Nikolai Kluyev

Nikolay Klyuev Poems

Klyuev’s origins were in the Russian peasant sects. In the ancient tradition of Slavic oral poetry, his mother was a folk-teller of epic poems. In his youth Klyuev lived in the Solovetsk monastery and traveled on behalf of the Flagellant sect to Baku, India, Persia, and the Near East. In 1907 he entered into correspondence with Alexander Blok, who helped secure publication of his first poems. Valery Bryusov wrote the forward to Klyuev’s first collection, Sosen perezvon (Cry of the Pines), in 1912. Klyuev also befriended Sergey Esenin and in turn led him to his first contact with Blok.

At first Klyuev viewed the Revolution with approval. He became involved with the Scythians (along with Ivanov-Razumnik, Andrey Bely, and Esenin), who expected salvation to come from the peasants. In the early 1920s his books were severely criticized and withdrawn from circulation. Following Esenin’s suicide in 1925, Klyuev managed to have his “Lament for Esenin” published (1927), but it was soon forbidden. He was branded a kulak poet. In his poem “Burning House,” he mourned not for any individual but for Russian peasantry.

In 1933 Klyuev was arrested and exiled to Narym, later released through the intervention of Maxim Gorky, and then arrested once again. Where and how he died is unknown. Until his posthumous exoneration in 1957, his name was not mentioned in the USSR. The first new book of his work was published in 1986 and slowly other works, considered lost, were also published. Telling the story of the extermination of the Russian peasantry in his version of the Russian epic poem, Klyuev continued the poetic tradition that his mother had served.