Taras Shevchenko Museum of Canada
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Museum Building

Taras H. Shevchenko
Museum & Memorial
Park Foundation

1614 Bloor St. West
Toronto Ontario
M6P 1A7
Tel: 416-534-8662
Fax: 416-535-1063

 


The Bard of Ukraine
By Yevhen Kirilyuk, Correspondent Member, Academy of Science of Ukraine;
Written in 1961

Taras Shevchenko
By Ivan Franko;
Published in The Slavonic Review in London, UK in 1924-1925;

Founder of a New Realistic Art
By Petro Hovdya;
Published in Ukraine magazine in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1984;

The Man and the Symbol 
by Professor W. K. Matthews, University of London;
Published in the "Forum" Magazine in March 1989;
abridged;

Taras Shevchenko Bard of Ukraine 
By Professor D. Doroshenko, University of Prague;
Published in New York City by the United Ukrainian Organizations of the United States in 1936;

Shakespeare, Burns & Shevchenko 
By Andrew Gregorovich
Speech at the Shevchenko Museum, Toronto, March 10, 2012

Out of Cossack They Made a Valet 
By Van Wyck Brooks
Published in the "Ukrainian Life" magazine in March 1940

The Bard of Ukraine

By Yevhen Kirilyuk, Correspondent Member, Academy of Science of Ukraine;
Written in 1961

Taras Shevchenko, the brilliant national poet of Ukraine, is one of the classics of world literature. His all-embracing humanism, deep and genuine folk character, and revolutionary ardour make him comprehensible and close to the hearts of the people of all nations.

Shevchenko lived at time when his homeland was split in two by the Russian and Austro-Hungarian monarchies, and the mass of the Ukrainian people - t he peasantry - was in serf bondage to feudal landowners. The people waged a ceaseless struggle for their social and national emancipation.

Taras Shevchenko (1814 - 1861) was born into a serf family in the village of Moryntsy, in Kyiv Province. He experienced the severity of forced labour from earliest childhood, knew and felt the sad plight of "the poor, unsmiling muhzik", surrounded by the magnificent ever-smiling nature of Ukraine.

He lost his mother before his ninth birthday, his father died two years later. But while the masses of the serfs were illiterate, the orphan waif received an elementary education: in return for heavy task-work the boy did for a sexton, the latter allowed him to attend classes he conducted for boys of more favoured circumstances. Taras early began to display artistic talent. This was not simply the urge to draw, which is common among children, but an overpowering calling. Despite threats and beatings, he drew everything he saw or heard of, using a pencil, charcoal, chalk - whatever he could lay his hands on. Taras dreamed of studying art under a good teacher, but landed in his master's manor instead, first as a kitchen-boy and later as indoor kozachok(servant). When he was forteen years of age Shevchenko was taken away from his native Ukraine by his master, Baron Engelhardt. They lived for some time in Vilnius, where Taras was once cruelly punished for daring to light a candle and draw at a time when his master was away at a ball. Engelhardt later realized that Shevchenko would never make a good servant, and decided to make him his "court" painter.

Shevchenko was seventeen when he arrived in St. Petersburg, then the capital of the Russian Empire. Engelhardt apprenticed him for four years to a painter, Shirayev. In Petersburg he became acquainted with the outstanding artist Karl Bryullov, who was a professor at the Academy of Arts, the noted poet Zhukovsky, the artist Venetsianov, the connoisseur of arts Vyelgorsky, and also his fellow-Ukrainians, the artist Soshenko, the writer Hrebinka and others. They became deeply interested in the gifted serf youth and sought to have him admitted to the Academy of Arts, but he was barred because of his status as a serf. So they bought his release from bondage for a large sum of money, and on April 22, 1838, when he was twenty-four years of age, Taras Shevchenko received his certificate of freedom from serfdom.

In Petersburg, while he diligently applied himself to painting and graduated from the Academy of Arts, he devoted himself with mounting fervour to poetry, which (according to his own testimony) he began to write during the white nights of 1837. And this proved to be his true calling. While he was to be an artist by profession all his life and eventually was awarded the title of Academician in engraving, poetry was always his true passion, in which his artistic brilliance and revolutionary spirit found their clearest expression.

It was in Petersburg that Shevchenko's first Ukrainian verses were born: romantic ballads,lyrical elegies and songs ( The Bewitched, The Wild Wind, The Water Flows Into the Blue Sea and others). In them the poet adopted and developed the chanting style and imagery of the kobzars (folk minstrels). He had often listened to them in his childhiood as they sang dumy, songs of the legendary past of Ukraine, of how the free Cossacks defended their homeland from its enemies, and of the heroic figures of the peasant rebels, the Haidamaki.

As a blind minstrel, plucking at the strings of his kobza, sings of the wide Dnieper River with the pale moon swimming in the sky above it , of the maiden abandoned by her lover, of the spacious steppe dotted with grave mounds under which lie the bones of heroes, of the military campaigns of the Cossacks and of the struggles of the people for freedom and right, so did Taras Shevchenko "talk with the people" in his verses. The struggle of the Ukrainians with their enemies provide one of the main themes in Shevchenko's poetry.

In 1840 a small book of verse appeared in Petersburg, entitled Kobzar. It contained only eight poems, but that book shook all Russia and the whole Slavic world. Some of his early verses were also published in Yevhen Hrebinka's Ukrainian almanac Lastivka (The Swallow). And in 1841 Shevchenko's biggest work, Haidamaki, an epic poem about the armed struggle of the Ukrainian Cossaks and pesants against Polish feudal gentry in the eighteen century, was published as a separate book.

Shevchenko was firmly rooted in the Ukrainian literary tradition. In his youth he had read the poet and philosopher G. Skovoroda, he knew and deeply appreciated the works of Kotlyarevsky, to whom he penned an elegy, Osnovyanenko, to whom he addresses a poetic message, and others. He also studied the rich treasure trove of advanced Russian literature: Pushkin, Lermontov, Koltsov, Gogol, etc. (It is worth nothing that even in his early period he was also writing poetry in the Russian language.) He was conversant with and learned from the gems of world literature. Thus, he could recite many of Mickiewicz's poems in the Polish original, and tried his hand at translating some of them. He knew Byron's works well. In his foreword to the projected new edition of the Kobzar in 1847 Shevchenko mentions Walter Scott and expresses his high esteem for Robert Burns. In his novel The Artist, written in exile when he had no library or reference book at hand, and in other novels written in that period he mentions Shakespeare (The Tempest, Othello, Hamlet), Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe in the French translation, Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield, Ossian, Edward Gibbon, Byron, Scott (Woodstock, Kenilworth, The Fair Maid of Perth, Quentin Durward, The Antiquary), Charles Dickens (David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby) and others.

But even in his first ballad to come down to us, The Bewitched, Shevchenko was not an apprentice, not an imitator. There was no such period in his work. His early poem Katerina is a peerless work on the life of the people in his own time, just as the poem Haidamaki is an outstanding work on a historical theme. Shevchenko stepped to the forefront of Ukrainian literature from the very start. This was due not only to the young poet's brilliance, but mostly because he was a genuine people's poet. It is characteristic that the title of his first slim booklet of poetry, Kobzar, was later applied to all collections of Taras Shevchenko's poetry and to the poet himself.

Shevchenko was a true people's poet not only because he wrote in the Ukrainian language that was actually spoken by the people, thus laying a solid foundation for the Ukrainian literary language as a whole, and not only by the closeness of the Kobzar to the oral Ukrainian folk poetry (that trait was also common to the Ukrainian romanticists), but mainly because he expressed the thoughts, feelings and aspirations of the broadest sections of the Ukrainian people. At the same time his poetry is imbued with true humanism and internationalism. Let us examine, for example, Haidamaki, in which the struggle of the Ukrainian people against the Polish gentry is graphically described. In order to prevent enemies of the Ukrainian and Polish peoples from exploiting sections of the poem to foment national hatreds, Shevchenko wrote into it a ringing appeal for the unity and friendship of the Ukrainians, the Poles and all the Slavic peoples. That appeal had nothing in common with reactionary Pan-Slavism, which masked the expansionist policy of the Russian autocracy. In that same Haidamaki the young poet spoke in Aesopean language of Tsar Nicholas I, the gendarme of Europe, saying: "the executioner rules". Nicholas's censors passed those lines, but when the Kobzar was being republished in 1860 the "liberal" censors of Alexander II detected "sedition" in them and crossed them out.

When in 1843 Shevchenko returned to Ukraine after fourteen years' absence, he heard his own songs and ballads from the lips of peasants and minstrels. Shevchenko visited his native district and saw his relatives and friends still bearing the heavy yoke of serfdom. He traveled a good deal through Ukraine and was shocked by what he saw there.

On his return to Petersburg in 1844 Taras Shevchenko became acquainted with a number of free-thinking Russians who later formed the secret political circle of M. Butashevich-Petrashevsky. He became a consistent revolutionary democrat, an active fighter against serfdom and autocracy. In the poem The Heretic (about the great Czech patriot and reformer Jan Hus) and other works Shevchenko developed still further the theme of Slavic unity and brotherhood. In the poem The Caucasus he enlarged this theme to call for the joint struggle of all the peoples of the Russian Empire against the autocracy. He openly attacked the whole feudal-autocratic order (A Dream, 1844) and called for a people's revolution (To the Dead, the Living and the Unborn, The Cold Ravine, My Testament). Tsarist censorship ruled out the possibility of having his works published, so the poet neatly wrote them out by hand in an album entitled Three Years (1843-45).

Back in Ukraine Shevchenko joined the secret political Society of Cyril and Methodius, in which he advocated a consistently revolutionary policy. In 1847 the society was exposed and its members were arrested and taken to Petersburg for trial. The cruelest punishment of all was meted out to Shevchenko. He was made a soldier and banished to distant Orenburg, the tsar personally adding to the sentence: "forbidden to write and to paint". From Orenburg Shevchenko was sent to the Orsk battalion.

By banishing him and making him a soldier (the term of army service at that time was twenty-five-years), the tsar strove to kill the poet and artist in Shevchenko. But Shevchenko continued to write his freedom-loving verses both in the dungeon of the Third Department (political police) in Petersburg and in the Orsk fortress. The poet fashioned miniature notebooks, wrote his works in them in the tiniest of handwriting, and kept them concealed in the legs of his boots.

There were humane people even among the officers. Captain-Lieutenant Butakov took Shevchenko along as an artist on an expedition to explore the Aral Sea in 1848, i.e., he disobeyed the tsar's orders. On his return to Orenburg the poet lived in private quarters and wore civilian clothes.

Shevchenko's poetry of the exile period reached a higher stage. In the brown, sun-baked steppe he nostalgically recalled his distant Ukrainian homeland, the wide, free Dnieper and the boundless black earth plains, the people and their sad lot. Again and again he conjured up his homeland's glorious past, its plight during the years of serfdom, and visions of the better days to be. He dreamed of a peasant rising, of final victory over the tsars and feudal gentry. In The Princess, Marina, P.S. (Pavlo Skoropadsky) he described typical feudal masters, in Marina, The Outlaw and If It Should Chance he presented types of the people's avengers. In Kings he openly called for the overthrow of the Russian autocracy. In exile he continued to champion friendship among the nations, he made friends with Polish revolutionaries and addressed his poem To the Poles to them; he devoted many warm, friendly lines to the local Kazakh people, and also painted them.
In 1850 the poet was arrested again on charges laid by an officer, returned to Orsk for trial and then banished still farther away, to Novopetrovsk fortress on the Mangishlak Peninsula on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (today Fort Shevchenko). During this second period of his exile Shevchenko wrote a number of novels in Russian, hoping to get them published in periodicals. Some of the novels have the same plots as his poems The Servant Woman, The Outlaw and The Princess, while others - The Musician, The Artist and The Journey - have new plots. They contain much autobiographical material. Not one of the novels by Kobzar Darmohrai (Shevchenko's pseudonym) was published during the author's lifetime.

Shevchenko was not immediately amnestied, as were other political prisoners, after the death of Nicholas I. He was released from banishment only after long and insistent intercession on the part of his Russian friends. Even then he was long denied entry to the capital and was forced to wait at Nizhny Novgorod.

When he learned that his release had been granted, Taras Shevchenko started his Diary, a wonderful human document which provides us with a living portrait of the implacable revolutionary and the significance of the development of engineering and science, which would inevitably bring an end to the old order.

On his return to Petersburg, Shevchenko drew close to the outstanding public figures of that time, the Russian revolutionary democrats Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov, and the Polish revolutionary democrat Sierakowski.

In his last years Shevchenko's poetry reflected the flames of the peasant revolts, the revolutionary situation in the pre-reform Russia of 1859-61. The poet widely utilized Biblical settings and imagery for his passionate denunciation of the rulers and calls for a revolutionary uprising (The Neophytes, Maria, numerous "imitations" of Isaiah, Jezekiel and others). In the poem I'm not Unwell Shevchenko appeals to the people not to the place their hopes in the reform promised by the tsar, but to win their freedom with the axe. He dreamed of a republican form of government. In The Half-Wit he asks:

When will we greet
Our own George Washington at last
With the new law of righteousness?

For him Washington was a symbol - president of a republic established on the basis of a constitution.
A notable page in Shevchenko's life was his friendship with the prominent British actor Ira Aldridge, an American Negro by origin, who came to Petersburg in 1858 to perform in several Shakespearian plays. Enthralled by his magnificent performance, Shevchenko and his friend greeted Aldridge with such enthusiastic applause that it evoked protests from prudish theatre-goers. Soon the Ukrainian poet-artist and the Negro actor met at the home of F. Tolstoi, the vice-president of the Academy of Arts, and became fast friends. Shevchenko painted a portrait of Aldridge, which bears the latter's autograph. Tolstoi's daughter wrote of this friendship in her memoirs: "These two individuals had more in common than just similar traits of character; in his youth one had been a serf, while the other was a member of a despised race; both experienced much bitterness in life, and both passionately loved their unfortunate peoples."

At this time, too, Shevchenko joined Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Dostoevsky, Marko Vovchok and others in an angry public protest against anti-Semitic diatribes in the journal Illustration.

In 1859 Shevchenko was finally permitted to revisit Ukraine, where he again saw his relatives, who were still in serf bondage. He was soon arrested on charges of "blasphemy", however, and ordered to return at once to Petersburg.

Ten years of prison and exile had undermined the poet's health and he died when he was but forty-seven years of age. Shevchenko was buried in Petersburg, but later his remains were disinterred and borne to Ukraine, as he had willed in My Testament, and he was buried on May 22, 1861 on a hill overlooking the Dnieper near the city of Kaniv, where he had dreamed of settling with his family. Mourners carried handfuls of earth in their hands to the grave, building a high funeral mound over it. In 1939 a magnificent monument was erected on this spot. Shevchenko's grave has become a veritable shrine.

The beloved bard of the Ukrainian people is deeply honoured in Ukraine. His works are published in millions of copies in the various languages of the former USSR. There are several Taras Shevchenko museums and many monuments in the country; many cultural institutions and enterprises bear his name, which has also been given to localities, squares and streets in cities. Shevchenko prizes are awarded annually for outstanding contributions to literature and the arts.

Shevchenko is also widely known in other countries. His works were noted abroad already in the 1840s. His poems were translated into Polish (1860), Czech (1860), Bulgarian (1863), Serbian (1868), German (1870) and French (1876). Spanish periodicals wrote about him in the last century. A large number of translations of various works of Shevchenko has appeared in English.

A summary of an article on Shevchenko by E. Durand in the Paris Revue des Deux Mondes for 1876 was published that same year in the New York The Galaxy (Vol.22) and a still more extensive one in the London journal All the Round, which was edited by Charles Dickens (1877, Vol.18, No.440, pages 220-24).

The British Slavist W. R. Morfill (1834-1909) did much to popularize Shevchenko. In 1880 he informed the English-reading public through an article in The Westminister Review (London) of the publication of the Kobzar in two volumes in Prague. Morfill read Shevchenko and works about him in the Russian, Ukrainian and German languages, himself visited both Eastern and Western Ukraine, and wrote an extensive article about him, entitled Cossack Poet in Macmillian's Magazine (1886), including a prose translation of two of Shevchenko's poems. And in 1902, in a review of an anthology of Ukrainian literature, printed in The Athenaeum (London), he dealt at length with the Kobzar, including a poetic translation of sections of My Testament.

A very valuable contribution was made by Ethel Lillian Voynich in her book Six Lyrics From the Ruthenian of Taras Shevchenko, published in London in 1911 as one of the Vigo Cabinet Series. The author of The Gadfly was particularly successful in translating the intimate-lyrical poems and her excerpt from The Princess is a model of profound penetration into the meaning of Shevchenko's imagery, creating correspondingly distinctive and poetical images in the English language. She also wrote a foreword, in which she presented a detailed biography of the poet, enlivened with quotations from his diary and the novel The Artist, which she interpreted to be wholly autobiographical, and expressed high esteem and appreciation of Shevchenko, whom she likened to the bard of Scotland, Robert Burns, as a national poet. Ethel Voynich's translations of Shevchenko were reprinted many times in the English-speaking countries.

Percy Paul Selver presented some new translations from Taras Shevchenko in the journal The Ukraine (1914) and in the Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature (1919), including the poet's autobiography. Selver strove to transmit Shevchenko's wording accurately, but failed to do it in terms of imagery that is specific to the English language.

In 1924 The Slavonic Review published in article on Shevchenko, written in 1914 by the Ukrainian writer and savant Ivan Franko (1856-1916) at the request of R. W. Seton-Watson.

Among contemporary British writers who have translated Shevchenko special mention must be made of Jack Lindsay, whose work was published in the magazine International Literature (Moscow, 1939, November 3).

In the United States of America the first free translation in prose of some lines from The Caucasus appeared in 1868 in The Alaska Herald, a journal of the Russian revolutionary émigrés, published by A. Honcharenko, who wrote Shevchenko's obituary for Herzen's Kolokol (The Bell) in London. In 1916 in New York the Canadian poetess Florence R. Livesay published a book, Songs of Ukraina with Ruthenian Poems, which included a free rewrite of several poems by Shevchenko. The American poetess Edna Underwood also published similar interpretations of three Shevchenko's poems. Percival C. Cundy and Ukrainians living in North America - Zahariychuk, Semenin, Ewach - also rendered some of Shevchenko's works into English, but they did not always adequately or accurately transmit the social content of those poems. The same shortcoming (together with difficulty in preserving the rhythm of Shevchenko's poetry) is noted in translations by the Rev. A. J. Hunter, whose book The Kobzar of the Ukraine was printed in Winnipeg (Canada) in 1922.

At the present time Shevchenko is being translated in Britain by Herbert Marshall, well-known author and translator of Mayakovsky's poetry, and in Canada by John Weir, whose collections entitled Bard of Ukraine (1951) and Taras Shevchenko: Selections (1961) were published in Toronto, and Mary Skrypnyk, whose translation of Katerina appeared as a booklet in Toronto in 1961. Herbert Marshall, John Weir and Mary Skrypnyk took part in the Shevchenko Jubilee Conference at Kanev and Kiev in 1961.

Deep appreciation of the great Kobzar's work was expressed in the article by the British publicist and literary critic Pauline Bentley in the UNESCO Courier (1961, No.7-8) which appeared in the English, French, Spanish and Arabic languages.

Shevchenko's fame is also spreading in the Orient. The secretary of the Vietnamese Writers' Association, Nguyen Hoang Khoan, writes that Shevchenko is well known and highly esteemed in Viet Nam. The Japanese poet Teisuku Shibuiya dedicated his collection of verses Songs in the Field to Shevchenko in 1924. The Kobzar was published in Japanese translation - without rhymes, but with the rhythm of the original, according to the poetical instrumentality of the Japanese language - in 1950, being Volume 12 of the series Masterpieces of World Poetry. A Shevchenko memorial meeting in Tokyo in April 1961 was addressed by Japanese writers and public figures and by Oles Honchar, president of the Union of Writers of Ukraine. Shevchenko is also known in India and China.

As we have already noted, Shevchenko is fairly widely known in the Western Hemisphere. There are two monuments to him and a Shevchenko Museum in Canada. At a Shevchenko memorial meeting in New York in 1961 the American artist Rockwell Kent spoke of his profound admiration of the Ukrainian poet and pride in his works.

"Why is it that something a poet of one language became a poet of all languages, although it is very difficult to translate poetry from one language to another, and the native language is one-half of the poetry?" wrote the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. "It is because the other half of the poetry of such a poet as Shevchenko is so national and yet so international and humanistic, so distinctive and yet so universal, that half of the apple of Shevchenko's poetry is to the taste of all peoples."

That is why Taras Shevchenko's fame extends to all parts of the globe. That is why he ranks with the greatest figures in world literature.

 

Taras Shevchenko
By Ivan Franko;
Published in The Slavonic Review in London, UK in 1924-1925;


He was a peasant's son and has become a prince in the
realm of spirits.
He was a serf, and has become a Great Power in the common-
wealth of human culture.
He was an unschooled layman, and has shown to professors
and scholars newer and freer paths.
He sighed for ten years under the Russian soldiery, and has
done more for the freedom of Russia than ten victorious armies.
Fate pursued him cruelly throughout life, yet could not turn
the pure gold of his soul to rust, his love of humanity to hatred,
or his trust in God to despair.
Fate spared him no suffering, but did not stint with pleasures,
which welled up from a healthy spring of life.
And it withheld till after death its best and costliest prize—
undying fame and the ever new delight which his works call
forth in millions of human hearts.
IVAN FRANKO, 12 May, 1914


TOWARDS the year 1840 there appeared in European literature an important and characteristic phenomenon. The simple peasant of the village made his entry into literature. Till then poets and novelists had scarcely seen him, or, if they treated of him in their works, he served them merely as a decoration, as a lay figure, as a colourless grey mass, or at best as something hardly in touch with deeper human feelings. I only need to mention those sentimental and justly ridiculed peasant figures which may be found in the French and German idyllic poets of the 18th century; or, again, the peasant figures of Shakespeare, so true to life and treated with such powerful naturalism, and yet mere episodes, or those of the German 17th-century novelist Grimmelshausen; or, later still, Goethe's Gotz von Berlichingen; and, finally, the tales of Ruthene peasant life which occur in the Polish poet Klonowicz's Latin poem Roxolania (1584)—beautiful, but also mere episodes—and the decorative treatment of peasant figures in such Polish poems as Goszczynski's Zamek Kaniowski and Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz. It is only about the year 1840 that works begin to appear in all the various literatures of Europe, in which the peasant figures as the hero and his life is the main theme of interest. In France this new tendency is identified with one of the most brilliant of women writers, George Sand, whose stories, La Mare au Diable, Francois Ie Champi and others, are drawn from French peasant life. In Germany, Berthold Auerbach opens in 1839 the series of his Black Forest Tales (Schwarzwdlder Dorfgeschichten), which have doubtless won more praise than they deserve. At the same time there appeared in Polish such tales as Kraszewski's Ulana and Jermola: while in Russian similar stories appear towards the close of the Forties—notably Turgenev's Zapiski Okhotnika Grigorovich's Antony Goremyka, and Dostoevsky's Poor People. Finally, in Ukrainian literature, then still weak and obscurely buried far from the great world, there appeared as early as 1829 short stories by Gregory Kvitka Osnovyalenko, drawn exclusively from peasant life; and then, in 1840, a figure for which there is no parallel in world literature, with the possible exception of Robert Burns in Scotland—a peasant's son who has spent more than twenty years of his life under the yoke of serfdom. And he does not come forward as the hero of some romance or poem but as a living creator, working and struggling for the downtrodden human rights of an enslaved peasantry and of the long-neglected Ukrainian people, but also as the champion of all the oppressed. Most interesting of all, no sooner had his poems first been printed than this young peasant, so recently a serf, is greeted by the general opinion of his fellow-countrymen as a spiritual leader and the chief ornament of Ukrainian literature. He who only a few years before had to tremble before the angry looks of his master, and was only saved by accident from the knout of the land agent Prachtel, and who was sold after hard bargaining like a pedigree horse for 2,500 roubles, now becomes the leader of a whole people. Such was Taras Shevchenko, the greatest poet whom the Ukrainians have hitherto produced, and in his own way really unique.

