Kliuev, Nikolai Alekseevich (КЛЮЕВ, Николай Алексеевич) (1884–1937) By Wells, David N.
A poet of peasant origins who became a prominent figure in the Russian Silver Age, Kliuev grew up in Olenets province to the northeast of St Petersburg, where he was exposed to the religious beliefs of flagellant and other sects as well as Orthodox Christianity. Largely self-educated, he began to publish verse in 1904 and soon attracted the attention of leading symbolist poet Alexander Blok, who promoted his work. Kliuev’s early work was influenced by Symbolism, although at the same time he cultivated a self-consciously ‘peasant’ identity and was close for a while to Sergei Esenin, who acknowledged him as his mentor. Overall, his verse offers a linguistically rich and complex combination of folkloric, religious, and literary themes, which is only now beginning to receive full critical attention. Kliuev rapidly became disillusioned with the revolution of 1917, which he saw as undermining the traditional peasant way of life. After years of hardship, he was arrested in 1934 for attacking collectivisation in his allegorical long poem Pogorelshchina [The Burned Ruins]. He was exiled to the Tomsk region in Siberia, where he was rearrested and executed in 1937. Kliuev was officially rehabilitated in 1957, although none of his poems were republished in Russia until 1977. Several important works, including the long poem Pesn’ o velikoi materi [Song of the Great Mother], were later discovered in the KGB archives.