When Bunin came to Petersburg at the age of twenty-five he brought with him memories of shabby manorial grandeur, of hack work in the provinces, and of a Tolstoyan influence that at one time persuaded him to become a cooper. The young man, meeting the modernists for the first time, dubbed them "sick boys with complete chaos in their heads." Bunin is himself a traditionalist in an age of iconoclasm, a realist in a neoromantic generation, a sober lyricist solitary among his ecstatic fellows. His minor music has the simplicity and sincerity of a sorrowful Mozart. He celebrates the melancholy charm of vanishing things, never foreswearing his classic clarity. Yet there is a growing exotic strain in this poet of the Northern Russian landscape. He is a less vivid Leconte de Lisle, revivifying forgotten deities and filling his verse with Oriental color, fragrance and warmth. His nostalgia for the distant seems to grow by the travel upon which it feeds. Perhaps this intimacy with what is foreign gives his translations from Longfellow, Byron and Tennyson their remarkably rich quality.
When in 1909 Bunin was elected to the Academy of Sciences, this rare distinction was conferred upon him for his prose as much as for his poetry. Indeed the former is the part of his work which bulks largest. His prose œuvre consists of his black and bitter sketches of the Russian peasantry, naked studies in psychology, and tales in the manner of a diminutive Joseph Conrad. "The Gentleman from San Francisco," one of his most recent and impressive stories, is the only one available in English.
Bunin was one of the first to flee Soviet rule, eventually settling in Paris.