Taras was born on March 7, 1814, as the younger son of the serf Gregory Shevchenko, in the village of Moryntsi, the property of the Russified German, Engelhardt. He lost his mother early. He learnt to write from the Church cantor, and at the age of eight started wandering to the neighbouring villages and markets, in search of a master who could teach him to paint. But as he could find none, he returned to his native village and hoped to get the post of herdsman to the commune. Then the old Engelhardt dies, and his son, who had been brought up in a more Polish spirit, gave instructions that a new staff of servants should be collected for him. Thus Taras came into his service, first as kitchen boy, and then as his master's personal valet, and in this capacity travelled everywhere with Engelhardt; then, when his master noticed his eagerness to learn to paint, he was sent to study under the painter Lampi, in Warsaw. But lie had hardly been there a year when, in November, 1830, the Polish Revolution broke out and interrupted his studies. The whole of Engelhardt's retinue was sent to St. Petersburg, and here Taras was left for fully eight years in the studio of the painter Shirayev. But Shirayev was really not so much of an artist as a house decorator, and could not teach Shevchenko anything. Of the work that he did as Shirayev's apprentice it may be worth mentioning the al fresco decorations in the great Petersburg theatre. No wonder that such work and such miserable dependance should have been thoroughly irksome to him. Often he would go secretly into the park in the evenings to draw the wretched mythological statues which he found there. On one such occasion, as he was sketching the group Laokoon, he was found by his countryman Soshenko, and introduced by him to the talented writer Hrebinka, known as the author of Ukrainian fables. Through him Shevchenko's cruel fate came to the knowledge of the famous Russian poet, Zhukovsky, then tutor to the Heir Apparent, the future Alexander II. Soshenko also spoke of his young countryman to Bryulov a professor in the Academy of Fine Arts, to the Court painter, Venetsianov, and others. This group of highly cultured artists and humanitarians tried to improve the lot of the young Ukrainian, who at the first contact with this new and brighter world was overcome by such emotion and melancholy that he thought of suicide, and then fell into so high a fever that he had to be taken to hospital. Meanwhile his patron succeeded in interesting the Imperial family in Shevchenko's fate, and on the initiative of the Empress a raffle was started for Bryulov's portrait of Zhukovsky, all the tickets being disposed of at Court. Venetsianov negotiated with Shevchenko's master, and for the price of the portrait, 2,500 roubles, he was bought out of serfdom. Now at last he could be received in the Academy, which was not open to serfs: and he soon became one of Bryulov's favourite pupils and lived in his house.

At the same time the muse of poetry bestowed her favours upon the poor apprentice. His first efforts date from the period of serfdom, but it was only as a student of the Academy that he laid brush and palette aside and committed to paper the melodious songs which flowed from his soul. In 1840 the young Ukrainian squire, Martos, made Shevchenko's acquaintance during a visit to St. Petersburg, and had his first poems published in a little volume entitled Kobzar of Taras Shevchenko. Kobzar —which may be roughly translated The Guitar Player—had an immense effect upon all educated Ukrainians, and such great personages as Count Tarnowski assured the poet of their friendship and corresponded with him. It is true that in the Russian literature of that period, which was mainly interested in Hegel's philosophy, in Goethe and in art for art's sake, Shevchenko was not favourably received, and his big poem, The Robbers, which appeared in the following year, was severely criticised not only in St. Petersburg, but abroad.

But in the Ukraine the poet's fame grew rapidly, and he, for his part, was filled with longing for the Ukraine, which he had not seen for over 12 years. In 1843 he went home during the holidays. It was an almost triumphal return of one who had left his native village in the corduroy of a page boy. The winter of 1843-4 Shevchenko spent in Petersburg and then, after completing his studies at the Academy and winning a gold medal and the title of a free artist, he returned once more to the Ukraine in the summer of 1844.

This period was the high-water mark of his career, and the happiest time of his life. In the Ukraine he wandered freely from one country-house to another, greeted everywhere with great cordiality. In Kiev he obtained a post at the Archaeological Commission. Here he found himself surrounded by the younger generation, which had already, certainly partly under the influence of his poetry, formed a secret society under the name of the "Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius", with the clearly expressed aim of educating the people and abolishing serfdom. But early in 1847, on the basis of a denunciation by the student Petrov, the society was discovered, and all its members arrested and transferred to Petersburg. Shevchenko himself was also arrested, since his poems A Dream and Caucasus were found in MSS. with one of his acquaintances. These poems Tsar Nicholas regarded as an insult to himself and his consort, and condemned their author to military service for life, without promotion, and with the express prohibition of all writing and drawing!

After three months in prison in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, Taras was placed in a "kibitka" and sent by forced marches to Orenburg, where he was finally transferred to a remote outpost in the Kirgiz country. In Orenburg and Petrovsk his life was by no means intolerable. In the former place he found a number of intelligent Poles, who received him with sympathy, and he also met with much kindness from his superiors and his fellows in political exile. His fate improved still further when the Commandant of Orenburg, General Perovsky, attached him as sailor to the scientific expedition of the learned Academician, von Baer, who was to explore the coasts of the Sea of Aral, and the uninhabited steppes of Raim. He spent over 18 months in voyages on the Sea of Aral, officially as a common sailor, but in practice entrusted with sketching the various landscapes, and treated virtually as tlie equal of the members of the expedition. When, however, he returned to Orenburg and laid before the Commandant his album of drawings, the latter, with the object of securing an amelioration of his lot, sent a report to Petersburg, and in due course received a sharp reprimand. The album was returned to Shevchenko, and his punishment increased. He was sent to one of the worst penal settlements, Orskaya, on Lake Aral, and here spent six terrible years, in great spiritual oppression and cruel sufferings.

Then Tsar Nicholas died, and under the rule of Alexander II there began a lively literary and social movement. Friends and protectors of Shevchenko, and in particular the President of the Academy of Fine Arts, Count Tolstoy and his wife, secured the poet's liberation from the Kirgiz steppes. After an exile of ten years Shevchenko at last returned to Petersburg, broken in health but unbroken in spirit. Even in these terrible years his muse had not been silent. He wrote a number of prose tales in Russian, of which some have perished, but most were printed long after his death and fill a large volume. He also wrote in this period a number of poems, fresh and clear as pearls, many of them treating of their author's cruel experiences, and certainly belonging to the most exquisite lyric poetry of all time.

In St. Petersburg Shevchenko wrote, in addition to his lyrics, a number of epic poems, the best of which is probably Maria, treating in simple, popular fashion and in a highly impressive and original form the life of the Mother of the Saviour. But his health was broken. He was still dreaming of a peaceful family life on the banks of the Dnieper near the town of Kanev, where a piece of land was being purchased for him when death overtook him in St. Petersburg on 8 February, 1861. Thus Kanev, instead of greeting him among its citizens, could only prepare his grave on a little hill beside the Dnieper.

Shevchenko's poetical work may be divided into four periods, which are fairly distinct from one another. The first is from 1838 till 1843, or from his escape from serfdom till his first return to the Ukraine. In this period we see the poet still under romantic influence. He writes ballads and sentimental reflections, and composes historical tales of varying length, which culminate in the epic Haidamaki, begun in 1838 and published in 1841. From this time also date the beautiful poem Katerina, and another poem which has still not been published in its complete form, called The Nun Mariana. In the second period, which lasts till his arrest in the spring of 1847, we find such political poems as Chihirin, Subotiv, Irshavets, and others. The poet now passes from the national Ukrainian outlook to the social sphere, and raises his powerful voice in defence of the serfs (As a serf she cut the wheat, To my Sister, Marina, A Dream, Letter to my Countrymen, Living, Dead and Unborn). Thus he becomes the prophet of his people, tearing pitilessly aside the veil of political and social despotism. Sudden misfortune brought this activity to a close, and even hid a large number of his poems from public knowledge for many decades.

The third period sees the poet reduced a second time to slavery, and is limited to small lyric poems, partly of a personal character, though resting on a broad political and social foundation, and partly containing highly original and characteristic paraphrases of Ukrainian folk-songs. The fourth period reaches from 1858 till the poet's death. His lyrics, begun under military service, are still continued, but grow stronger and broader, until they swell to the rich harmony of the Hymn, To the Light, which may be called an apotheosis of light, progress and freedom. But the most characteristic feature of this period is the turn which his genius takes towards religious themes (The Neophytes, Kings, Maria, Hymn of the Nuns, etc.)

If the poetry of Shevchenko is to be reduced to a formula, I would describe it as poetry of the yearning for life. A free life, unhindered development of the individual and of all society, such is the ideal to which Shevchenko was true throughout. The sufferings of humanity and injustice towards humanity always moved him with equal force, whether it was the peasant woman driven to the corvee and forced to leave her child under the corn stocks, or the prince's daughter insulted by her own father, or the maiden sold by her mother to a General, or the little Jewess who took vengeance on her own father for the murder of her student-lover. I know of no poet in the literature of the world who made himself so consistently, so hotly, so consciously the defender of the right of woman to a full and human life. The sacrifice of one's own individuality for works of mercy, the surmounting of one's own sorrows and the dedication of all one's strength to the noble dream of the welfare of humanity—this ideal of woman has been left to us by Shevchenko as his dearest legacy. No wonder then that he saw above all in the work of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the highest moral achievement of mankind, that great idea of human love which is the foundation of Christianity.

Founder of a New Realistic Art
By Petro Hovdya;
Published in Ukraine magazine in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1984;


In all, 835 paintings and graphic works created by Shevchenko over his lifetime have come down to us. Besides, some data on his other 27-odd works, which have been lost, add to our knowledge of his legacy as an artist.
Shevchenko's works of art done between 1830 and 1861 are geographically connected with Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

The fact that Taras Shevchenko happened to get to St. Petersburg and meet highly educated people there who helped free him from serfdom and who, in his formative years, pointed out to him the road to true art, can be put down only to lucky coincidence. Otherwise, Shevchenko would have shared the destiny of thousands upon thousands of talented serf artists who either died in their dreadful slavery without ever being able to develop their artistic gifts or became the private artists of their petty tyrants, the landowners.

In those days Ukraine had not a single art school (one state-run and two private art schools appeared only in the mid-1870s). For this reason, among others, there were very few artists in Ukraine, and most of them were merely teachers of drawing at one educational establishment or another.

Such a deplorable situation with respect to the development of Ukrainian art can be explained first and foremost by the nationalities policy of tsarism which did everything it could to nip any signs of developing national culture in the bud. The majority of artists were self-taught painters (in most cases icon painters) or folk craftsmen who passed down their ancient artistic traditions from generation to generation. All this found its reflection in a considerable broadening of the traditional themes of folk pictures dedicated to Cossack Mamai and Marusya Bohuslavka, in which echos of the national liberation movement of the Ukrainian people could be discerned, as well as in the development of unique Ukrainian folk painting, sculpture, woodcarving, decoration of clothes and the like.

However, the development of folk art traditions with strongly pronounced national features could not compensate for the absence of highly developed professional art, literature, music, and theater which reflect the heights of a people's genius and the best achievements of their culture. This harmonious merging of Ukrainian folk and professional art, its all-round and large-scale development and advance became possible only much later.

A great role in the formation and development of Shevchenko as an artist was played by the St. Petersburg Academy of Art and, in particular, by one of its outstanding representatives, Shevchenko's teacher Karl Brullov.

Briillov's system of teaching was based on the idea that the best instructor an artist can have are life, nature, and reality. Judging from Shevchenko's creative activities, one can see how deeply imprinted on the young artist's mind was this new truth - previously unheard of at the Academy of Art - the truth which undermined the foundations of the entire structure of academic esthetics.
"The great Brullov never allowed himself to draw a single line without a model, while for him, a person full of creative power, this might have seemed to be permissible," Shevchenko would later write in his diary.

"To paint from life" means, naturally, not just copying reality or man, nor a studio limited in space, but a whole system of views aimed at creating a generalized artistic image of reality, which is again based on concrete material from real life. Shevchenko learned this truth better than any other pupil of Bryulov and followed it throughout his creative career.

