Koltzov might best be described as a tame Burns. The adjective applies to the poetry more than to the poet, though even here we find a soberer man. He was a cattle-dealer and the son of a cattle-dealer: a cross between a trader and a cow-puncher. He spent his life in the sordid surroundings of his native town, with the exception of a few visits to the two capitals. There he met the literati of the day, dinnered wi' lairds, and was stared at in fashionable salons. He returned with a swollen head, which caused him a great deal of misery at home. The effect of his intercourse with the intellectuals was seen to be equally lamentable in his attempts at philosophic poetry. His last years were embittered by poverty, neglect, and a tragic love which ended in a lurid disease.
His art maintained his umbilical connection with the people. He carries on the tradition of the Russian folk-song, whether the stuff of his lyrics is the works and days of the peasant, or themes of universal emotional appeal. He uses the free rhythms of the folk-song and, curiously enough, his favorite metre coincides with that of the Sophoclean choruses. Of his one hundred and twenty-four poems, three-fourths have been set to music by some one hundred Russian composers, among whom are Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakoff.