovely as wheat sprouting in May,
Locks once held to the lips.
Whose life was ended by the hand
That for mankind
Stretched the skin of a serpent over a drum.
These days, for the sake of a magical drum in a ballad,
A snake-skin drum,
You are a lantern of tears within the town.
Pronounce the breaking off.
Pines open your ten buried fingers
Within collected, buried poems.
This moment, in the beautiful village,
The fragrance of wheat cannot reach you.
11 The Geniuses
Light snow tumbles through wind,
Poplar wands nodding,
In a dusk
That I think ripe with blessed destiny.
At this moment, I remember Van Gogh,
These lives of doomed talent
Whose hearts are now at ease.
These who stand in moonlight,
Heads gently rocking,
Clutching torches, waists flour-sack wrapped,
Hearts at rest.
These who never come back
From their gathering dusk:
Under this quiet sky, not one works in a threshing yard
Kept by three sisters.
I also can’t bear the hunger and thirst,
For there is not a drop of water in the river;
There isn’t any flour in the sack.
Snow tumbles through the wind,
And the shoes of the dead trample on,
Like tires, like fate,
Through the standing grain,
And through the blind mud.
12 The Destiny of Genius