Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye

I mentioned in my last post about the banality of death: the idea that death is so commonplace, so ordinary, as to be almost uninteresting. The problem with writing about this idea is that any author would have to acknowledge the banality of their own deaths and, by extension, their own lives. Which, obviously, few rational people are going to do.

In 1925, the poem Sergey Esenin, staying in the Hotel d'Angleterre in Leningrad, asked reception to send up him some ink. On being told there was none, he opened up his wrists and wrote his final poem in his own blood. The next day, he hanged himself.

Esenin is best known in the West for his marriage to the American dancer Isadora Duncan, a union always likely to have its difficulties as they had no common language. When they met, Isadora seduced him using the only two words of Russian she knew - "angel" and "devil".

There is a certain irony in one of the most gifted writers of his day being unable to communicate with his spouse, and by the time of their marriage in the early twenties Esenin, once handsome, was on a precipitous decline amply lubricated with alcohol. The couple separated in 1924.

Duncan managed to top off her glamorous and unusual life with a glamorous and grisly death - strangled and nearly decapitated by her scarf, which got entangled in the wheels of the car she was driving.

I've never particularly enjoyed Esenin's poetry, though, the ones I've read have two themes: that he represented the dying society of the Russian peasantry, killed off by modern technology; and that he was a bad, nasty drunkard. Which he was.

However, his final eight line poem, Goodbye, my friend, goodbye, is a call to those who knew him not to mourn, and is almost unbearably sad. After expressing his love for his (unnamed) friend and his belief in some form of resurrection, the final two lines are

In this life to die isn't novel
But to live, of course, isn't so new


Which brings us back to the ordinariness of death and life.

I should mention here that there is a theory that the NKVD (the forerunners of the KGB) murdered Esenin. Presumably, then, they must have fabricated the suicide note, which means the NKVD must have had a shit hot poetry department back in the twenties.

Anyway, Esenin was buried in an emotional funeral (the Russians in those days tended to treat their poets better in death than in life), and that would seem to have been the end of it. Until Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky decided he had something to say about the matter.

5 Comments:

Blogger Psychbloke said...

An interesting post - ironically

One has only to look at the X-books to see how debased death has become in the 'interesting' stakes...........

6:20 am  
Blogger Psychbloke said...

PS - I don't get the last sentence?

6:20 am  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

Foreshadowing

4:27 pm  
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Anonymous noelle said...

My translation is more fathful to the Russian original:

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye my dear,
You are forever in my
heart.
Predestined farewell that is
near
Promises a reunion to those who part.

Goodbye, my friend - without hand or word,
And don't let sadness frown your brow.
In this life dying is not a thing unheard,
Neither is living any newer
show.

7:31 am  

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