Shevchenko joined the campaign for a new, realistic art with his painting Katerina (1842), the first work to expose so openly one of the dark sides of the reality of serfdom and to interpret an important problem of human relationships on a clearly expressed social plane. Until then, Russian art - the more so Ukrainian art - did not have a single painting which so vividly showed the human tragedy resulting from social inequality and the existing social system.

Without any reservations, Katerina can also be considered as the first notable work of the new Ukrainian national art, the foundations of which Shevchenko began to lay in the mid-1830s, when he addressed himself to Ukrainian themes and subjects. His first composition dedicated to a historical theme was the drawing The Death of Bohdan Khmelnitsky (1836-1837) done before he had been freed from serfdom and entered the Academy of Art. By that lime, thanks to his friend Ivan Soshenko, Shevchenko was already familiar with the Academy's requirements and had made several drawings on themes from antique history in quite an academic manner, as is evident from the conventional compositional structure with elements of theatricality and intentional pathos.

Though the images of Cossack officers and men who are carrying the Hetman's staffs, kettledrums and military standards into the chamber of their dying leader, as well as the images of other characters lack individual traits, the drawing nonetheless has a certain psychological mood. The latter is revealed through the gamut of feelings of different men - from an overdramatized depiction of the Cossacks' sorrow (one of them is bending over the table crying; another is kneeling before the Hetman; still another has pressed himself against Khmelnitsky's legs) to the calm concentration of the Archimandrite and the mournful grandeur of the Hetman.

The fact that Shevchenko turned to the image of Bohdan Khmelnitsky under whose leadership the Ukrainian people were reunited forever with the Russian people testifies to the artist's deep understanding of the tremendous historic role played by Khmelnitsky. Shevchenko's The Death of Bohdan Khmelnitsky - unpretentious and immature though it is - proves that he entered Brtillov's studio with the outlook of a patriotic artist who had already seen his calling in the accurate depiction of his people's life and history. The great merit of Briillov as Shevchenko's teacher lies in the fact that he fostered and encouraged his pupil's passion for genre painting and Ukrainian historical themes in every possible way.

In the early 1840s, several main trends could easily be discerned in Shevchenko's artistic pursuits - historical, everyday-life and portrait painting. In 1843-44, he again made sketches for the composition The Death of Bohdan Khmelnitsky. In the last years of his life, Shevchenko returned once more to the image of Khmelnitsky, drawing several sketches for the picture Bohdan Khmelnitsky before the Crimean Khan. In 1845-47, while in Ukraine working with the archeographic commission for the study of ancient monuments, Shevchenko made a large number of drawings from life associated with historical places (The Bohdan Khmelnitsky Chirch View of Chihirin from Subotiv Road, and others). Finally, in 1844, he created one of his finest works - the etching Gifts at Chihirin in 1649.

After Kateryna, the genre trend in Shevchenko's works was further developed in the canvas A Peasant Family and In the Apiary (1843), in the etchings to the album Pictorial Ukraine, as well as in a large number of drawings and sketches he did between 1845 and 1847 and during his exile, and in his illustrations. Shevchenko was also a recognized master of portraiture.

Thus, it can be seen that the pictures depicting the history, the genres of the past and present of his people were inseparably connected and complemented one another in his career as an artist. Shevchenko wanted to popularize the most important events in the history of the Ukrainian people, to show their mode of life, prominent personalities, and the natural beauty of his homeland. Neither before nor after Shevchenko was there a Ukrainian artist who set himself such an all-embracing task.

Unfortunately, the artist managed to realize only a small part of his plans: he created six etchings which made up the first series titled Pictorial Ukraine.

According to Shevchenko's concept, Pictorial Ukraine was to be a series accessible and comprehensible to the masses of ordinary people, first of all peasants. Proceeding from this concept, he chose the technique of etching which allowed him to make a large number of prints.

Shevchenko was carried away with the romance of remote times, the liberties of Cossakdom, and the epic struggle of his people for their freedom. Burial mounds in the steppe and ruins of ancient buildings called forth in his imaginative mind pictures full of life and expression. Frequently his drawings and watercolours have mute but eloquent witnesses of the past: graves, ruins, ancient churches-monuments of Ukrainian architecture. However, when drawing or painting ancient monuments, Shevchenko did not depict the past in isolation from the present. As a true realist, he saw the past through the prism of the present.

Typical of all Shevchenko's sepia drawings is that, without any embellishment or falsity he depicts everyday life in the Ukrainian countryside extremely accurately. The "Little-Russian exotica" so popular with many artists of those days who painted an imaginary countryside was alien to Shevchenko.

Like no one else, Shevchenko loved Ukraine and perceived her natural beauty and the strength and courage of her people, but he never tried, for the sake of the tangible beauty alone, to depict this exotica, nor did he ever turn a blind eye to the deplorable life of the peasants "in that paradise." That is why the first objects to catch his eye was the squalid dwelling of a poor widow (A Widow's Cottage in Ukraine) and the serfs' rickety, ramshackle huts with small windows.

His kindred with the people, the patriotic pride he took in their great deeds of the past, present and future, as well as his profound love of Mother Nature occasioned, to a great extent, the uniquely national flavor of Shevchenko's art, helping him to be a realist (earlier than any of his contemporaries) and influencing his individual artistic style. When the czarist government dealt brutally with the great poet and exiled him to the distant steppes of Kazakhstan, forbidding him to write and paint, Shevchenko, under extremely difficult conditions, did not lose a bit of his realistic skill, nor did he change his outlook on the world. On the contrary, Shevchenko's realism developed further, while his aspirations found their expression both in poetry and the fine arts (The Parable of the Prodigal Son series).

Shevchenko had all reasons to write after his return from his ten-year exile: "All this inscrutable grief, all sorts of humiliation and profanation have passed by as if not touching me at all. They left not a single trace on me... It seems to me I am the same as ten years ago. Not a single feature of my inner self has changed." He remained true to his principles in his Kazakh series. Here again, he exposed the same social injustice he saw in Russia and Ukraine. The colonialist policy of the czarist government evoked strong protest in Shevchenko.

No less vividly, the artist exposes the dark sides of life in czarist Russia and the people's lack of rights in his series The Parable of the Prodigal Son. His drawing Running the Gauntlet, which he once witnessed, is an indictment of the czarist regime. It is with great love, empathy and humaneness that Shevchenko treated the Kazakh people. Kazakh Riding a Horse, Song of a Young Kazakh, The Kazakh Girl Katya, In a Yurta, Kazakhs by a Fire, Baigushi, A Kazakh Boy Playing with a Cat -all these works without exception are permeated with a humanistic spirit asserting the friendship of two fraternal peoples - Ukrainian and Kazakh.

In developing as an artist, Shevchenko traveled a rather difficult road. Persistently overcoming barriers - both in life (which prevented him from showing his full talent) and in his creative work (first of all, the influence of academic traditions), he embarked on the road of realism right from the beginning of his artistic career and never left this road. In taking a democratic, realistic stand and depicting life exactly as he saw it, Taras Shevchenko was creating a national art of the people and, as such, was the founder of a new progressive art.


The Man and the Symbol
by Professor W. K. Matthews, University of London
Published in the "Forum" Magazine #77 in March 1989
abridged

Personality and reputation are not commensurate terms, for although they are obviously connected, the connection between them is not organic. A man may be greater or less than his reputation, and his reputation may grow or diminish in harmony with the fluctuating fashions of thought. Essentially a man's reputation is not a projection of his personality, as the branch is of the tree, but rather a reflection, like his image in a mirror, and this being so, it is determined by the nature of the reflecting surface - here the human environment - which is clearly subject to the influence of place and time. The career of Taras Shevchenko illustrates all these things, except the ebb of a reputation, for in the years since his death his fame has grown unabated with the turbulent growth of Ukrainian self-consciousness. To-day he is still the symbol of his country's unslaked passion for freedom from tyranny in all its forms as he once became in the first flush of youthful ardour.

Ukrainian literature in its modern sense begins almost with Shevchenko in the first half of the 19th century, although its recorded beginnings go back to the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet and of Old Bulgarian literature at Kiev in the 10th. The modern phase is represented before Shevchenko by Ivan Kotlyarevsky, whose language, unlike that of earlier Ukrainian authors, exclusively reproduces the contemporary vernacular. This was also used by another outstanding precursor of Shevchenko - Hryhoriy Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, as well as by an entire school of Kotlyarevsky's imitators, all of whom focused their attention on depicting Ukrainian life and manners. The careers of Shevchenko's two precursors overlap into the Romantic period, but neither had the temperament to profit by the emancipating effect of the new literary fashion. And so it fell to Shevchenko to express Romanticism, especially its later phase, in Ukrainian literature.

The advent of Shevchenko was sudden and startling and carried the more responsive of his compatriots off their feet in a wave of fervent admiration. Such a poet had not been known in Ukraine before. His vivid, singing, emotional verse, both lyrical and narrative, had a familiar ring and movement, for it was the language of Ukrainian folk-song with its recognizable epithets, subtle stressing, and simple charm of manner. And yet it was not folk-poetry, for the poet's personality shone through the words with an unmistakable radiance, and it was the personality of a man who loved his country not only in the aureoles and heroisms of its past, but even more in its contemporary state of abject humiliation. This man moreover was acutely aware of social and national injustice and was not afraid to indict his people's enemies and to make them feel the sting and lash of his tongue. Here apparently was another Burns, yet, all in all, Shevchenko was more influential than Burns, for the latter lived and died in the Age of Enlightenment, when interest in the lot of the downtrodden was only just beginning to win the attention of serious, compassionate men.

The comparison with Burns, whom Shevchenko knew at least by repute, is instructive. Both men belonged to the peasantry and to a nationality other than the dominant one; both, as writers, were to some extent self-made; both wrote partly in the vernacular and partly in an alien literary language; both were highly emotional, impressionable, not markedly strong in character; both endured the indignity of social ostracism; and both died comparatively young. But the differences between the two poets are probably as considerable as the similarities, and perhaps the most glaring difference is that of legal status. This may appear to contradict our statement that both belonged to the peasantry. But in fact it does not. Although a man of the people, Burns was a free man, whereas Shevchenko was born a serf, who obtained his freedom only at twenty-four and only to enjoy it for nine out of forty-seven years of his life. This is a fundamental fact in Shevchenko's biography and cannot be too often or too strongly emphasized. It set the tone of his poetry; it inclined him to identify himself with the meanest of his compatriots, who till 1861 were the chattels of mainly Polish and Russian landowners; it gave him his strong feeling for the soil of Ukraine; and it enabled him to see clearly the social and national evils which beset his unhappy country. Shevchenko also differs from Burns in being an artist not only in words, as Burns was, but with brush and pencil. Indeed Shevchenko the artist was as widely known in his own time as Shevchenko the poet. And there is a third point in which the two poets are different: Burns's freedom was never circumscribed and marred by imprisonment, whereas Shevchenko's freedom was merely a brief interval in a life of ignominious duress.

Shevchenko, as a man of letters, was known to his contemporaries by two books of verse - The Minstrel (Kobzar) and The Haydamaks (Haydamaky). Only a small part of the first, as it is now constituted, appeared in 1840, two years after his emancipation from serfdom by purchase through the kind offices of his Russian friends Zhukovsky and Bryullov. In content it is partly lyrical and partly narrative, while The Haydamaks (1841) is wholly narrative; in tone both are predominately lyrical. Both draw on native folklore as well as on the Romantic balladry of Western Europe, and there is a great deal in them that come from the poet's own experience whether direct or vicarious. Thus, for his Haydamaks, Shevchenko made use of his grandfather's eyewitness stories of the peasant revolt of 1768 (koliyivshchyna), imbuing them with the vitality of passionate memory. An expanded edition of The Minstrel came out in 1860, and since Shevchenko's death early in the following year other writings of his have come to light.

