(1895 - 1925) Russia
Sergey Yesenin (also spelled Sergei Esenin or Sergej Jesenjin) was a gay poet, born in Konstantinovo (renamed Yesenino in his honour). He went to Petrograd in 1915, attached himself to the Symbolists, greeted the Revolution, revived peasant traditions and folklore, and initiated the Imaginist group of poets in 1919.
Yesenin's poems have the virtue of bridging the gap between high and low culture through their simplicity and clarity. Since Yesenin was something of a celebrity in his time, his attraction to men has not been acknowledged in his official biographies until recently.
The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 eventually reversed the gains of the previous decade. While gay writers continued writing, gay-positive work was not encouraged under the Soviet regime, and after 1933, when Stalin recriminalized homosexuality, no gay-themed works were published in the Soviet Union. The Soviet regime controlled every aspect of the publishing industry, and persecution of homosexuals in Russia was at an all-time high. This accounts for the half century of silence in Russian gay writing.
Biographers report that Yesenin had a "legendary passionate friendship" with fellow gay poet Anatoly Mariengof that lasted for three years. After a brief and unsuccessful mariage to the American dancer, Isadora Duncan (1922-23), he suffered from depression, took to drink, and finally committed suicide.
Karlinsky argues that "Yesenin's best love poetry is that addressed to men." Here are some lines from a poem he wrote to his lover Anatoly Mariegof (Tolya):
There's crazy happiness in friendship
And the convulsion of wild passions -
The fire melts the body down
As if it were a stearine candle.
Oh my beloved! Give me your hands -
I'm not used to doing it any other way -
I want to wash them at this time of parting
With the yellow foam of my hair.
Ah, Tolya, Tolya, it is you, it is you,
For one more moment, one more time -
The circles of unmoving eyes
Have grown still again like milk.
There is a great deal of physicality and passion here. There is a subtle reference to man to man lovemaking in the third stanza.