To-day his complete works include prose as well as verse, and the prose is for the most part in Russian. Although generally inferior as writing to his verse, it has the characteristics of his literary temperament and is valuable as an autobiographical record throwing considerable light on certain periods of his life. His Diary (Dnevnik), limited to the crucial years 1857-1858, is particularly illuminating on the notable change in his psychology which was the inevitable outcome of ten physically and morally degrading years of exile in the Kazakh steppe. His correspondence, both Ukrainian and Russian, covers a much longer period than the Diary, and even substantial parts of his nine Russian stories (e.g."The Artist" - Khudozhnik) are apparently little modified transcripts of his own experiences, their verisimilitude being in some cases heightened by the use of actual names (e.g. Bryullov's ). On the other hand his only play Nazar Stodolya which remained for decades in the repertory of the Ukrainian theatre, has no autobiographical significance.

The core of Shevchenko's literary art was and remains his Ukrainian verse, and the impact of this on his contemporaries and on succeeding generations is usually explained by reference to its "national" character (narodnist'). His poetry has been equated with Ukrainian folk-songs (pisni) and folk-ballads (dumy), because they share a common vocabulary and style. The Russian critic K. Chukovsky avers in one of his pre-revolutionary essays that his collation of the verse of The Minstrel with equivalents in Maksymovych's edition (1843) of Ukrainian folk-songs has persuaded him that there is not a line of Shevchenko's poetry which cannot be paralleled from the folk-songs. This seems to be an exaggeration at best, although there can be no doubt that Shevchenko's verse is permeated with elements of folk-speech. Dobrolvubov, the Russian radical, reviewing the second edition of The Minstrel (1860), drew a parallel between Shevchenko and Koltsov and found that the former had closer and firmer ties with the common people.

Prima facie then it would seem that Shevchenko's verse is folk-poetry. And yet statistics show that hardly more than fifty per cent of the total number of verses in The Minstrel are written in the measures of Ukrainian folk-song and that thirty per cent of the verses are iambic, i.e. in a metre directly at variance with the predominantly trochaic movement of the folk-songs. Even the typical folk-song measures are not used in the manner
of the folk-songs, but as, for instance, the characteristic ballad "Perebendya" shows, are blended in a very individual fashion. The Soviet Ukrainian poet Maksym Rylsky, summarizing, in his Shevchenko commemoration address of 1939, the investigations of philology in the sphere of Shevchenko's prosody, points out that Shevchenko's metrical heritage consists of two main patterns of rhythm - that of the kolomiyka verse (alternating lines of eight and six syllables, with a general trochaic movement and great freedom in stressing) and that of the kolyadka verse (lines of eleven and twelve syllables, with a general grouping into amphibraches and an equally free stress on either side of a fixed caesura.) The kolomiyka rhythm may be illustrated by -

Ne zhenysya na bahatiy,
Bo vyzhene z khaty.      (1845)

(Don't marry a rich bride, for she'll chase you out of
the house),

and the kolyadka rhythm by -

Otak u Skutari kozaky spivaly;
Spivaly serdehy, a sl' ozy lylys'. . .
(Hamaliya, 1842.)

(Thus the Cossacks sang in Scutari - the wretches sang, and their tears flowed.)

But these two types of rhythm are subtly varied, and the presence of iambic and anapaestic metres adds to the rhythmic richness of Shevchenko's verse.

It must be plain from the foregoing technical details that we have to do here with more than a simple imitator of folk-songs, who, as Milton in his L'Allegro said inaccurately of Shakespeare, "warbled his native woodnotes wild". For like Shakespeare, another author with a defective early education, Shevchenko was an uncommonly sensitive and impressionable man, quick to learn, and able to transform acquired knowledge to his
own use and to give it the stamp of his unique genius. A sober study of Shevchenko's poetry convinces us of this, even though we can easily pick out its folk-song elements. But as we read his "Diary" we continually marvel at the variety of his interests and information, the maturity of his understanding, his balanced judgment in the fields of literature and aesthetics, and his high moral standard.

It is difficult, after reading the Diary and the stories, to conceive of Shevchenko as the semi-literate peasant of Turgenev's description, and we may well imagine that in his early St. Petersburg days, when he unobtrusively laid the foundations of his artistic technique and wrote the mature sequences of The Minstrel, he followed literary developments in the intervals of painting. We learn from his story The Artist that Bryullov, Shevchenko's teacher and friend, encouraged him to love books and to read poetry aloud, although he objected to Shevchenko's cultivating verse, because it interfered with the latter's studies at the Academy of Art.

We have examined the technique of Shevchenko's verse and can now briefly review its subject-matter. Like the technique which it informs, this is varied, but can be reduced to a number of dominant patterns. There is, first, the recurrent theme of the seduced girl, which obsessed Shevchenko and may have been partly suggested to him by both Russian and Ukrainian authors, but the obsession of the theme was due to the fate of his first love, the village-girl Oksana Kovalenko. Less personal are the historical themes centred in the exploits of the Cossacks and the haydamaks, which may be resolved into symbols of the struggle of the Ukrainian people against foreign oppression. Shevchenko's very life is bound up with the theme of the exile's longing for his homeland, which is as intense in the lyrics of his St. Petersburg days as in those which he wrote in the Caspian steppes.

What drew Shevchenko to the Russian revolutionaries in his latter days was an unrelenting hatred of established authority - both that of the landowners and that of the Russian government. These had been the twin sources of his miseries from his birth. And how intense those miseries could be we realize, for instance, from the pages of his Diary, in which he complained on 19th June, 1857: "If I had been a monster, a murderer, even than a more fitting punishment could not have been devised for me than that of sending me off as a private to the Special Orenburg Corps. It is here that
you have the cause of my indescribable sufferings. And in addition to all this I am forbidden to sketch". To these words he subsequently adds the scathing remark: "The heathen Augustus, banishing Naso to the savage Getae, did not forbid him to write or to sketch. Yet the Christian Nicholas forbade me both".

Is it strange then that Shevchenko's highly-strung nature, prone to extremes of feeling, as the superlatives in his letters and Diary show, should have resented such treatment and the many humiliations of military discipline, which in his case only stopped short of running the gauntlet? Is it to be wondered at too that after ten years of exile, broken in health (partly indeed through his own unwisdom), he should on occasion have been unable to restrain violent and even obscene outbursts against the powers that had wronged him?

Shevchenko, as we have just hinted, had his moments of weakness as well as considerable strength of character. Such moments of weakness led him into contradictions. The warm defender of feminine virtue confessed in a letter to his physician and friend A. 0. Kozachkovsky in 1852 that he could not boast even then
"of a very chaste mode of life". In spite of this however Shevchenko's unchanging dream was of love, marriage, and domestic felicity in his native Ukraine. This dream continually recurs almost as a leitmotiv in his verse and it closes the last poem he wrote before he
died.

Although Shevchenko never married, love played a significant part in his career, and several of the women he was attracted to, including the peasant-girl who jilted him towards the end of his life, were the subjects of his pictures, for Shevchenko was a portraitist as well as painter of landscapes and historical canvasses. To understand him completely, as we must, it is necessary to study his work in that other field of art which he made his own. Here the influence of Karl Bryullov was of capital importance, even if it did not rise, except in the earliest phase, to the plane of inspiration. Shevchenko's careful and accurate draughtsmanship, his attention to detail, and his ability to seize and reproduce a slightly stylized likeness were all the results of Bryullov's precept and example. But the static quality of Bryullov's Classical art found no reflection in Shevchenko's practice. Between 1838 and 1847 Shevchenko passed through his period of apprenticeship to art, working mainly at the St. Petersburg Academy. By 1840 he was already illustrating books with engravings, and his subsequent visits to Ukraine provided him with practice in portraiture and with fresh impressions.1847, when he was exiled to Orenburg, was a critical year in his life. Yet what seemed at first like catastrophe to the artist was not without its blessings in the long run.

When Shevchenko was allowed to sketch in 1848 he made admirable use of his keen vision to solve completely the mystery of light and shade, which had fascinated him in the sunlight of Ukraine and now possessed him in the intenser light of the Caspian sands. Bryullov was no longer at hand to demand exclusive adherence to Classical and Biblical themes. Shevchenko's natural curiosity was attracted to landscape and ethnographic detail, although he could still practice portraiture by depicting at least himself. The work he did in exile is chiefly in water-colour and pencil. His choice of theme shows that he had largely outgrown his taste for Romantic and literary subjects and now prefers, as in his Diary and stories, to reproduce the seen and the known. Soldiers, the Kirgiz, especially Kirgiz children, and the sun-scorched arid landscapes, with their wide expanses, rugged bluffs, and rare vegetation - such things figure in the exiled Shevchenko's sketches and paintings. Yet when he returned to the capital in 1858 we find that he had brought with him a set of illustrations to the parable of the Prodigal Son. These however are not done, as they might have been, in a Bryullov-style Biblical context, but are "modernized" and given realistic touches, like the verse-adaptations of the Scriptures which he made in his later years. The transition from Romanticism to Realism, which represents a change in European art and thought in the middle of the nineteenth century, may therefore be followed as plainly in Shevchenko's painting as in his literary work.

We began this essay with an attempt to detach Shevchenko from his reputation and we have considered him apart from it. Let us now consider him as a symbol, for this is one of the forms which a man's reputation may invest. All Shevchenko's literary work is closely bound up with his love and longing for Ukraine. It is only in the concrete visual detail of painting that his thoughts seem at times to, be completely removed from his native landscapes and memories. Now it is the patriotic aspect of Shevchenko's work, especially of his poetry, which first endeared him to his compatriots and has since made him the personification of the Ukrainian's thirst for liberty and independence. One might interpose here that the patriot Shevchenko of, say, the celebrated "Testament" (Zapovit) of 1845, in which he calls on his own to bury him and to rise and break their chains, and, echoing a passage of La Marseillaise, "to spatter freedom with evil enemy blood", - that this Shevchenko is only a fragment of a much larger whole, that his patriotism is only one aspect of his many-sided personality.

Shevchenko's patriotism is that of the artist who is primarily a man of feeling. With him it is not a shibboleth, but a profound emotional experience. Nevertheless it has binding power and it can serve, as Shevchenko knew well himself, as a call to arms. Study of
those lyrics in which he speaks of his country not merely as an object of longing, but as the future home of his liberated compatriots, shows that he tried to project his sense of national equity into the future and to visualize this as an age of personal freedom in the homeland. So we find him, in his "Friendly Epistle to My Compatriots" (1845), urging them not to seek freedom and brotherhood abroad, but in their native Ukraine. in their own homes, where they will find "their own truth, strength, and freedom", and imploring them to create a new age by embracing one another in brotherhood.

William K. Matthews
School of Slavonic and
East European Studies
University of London
1951


Taras Shevchenko Bard of Ukraine
The book TARAS SHEVCHENKO BARD OF UKRAINE with introduction by Clarence A. Manning was published in New York City by the United Ukrainian Organizations of the United States in 1936. That same book, but named TARAS SHEVCHENKO THE NATIONAL POET OF THE UKRAINE, with introduction by Geo. W. Simpson was published by the Ukrainian Publishing Co. of Canada, publishers of the "Ukrainian Voice", in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1936.

Preface 1 by Clarence A. Manning
Professor, Columbia University, New York

Preface 2 by Geo. W. Simpson
Professor of History,
University of Saskatchewan

Preface 1

In every land and in every literature there is one author who is the outstanding incarnation of the national genius, one man who sums up all the past of his nation and stands out like a guide to the future. Such a man, when he appears, will elevate the language in which he writes and speaks from an archaistic survival of the past centuries into a method of speech which is to last in the future. He is to form the transition from the past glories of the nation to the future that is to come.

Such a man for Ukraine is Taras Shevchenko, one of the great masters of world poetry. It is typical of the movements of the early nineteenth century that the Slavonic world produced three great poets, Pushkin among the Russians, Mickiewicz among the Poles and Shevchenko among the Ukrainians. It is interesting also to realize that while the first two were born of noble and wealthy families, the third, Shevchenko, was a poor serf. Nevertheless he was welcomed during his periods of relative happiness by the most distinguished men of the day both in the capitals of Russia and in his own dearly beloved Ukraine.

It was almost necessary that a man who would express the aspirations of Ukraine should be a serf. The last vestiges of the independence of the Cossacks had been suppressed ruthlessly. The vast majority of the nobles who had survived the debacle had been drawn away from their country and their traditions to join the dominant powers of society. It was only the serfs who in their misery remained loyal to the old dreams of the Cossacks, who remembered the old and glorious Ukraine, and who preserved the village speech and the local traditions.

It is against this background that Shevchenko lived out his hard and unhappy life, for he typified in his own existence the sufferings of his native land and the hardships which all the sons of Ukraine had to undergo. But Shevchenko is not merely a martyr or a victim of the powers under whom he lived and suffered. He summarized and embodied the past of Ukraine but also he was living just at that very moment when the ideals of the future were being forged in the fire of adversity. He spoke for the future of his land as well as for the past, for the future liberty and freedom that were to come as well as of that glory which had faded. Yes, Shevchenko became the very embodiment of the ideals and the aspirations and the dreams of every Ukrainian patriot. He believed in his country, and although seventy five years have passed since his untimely death and his ideals have not been realized, there can be no doubt that the Ukrainian spirit which Shevchenko voiced, will continue to struggle for its aspirations until it finally meets with success and Ukraine will appear again among the recognized nation of the world.

Clarence A. Manning, Ph. D.
Assistant Professor of East European Languages
Columbia University.


Preface 2

It is a pleasure to introduce to English-speaking readers this sketch of the life of Taras Shevchenko by Professor D. Doroshenko of the University of Prague. The author is one of the outstanding contemporary Ukrainian historians. He himself played an active part in the stirring political life of these times so that his scholastic training and academic outlook have been tempered by this experience in practical politics and diplomacy.

The subject of the sketch, Taras Shevchenko, was the greatest of Ukrainian poets in the Nineteenth Century. He was born in 1814, the year when Czar Alexander I entered Paris with the allied armies who had defeated and overthrown Napoleon. He died in 1861, the year when Czar Alexander II issued his famous Decree providing for the emancipation of the serfs in Russia. Both dates are significant. The French Revolution followed by the emergence and overthrow of Napoleon marks a definite stage in the rise of nationalism which was to become one of the dominant political tendencies of modern times. Shevchenko was a national patriot and no single factor has been more potent in the rallying of Ukrainian opinion around the national ideal than his poetry. The Emancipation Decree of 1861 was a concession to the rising tidal wave of public opinion in the Western World which demanded personal freedom and fuller opportunities for the great mass of people living in ignorance and poverty. Shevchenko was born a serf. He knew intimately the sufferings and tragedies of his people and his poetry is suffused with a feeling of glowing sympathy for the oppressed and deep indignation directed against the oppressor.

Shevchenko belongs to the line of romantic poets and is nearest akin to the Scotch poet Robert Burns. Indeed there are many points of similarity. Both spoke the voice of common humanity yet both are national representatives
Both wrote in the language of the common people full of homely touches, with moving glimpses of the life of cottage, village and countryside. Both appealed to strong patriotic emotions. Wherever Scotch people are found there will also be found Burns' collected poems and in all probability also a Burns' Society. In the same way Shevchenko Societies have been established wherever Ukrainian people live and every year Shevchenko's birthday is celebrated by the reading of his poems and speeches. These recall the deeply pathetic career of a highly gifted man who was born in poverty, who struggled to achieve a mastery in painting, who learned to express himself in unsurpassable poetry, who was moved by the wrongs of his people, who was arrested because of the first modest attempt he made to organize Ukrainian scholars, and who spent the greater part of his mature adult life in exile far from the people and surroundings he loved.

The life of Shevchenko must attract, therefore, all those who love a noble career, fine poetry and elevating sentiments. It is of special interest to those who wish to understand better the culture and patriotic fervor of the largest politically-submerged national group in Europe, the Ukrainians.

Saskatoon, 2nd January, 1936

Geo. W. Simpson,
Professor of History,
University of Saskatchewan.



Before we write about Shevchenko, the national poet of Ukraine, let us say a few words about his native country, that was better known in Western Europe about two centuries ago, than it is now. The latter may appear a paradox, but to be convinced of its truth it is only necessary to read the books of quite a number of travellers and historians, French, English, Dutch, Italian and German, who wrote at that time about Ukraine. The first of these and the best known was Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan, author of the Description de l'Ukranie (1660). The first English translation of this very interesting and reliable book appeared in 1704. Among the historians let us name Pierre Chevalier who wrote, Histoire de la guerre des cosaques... (1663), translated into English by Edward Brown in 1672. At the same time there appeared a series of communications about the Cossack wars against the Poles in contemporary English papers such as: The Moderate Intelligencer, The Perfect Diurnal, Mercurius Politicus, Several Proceedings and others. In the XVIIIth century the best known work about Ukraine is that of Jean Scherer, author of the Annales de la Petite-Russie ou Histoire des Cosaques de l'Ukraine (1788). English travellers such as Edward Daniel Clarke and Joseph Marshall, historians such as Bernhard Connor, professor at Oxford and Charles Whitworth, diplomat and polititian, give in their respective books an account of what they themselves saw in Ukraine or repeat information culled from other sources, chiefly French and Dutch.

We shall not here enter into causes why Western Europe formerly showed more interest in Ukraine in the past than it did in the XIXth century. No doubt it is because this country disappeared from the political arena, which we consider to be a great misfortune for Europe. It is certain, however that in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries there were far more books and information about Ukraine than there were in the XIXth.

It is interesting to note that travellers who visited the country and historians who wrote about it were moved not only by the desire for information but manifested sympathy with the Ukrainian people and their ardent aspirations for liberty. All readers of Voltaire know his words in his History of Charles XII of Sweden, about the Ukrainians, allies of this king against Russia: "L'Ukraine a toujours aspire a etre libre."

Yet it is impossible to assert that during the XIXth century there was no mention of Ukraine in European letters. It is enough to name Prosper Merimee and Alfred Rambaud for France and W. R. Morfill and George Rolleston, professors at Oxford, for England, and their articles about Ukrainian folklore and literature in English reviews *1) in the 1870's and 80's. At present "The Slavonic Review" edited by the professors of the School of Slavonic Studies, King's College in London, keep in touch with the national and literary movement of the Ukrainian people. But to tell the truth, the Ukrainian problem is among the questions that are the least known and studied in Europe, though by no means the least important.

The poetical works of Shevchenko occupy quite an exceptional place in the life of the Ukrainian people. If the great national poets of West European nations, whether by laying down new paths in literature or opening new horizons to thought, have been more or less forerunners of great moral or esthetic movements and have contributed to the revival of national sentiment in their native countries, Shevchenko was in his country the national prophet in the true sense of this word. His inspired words aroused his people from lethargy from the torpid inertia into which they had been plunged as a result of their lost struggle for independence. Shevchenko's passionate appeal revealed to the Ukrainians the sentiment of national unity, inspired them with confidence in their national dignity and gave them the wish to take their place among other nations.

In order to understand the important part that Shevchenko has played in the history of his people, though he was only a poet and had no weapons other than his poetic word, it would be necessary to describe the surroundings in which he was born and grew up, and which nurtured his poetic genius.

Shevchenko's poetic work bloomed like a marvelous flower that sprang entirely from its native soil, - soil that had seen so many great aspirations bloom and fade, such heroic enthusiasm, and which had been soaked with blood and tears in the course of its tragic history.

Having lost their independence after the Mongolian invasion in the XIVth century,
the Ukrainians found themselves successively under the Lithuanian and then the Polish supremacy. In the middle of the XVIIth century they succeeded in throwing off the Polish domination under the great Ukrainian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnitski surnamed then the "Cromwell of the East." To him Oliver Cromwell sent messages with expressions of friendship and invitations "to stand up against the Papists."

Unfortunately the Ukrainian State, deprived as the country was of natural frontiers that would protect it against invasions, had not the peace necessary to consolidate and strengthen itself and was unable to maintain its independence. After a period of wars, as terrible in ruin and desolation as was the Thirty Years War in Germany, and in which the neighbouring states, Poland, Muscovy and Turkey, participated, Ukraine was divided between Muscovy and Poland The Dnieper, the principal river of the country was adopted as the boundary: the right bank was taken by Poland, the left being annexed by Muscovy.

It is true that the left bank of the Dnieper (Poltava and Chernyhiv provinces) retained a wide autonomy, with the Hetman, the army its own administration, and its finances. Muscovy needed a century and a half to gradually destroy this autonomy and to reduce Ukraine, at the end of the XVIIIth century to the status of a Russian province. The defeat at Poltava in 1709 of the united forces of Charles XII of Sweden and the Ukrainian Hetman Mazeppa by Peter I served as a justification to the Russian government for the breach of the Treaty of Pereyaslav which Muscovy and Ukraine had concluded in 1654. Still, a century and a half of autonomy rendered possible the development of a national culture. It served later as a basis for the reconstruction of the historical tradition.

The lot of the provinces on the right bank of the Dnieper, which, ruined and devastated fell to the share of Poland, was different. The upper classes of the population were "polonised" and the lower were enslaved by the landowners. The population remembered only too well their recently lost liberty and profoundly resented this oppression. For this reason the XVIIIth century presents a series of bloody uprisings of the Ukrainians against the Poles. In the midst of these conflicts Poland ceased to exist. Nevertheless the annexation of this part of Ukraine by Russia after the partition of Poland, did not bring ameIioration in the social and economic conditions of the Ukrainian population. Russia did not follow the example of Austria and Prussia, which immediately starting reforms in the annexed Polish provinces, contributed greatly to the prosperity of these lands. Catherine II, on the contrary, took advantage of this annexation in order to introduce serfdom in all its vigour in the part of Ukraine on the left side of the Dnieper, where it had never existed before that time.

Slavery in Russia has been sufficiently depicted by well known Russian authors in a series of literary works, so that we need not dwell long on it here. The oppression of one human creature by another, the arbitrary power of the owner, the complete degradation of human dignity and the economic stagnation produced by this social evil are sufficiently evident. It is possible that in compensation to the Ukrainians some fairness or equity was shown to them by history. One of the greatest denunciators of the social and national oppression of the Ukrainians, whose invectives dealt slavery the most effective blow, was born under the thatched roof of a destitute peasant-serf. It was in the province of Kiev, cradle of Cossack liberties, where among the population there still dwelt the memory of the exploits of the Cossacks, and where the contrast between the heroic past and the present misery was only too poignant.

Taras Shevchenko, the younger son of a poor peasant serf, was born on March 9, 1814, in a village, in the province of Kiev. He lost his mother at the age of nine and his father a few years later. On his death-bed the father of the future great poet, in bequeathing his poor possessions uttered, we are told, these prophetic words: "To my son Taras I leave nothing. He will not be an ordinary man: he will turn out either someone very great, or a great scamp, thus in either case my legacy will be of no account to him." We cannot but admire this intuition of a father, who despite his drudgery, for daily bread, guessed the chief characteristics of his son. At an early age, little Taras showed a desire for instruction and a strong inclination to draw.

But neither the schoolmaster of his native village with his primitive methods of teaching, nor the local icon-painter, an inveterate drunkard, from whom the young Taras hoped to learn the elements of the art of painting, could satisfy, him. When he asked the steward of the estate for permission to apprentice himself to a painter in another district, he was ordered into the kitchen of the manor-house as a scullion. From the kitchen the young Taras passed to the antechamber into the personal service of his owner. In this capacity he followed him first to Warsaw, then to Vilna and lastly to St. Petersburg. There, Taras already a youth of eighteen, at last obtained permission to be apprenticed to a painter and decorator. His owner, flattering himself with the hope of employing his own artist on his estate, decided at last to make use of this talent for drawing. But the new master, little more that a house-painter, was a selfish man who only exploited his pupils by hiring them out for his own benefit. As for the art of painting, he could not teach Taras anything that the latter did not know himself.

No wonder the that the young artist looked out for himself, visiting picture-galleries, spending frequently those well known clear summer nights of St. Petersburg, in the public park, the Summer Garden, drawing the statues of mythological gods and goddesses. There, quite by chance, he made an acquaintance which was decisive for his future and preserved to Ukraine her greatest poet. One of the students of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, Soshenko, noticed Shevchenko thus sketching. Ukrainian himself, Soshenko recognized a compatriot in this poor youth, miserably clad, became interested in him and finally introduced him to the famous artist Karlo Briulov, then Director of the Academy of Arts. The latter, having found the young Taras decidedly gifted, encouraged him to pursue his work. But Shevchenko could not be received as a student in the Academy, as it was not open to serfs; on the other hand, his owner would not hear of letting him free without the usual money. Professor Briulov raised the necessary sum by raffling a portrait of the poet Zhukovski which he had painted for this purpose. Shevchenko was bought out of serfdom, received in the Academy of Arts, and became one of Briulov's favourite pupils. Thus the poor apprentice to a house-painter joined the society of cultured men, made friends with artists and authors, especially in the Ukrainian colony of St. Petersburg, and set himself to complete his more than rudimentary education. He was by that time already twenty-four years old, negotiations with his owner having been long and arduous.

At this time Shevchenko was for the first time visited by his poetic Muse. As he himself said later, it was in Briulov's studio that he would let himself be carried away by his imagination, far away into his native land. The natural beauty of the Ukrainian landscape, images of his native village, reminiscences of the historic passed appeared before his dreaming eyes. Before him passed the tragic shadows of the Ukrainian Hetmans, his native steppes strewn with high burial mounds, the whole heroic past of Ukraine; his own native land appeard to him as a beautiful, melancholy image. His poetic imagination wove and embroidered the fabric of his first poems.

The modest youngster hid his first poetic efforts. Their discovery was due to an accident, as was his gift of drawing. A young Ukrainian landowner, on a visit to St. Petersburg, gave the funds necessary for the publication of the first volume of Shevchenko's poems which appeared in St. Petersburg, in 1840, with the title of Kobzar, "The Bard", as wandering minstrels in Ukraine were called.

This volume and those which followed were received with great enthusiasm in his native country, and made the name of the author immediately celebrated in Ukraine. When, during his summer holidays he visited his country, he was received with enthusiasm and recognised and celebrated as the national poet. The oldest aristocratic houses were opened to the former serf, the best representatives of the country gentry sought his friendship. People much in the public eye desired to have their portraits painted by him. He won the affection of one of the greatest ladies of the country, Varvara, daughter of Prince Repnin, Governor General of Ukraine, and was hospitably received by the prince at his family seat. We know now more about this love from Varvara Repnin herself, from her letters to Charles Eynard, a Genevan patrician and friend of her parents, whom she met during their stay in Geneva, and who remained for a long time a kind of spiritual guide to her. These letters have been only recently published.

In 1845 Shevchenko received his diploma, left the Academy and was appointed teacher of drawing at the University of Kiev. This was the happiest time of his life and the future seemed to be opening favourably before him. He planned a journey to Italy to study art. But fate had something other than happiness in store for him. Above the head of the poet began to gather black threatening clouds and it was not long before the storm broke. In Kiev, Shevchenko made friends with a number of Ukrainian patriots having at their head Kostomariv, professor of history at that University. This group of lofty idealists set themselves the task of disseminating ideas of moral perfection, patriotism and humanitarian principles among the young generation. Their practical aim was: the advocation of religious liberty, the education of the people and the abolition of serfdom. As they believed in the power of Christian morals and evangelical truths, for their motto they chose the words from the Gospel: "Know the truth and the truth will set you free." In honour of the Apostles of the Slavonic lands, this society was called the Brotherhood of SS Cyril and Methodius. It was of course a secret society, but the government was soon informed of its existence. In the eyes of the police it became, "a seditious and dangerous body," all its members were arrested, brought to St. Petersburg and imprisoned in the fortress of SS Peter and Paul. An inquiry was opened, followed closely by the Tsar Nicholas I himself. The members of the society |were accused of wishing to separate Ukraine from Russia, of overthrowing the autocratic power, and Shevchenko, as a popular author of patriotic poems, was considered especially dangerous. He was sentenced to banishment and to military service for life without promotion, as a common soldier, in a little garrison hidden on the Asiatic frontier of Russia. The Tsar having added with his own hand to the sentence "with the express prohibition of all writing and drawing."

Shevchenko gave a vivid image of his feelings during imprisonment in the poem written in the fortress of SS Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg:

I care not, shall I see my dear
Own land before I die, or no,
Nor who forgets me, buried here
In desert wastes of alien snow;
Though all forget me, -better so.

A slave from my first bitter years,
Most surely I shall die a slave
Ungraced by any kinsmen's tears;
And carry with me to the grave
Everything; and leave no trace,
No little mark to keep my place

In the dear lost Ukraina
Which is not ours, although our land.
And none shall ever understand;
No father to his son shall say:
-Kneel down, and fold your hands and pray;
He died for our Ukraina.

I care no longer if the child
Shall pray for me, or pass me by.
One only thing I cannot bear:
To know my land, that was beguiled
Into a death-trap with a lie,
Trampled and ruined and defiled ...
Ah, but I care, dear God; I care!

(Transl. by E. L. Voynich)


Also in the fortress was written the following short poem where in the person of the "Reaper" the poet gives us the image of Death, as merciless destiny that spares no mortal:

Through the fields the reaper goes
Piling sheaves on sheaves in rows;
Hills, not sheaves, are these.
Where he passes howls the earth,
Howl the echoing seas.

All the night the reaper reaps,
Never stays his hands nor sleeps,
Reaping endlessly;
Whets his blade and passes on...
Hush, and let him be.
Hush, he cares not how men writhe
With naked hands against the scythe.
Wouldst thou hide in field or town?
Where thou art, there he will come;
He will reap thee down.

Serf and landlord, great and small;

Friendless wandering singer, -all,
All shall swell the sheaves that grow
To mountains; even the Tsar shall go. *2)

And me too the scythe shall find
Cowering alone behind
Bars of iron; swift and blind,
Strike, and pass, and leave me, stark
And forgotten in the dark.

(Transl. by E. L. Voynich)


Thus, like a second Ovid the Ukrainian poet dragged out long years in exile in a desert and forlorn country, in the humiliating positions of a common soldier. The prohibition to write and draw was his greatest torture. For having made a few sketches of this desolate landscape, Shevchenko spent eight months in prison and was tranfered to a still more lonely garrison on the Aral Sea.

It was only after the death of the Tsar Nicholas I, following the Crimean War defeat, that Shevchenko's friends obtained his release. But his health was undermined. He lived only four years more and died on March 10, 1861, in St. Petersburg, a few days only before the publication of Tsar Alexander II manifesto abolishing serfdom. Cruel fate had not allowed to the poet the supreme joy of seeing his life's dream accomplished.
His despair and loneliness of this time are very poignantly rendered in one of the last poems written shortly before his death:

Thy youth is over; time has brought
Winter upon thee; hope is grown
Chill as the north wind; thou art old.
Sit thou in thy dark house alone;
With no man converse shalt thou hold,
With no man shalt take counsel; nought,
Nought art thou, nought be thy desire.
Sit still alone by thy dead fire
Till hope shall mock thee, fool, again,
Blinding thine eyes with frosty gleams,
Vexing thy soul with dreams, with dreams
Like snowflakes in the empty plain.
Sit thou alone, alone and dumb;
Cry not for Spring, it will not come.
It will not enter at thy door,
Nor make thy garden green once more,
Nor cheer with hope thy withered age,
Nor loose thy spirit from the cage...
Sit still, sit still! Thy life is spent;
Nought art thou, be with nought content.

(Transl. by E. L. Voynich)


According 'to the wish expressed in his poem "The Testament," his remains were transported into Ukraine and buried on a steep bank of the Dnieper River near the town of Kaniv. From the top of the cliff a glorious view embraces the vast steppes spreading beyond the mighty river. A high mound of earth was piled on the grave of the poet. The iron cross that surmounts it dominates the country. In summer-time it serves as a beacon to thousands of pilgrims who come from all parts of Ukraine to render homage to the memory of the great national poet An Englishman *3) writing about it said: "The tomb of the poet is the object of special reverence among his countrymen, the Mecca of the Ukrainian patriots."

The Testament

Dig my grave and raise my barrow
By the Dnieper-side
In Ukraina, my own land,
A fair land and wide.
I will lie and watch the cornfields,
Listen through the years
To the river voices roaring,
Roaring in my ears.
When I hear the call
Of the racing flood,
Loud with hated blood,
I will leave them all,
Fields and hills, and force my way
Right up to the Throne
Where God sits alone;
Clasp His feet and pray
But till that day
What is God to me?
Bury me, be done with me
Rise and break your chain,
Water your new liberty
With blood for rain.
Then, in the mighty family
Of all men that are free
Maybe sometimes, very softly
You will speak of me?

(Transl. by E. L. Voynich)


Such was the life of the poet. What were his works? Shevchenko left a volume of poems entitled Kobzar, a name familiar to every Ukrainian. This volume is a kind of poetic microcosm or an enchanted mirror wherein Ukraine as a whole finds its reflection-its past and its present. After the appearance of this volume "young" Ukrainian literature took its place among the other Slavonic literatures.

We said "young" Ukrainian literature. It is a purely conventional term that does not mean that Ukrainian literature began at this date, nor in the year 1798, the publication of the Eneida by Kotliarevski which is considered the starting point of the modern- period in Ukrainian literature, of its renaissance." The origin of Ukrainian literature goes back to the XIth century. The Muscovites, or the Great-Russians, were at that date a nation in formation and also made use of this literature. This is the reason why Russians even now appropriate to themselves the origins of Ukrainian literature as being theirs as well as ours.

The ancient Ukrainian literature can boast of many a brilliant and immortal page, among which are the Chronicles of Kiev, Volhynia and Galicia, as well as the epic of the "Expedition of the Prince Igor." But this literature made use of an artificial language based mostly on the Slavonic idiom used by the church and distinct from that spoken in the country. In its successive development this language, exposed to different influences, underwent different changes and developed, but always kept its exclusively learned character as distinct from the vulgar tongue. It is under the conditions of this linguistic parallelism that the spiritual life in Ukraine went on for several centuries: State and Church, Law and Learning used this artificial language, the people used the other.

The written literature was couched in the former whereas it is in the latter that the people have created their wealth of unwritten tradition, especially the beautiful epics known as "Dumy of the Cossacks" about which Professor W. R. Moriill; and G. Rolleston wrote with such enthusiasm.

It is at the end of the XVIth century that the Muscovites adopted the literary Ukrainian language. And not only the language but also, as it is now admitted by the Russians themselves (for instance prince Trubetzkoi, professor at the University of Vienna), the Muscovites renounced their own literary tradition in order to adopt that of the Ukrainians and then transferred it to their own ground, such as was cultivated in the principal cultural centre of Ukraine, the Academy of Kiev. Under Peter I the literary Ukrainian language became the official language of the Russian Empire, but detached itself from its prototype under the influence of spoken Russian.

In Ukraine, the land of its origin, this old artificial language and its literature fall into disuse during the XVIIIth century. Kiev is superseded by St. Petersburg and Moscow and becomes a provincial place. Young Ukrainians prefer the newly founded Universities of St. Petersburg and Moscow to the old Academy of Kiev. Literary and scientific forces are also attracted now towards the capital of the empire. In the future there would be an official and literary language in the Russian Empire common to both Russians and Ukrainians, and two popular idioms for everyday use - the Russian and the Ukrainian.

If this came to be realised, there would be for Ukraine, after the downfall of her political as well as cultural independence, the complete disappearance of the Ukrainian nationality. But this danger was averted by the vitality of the historic tradition in Ukraine, fortified by the great modern idea that came from the Occident that of a nation as a distinct unit. At the same time as the pillars of the Ukrainian State collapsed, when the Hetmanate and the Cossack constitution were abolished, the Ukrainian people received a new medium to express their national individuality: Ukrainian authors abandoned their ancient artificial language, refused the Russian and adopted the living Ukrainian tongue spoken by the common people. Ivan Kotliarevski, in 1798, was the first to introduce this language in literature and thus opened a new period of the Renaissance of the Ukrainian literature.

At the beginning of the XIXth century Ukrainian authors were innovators not only in the matter of the language but also by introducing new ideas. They gave to modem Ukrainian literature a wholesome and democratic impulse and introduced human feeling.

Thus Gregory Kvitka as early as 1829, long before George Sand and Auerbach, introduced into literature the simple life of a peasant and discovered sincere and noble sentiments under the thatched roof. Romanticism found warm adherents among Ukrainian writers; still Ukrainian literature was weak and obscurely buried far from the Igreat world. There was the treasury of folklore while the glorious past of the Cossacks was in itself a source of inexhaustible inspiration for a poet. The heroic epos of the Cossack period of the XVI-XVIIIth centuries comprises the so called Dumy, long epic poems or short ballads recited with the accompaniment of the "kobza" or "bandura." Some of them have been preserved up to our time and sung by popular bards-kobzars or bandurists. A number of these poems were taken down and published in the 70's of the last century. They excited great interest among European scholars and were a fertile source of inspiration to the poets who lived at that time when in the Ukrainian literature as everywhere else the romantic feeling was supreme. We could draw here an analogy with the Scottish Border Ballads that were such a source of inspiration to no lesser a man than Sir Walter Scott, the "Wizard of the North." But in order to draw inspiration from these Measures, to throw a bridge between the past and present, briefly to build up the poetical synthesis of national aspirations, there was needed a poet of genius. A genius alone could give to the young Ukrainian literature the right to influence the life of the Ukrainian people, and this could not be expected from more modest talents such as Kvitka, Kotlarevski, Artemovski, Hrebinka and others. That genius was Taras Shevchenko.

At the beginning of his poetical career Shevchenko was under the influence of Romantic literature, Russian and Polish. Without doubt he began by imitating the romantic poets he knew: Mickiewicz and Zhukovski: but this imitation is only superficial, for Shevchenko has his own means of expression and treats his romantic subjects in his own manner. The wealth of Ukrainian folklore was to him an inexhaustible source of subjects and themes. Popular superstitions and customs relating to the sun, moon, stars, rainbow, the fantastic world of fairies, pixies, witches, and goblins interwoven with love adventures, furnished him abundant matter which he worked up into graceful schemes.

In Shevchenko's ballads, such as "The Bewitched," "The Poplar-tree," "The Drowned," could be found analogies with the early poems of Mickiewicz and the ballads of Zhukovski. But he is independent of them when dealing with the beliefs of the Ukrainian people, which he succeeds in rendering into poetry preserving to perfection their spirit and form, whereas the ballads of Zhukovski are quite artificial works and have nothing, except their names, in common with the Russian poetic spirit.

Besides the fairy world of the Ukrainian folklore, Shevchenko's early poetical works are deeply rooted in the glorious and tragic memories of Ukraine. We find here an intense patriotic feeling. The past of Ukraine was to him not only a source of sad memories and melancholy meditations, but an open wound that continued to bleed.

This conception of Ukrainian history was nourished in him by contemporary historical writers, especially by the anonymous work widely read at that time "The History of the Ruthenians" [Istoria Rusov]. The German traveler Kohl who visited Ukraine in 1838 speaks of this book as most widely known in all classes of society. According to the opinion of Prof. Drahomaniv, no book, with the exception of the Bible, had: a greater influence on the poet. Besides the written documents Shevchenko found for himself as a source the oral traditions. He was a native of that part of Ukraine where had taken place the most dramatic events of the Cossack wars and of popular insurrections. Many memories and popular songs relating to those events and their heroes were preserved in his surroundings. The powerful imagination of the poet created an image of the past, a kind of a heroic poem: the image of a people proud and independent, fighting for their liberty first against the Turks and Poles and then against Muscovite absolutism and tyranny. The Ukrainian nation succumbed exhausted in these wars. The descendants of free Cossacks were dragging the heavy chains of serfdom. The shadows of the national heroes fighting for the Ukrainian national liberties revived in his imagination. In his ears resounded the clamor and uproar of battles. He becomes the bard of the Cossacks and recalls their past glory. In the poems such as "Nalivaiko," "The night of Taras" he shows their struggles against the Poles; in "Hamalia," "Ivan Pidkova" he spreads before us wild frescoes of the Cossacks' campaigns against Constantinople and the Turks. In his epic poem "Haidamaky" he records the fury of the popular rising of 1768 where cruel and dramatic episodes abound.

His poetical interpretation of Ukrainian history is in keeping with the historical conceptions of his time. In the historical and ethnographical works of his contemporaries, Markevich's History of Ukraine, Sreznevski's The Antiquities of the Cossack Zaporozhians, writings of Kulish and Kostomarov-everywhere we see the same glorification of the Cossack Zaporozhians, the Hetmans and the Otamans.

Though having, in his early poems, idealized the past of Ukraine, Shevchenko could not but feel the contrast existing between the glorious heroic times and the present sad condition of the population. In his early poems we see already his profound sympathy for the victims of serfdom and with the precarious conditions of the life of the peasants. He pities especially women's lot, the least protected from social injustice and the arbitrary power of the lord. The image of young girls seduced and abandoned haunts Shevchenko's poetical work from his earliest poems. He gives us a whole succession of tragic heroines of this type. In his first long poem "Katerina" he shows us the tragic lot of a young Ukrainian peasant girl seduced and abandoned by a Russian officer. She becomes a mother, incurs the scorn of her village and is repudiated by her parents who send her to Muscovy to join her seducer. Poor "Katerina" finds the end of her troubles at the bottom of a pond and her infant son is picked up by beggars and becomes a guide to a blind wandering minstrel.

"Katerina" was followed by a series of similar poems and ballads: "The Nun Marianna", "The Witch," "The Waternymph," "The Lily," "The Princess, "Petrus," "Marina," "The Vagabond." All these poems, his best perhaps in regard to their artistic form, deal with the tragic conditions created in the Ukrainian villages by the arbitrary power of the serf-owner over his subjects. The unhappy lot of young women who were victims of the debauchery of their lords moves the poet in particular. And lastly, a long poem, "The Servant," describes the life of a mother who, after having exposed her child in order to be found by a rich and childless peasant-couple, enters their service and brings up her own son. On her death-bed she confesses to him that she is his mother. By purity of form, simplicity, almost biblical grandeur and the profoundly human idea of the expiation of an involuntary fault by a life of work and humiliation, this poem, it seems to us, could rank beside the masterpieces of world literature. "I know of no poet in the literature of the world who made himself so consistently, so hotly, so consciously the defender of the right of women to a full human life." Thus says the modern Ukrainian poet Ivan Franko. *4)

Since his first visit to Ukraine, in 1845, we see a marked change in Shevchenko's poetical work. Before this he knew only that part of Ukraine subject to Polish domination. Now he visited the Ukraine of the Hetmans, that part of the country which preserved for more than a century its comparative independence and its national aristocracy. These Ukrainian nobles greeted Shevchenko now as their national poet.

But the impression made on Shevchenko by the social conditions here was no better: there also the past glory of the free Cossacks was no more, and the people were also enslaved. The Ukrainian nobles, bought over by the Russian government with privileges, and rights over their own countrymen, had forgotten the national traditions, forgotten the glorious past of their country, and 'were wallowing in crass materialism. The poet saw his native country in a different light, far different from the idealized image that he saw in his dreams in far away St. Petersburg. Everywhere he now saw oppression, the humiliation of human dignity, the demoralization that even the best representatives of the dominating class no more noticed, but which painfully shocked him, the former serf. From this moment nothing could wipe out the heartrending image of this hell to which a once so beautiful land was reduced.

Everything leads us to think that during this visit to Ukraine Shevchenko made friends with some of the enlightened and cultivated representatives of the Ukrainian nobility and under their influence his political and social opinions underwent a change.

He no longer viewed the historic past of Ukraine in the same idealized fashion. The idealization of the Cossack epoch gave place to a more critical view that sees the causes of the present misfortune in the errors and faults of the national heroes themselves. Whereas before Shevchenko directed the point of his weapon against Poland and the intrigues of the Jesuits, his chief enemy is now to him the power that swallowed Poland as well as Ukraine: it is Russia, or more exactly Russian Tsarism. It is to the absolutism of the Russian Tsars that he now ascribes the causes of all misfortunes that befell Ukraine. It was Catherine II that introduced serfdom in hitherto free Ukraine at the end of the XVIIIth century. The Russian Tsars destroyed the ancient liberties of the Ukrainian people. All his wrath, all his indignation are now concentrated on two chief representatives of Russian Tsarism - Peter I and Catherine II. A series of poems, most powerful and violent, are directed against these two monarchs, who, in the eyes of the poet, embody Russian despotism and tyranny.

The most perfect works of the poet, from the literary aspect, belong to this period until his imprisonment in 1847. Among his political poems "The Dream" and the "Caucasus" perhaps express his political opinions best.

"The Dream" is a fantastic satire, inspired in form perhaps by Dante, but wholly original in content. He sees himself transported in a dream from Ukraine to St. Petersburg and shows us the panorama that opens before his eyes: the Russian capital built in the midst of swamps and marshes on the bones of thousands and thousands of workmen who perished in the most unhealthy working conditions on this poisonous soil. The next scene is an audience at the Tsar's and is drawn with expressions of the bitterest sarcasm. He shows us also the shadows of the Ukrainian Cossacks who, ordered in numbers, as punishment from their native land to the building works of St. Petersburg, found also their death in the swamps; and the shadow of the Hetman Polubotok who died in the fortress of SS. Peter and Paul for having defended before Tsar Peter the rights and liberties of Ukraine. All these tragic shadows accuse the Tsar of cruelty and deceit. The monument of Peter I set up by Catherine II, with the inscription on it: "To the First from the Second," that was glorified as a symbol of the greatness of the Russian Empire, victorious and invincible, by the Russian poet Pushkin in his poem ,,The Rider of Bronze," wakes in the heart of the Ukrainian poet quite different reflections:

"This is the "First" who crucified our Ukraine,
And the "Second" gave the finishing stroke to the victim."

In the poem "The Caucasus," Shevchenko does not linger over the beauties of the landscape that captivated the Russian "Byronists" Pushkin and Lermontov. He dwells no more on battles and romantic episodes of the war with the natives, that furnished so many happy subjects to those two poets. To Shevchenko, as to Shelley, the Caucasian mountains are the place where:

"From the dawn of the world
The eagle tortures Prometheus:
Every day pierces his breast
Tears out the heart..."

-the symbol of sufferings of the human race for the aspiration to the divine fire of liberty for which so many heroes have given their lives.

The indignation of the poet turned against the Russian Tsars, particularly Nicholas I and his system of imperial expansion which extinguished every spark of liberty on the expanses of the Russian Empire: "from Moldavia to Finland in all tongues, all keep the silence of happy contentment," says Shevchenko in derision. He accuses further the Tsars of "having spilt a sea of blood and enough tears to drown therein all the Tsars and their descendants."

The poet scourges this cruel political system that knows nothing better than "to build prisons and forge chains." He does not stop there, he accuses the whole of contemporary civilization with its hypocrisy, cupidity, this spirit of false Christianity that the Tsars, under the guise of bringing civilization, wish to introduce into their vast empire from the newly conquered Caucasus to the unlimited, unexplored Siberia.

But the poet is no pessimist, he does not lose hope, he is certain that: "The spirit is immortal and free in spite of the tyrants, and human speech cannot be stifled." He is sure that "liberty will rise from the dead, though in the meantime there are flowing rivers of blood."

When we think that this burning poem was written at the time of wars for the conquest of the Caucasus, wars that roused the enthusiastic patriotism of Russian poets and of Russian population on the whole, we can understand the impression this poem made on his contemporaries. It was also one of the reasons for the cruel persecution of our poet by Tsar Nicholas I.

Shevchenko bore all his life this hatred of Tsarism. He preserved it during the years of exile and returned as the same enemy of despotism. A number of his last poems concern despots, tyrants, autocratic rulers not only in Russia but everywhere in the world. This hatred that he bore towards Tsarism is only equal to his hatred of slavery: to him these two phenomena were intimately related.

The introduction of serfdom in Ukraine, as late as the end of the XVIIIth century, met with considerable opposition. In Ukrainian literature the starting point of the moral protest against it was "The Ode on the Desolation of Slavery," written in l787 by Count Kapnist, a Ukrainian patriot who sought abroad, namely in Prussia, support for the national aspirations of Ukraine. In Russia public opposition to serfdom was begun by Radishchev's Travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow, published in 1790. In the works of a Ukrainian poet of the beginning of the XIXth century, Hulak Artemovski, we find also a satire on the conditions created by the introduction of serfdom. The Brotherhood of SS. Cyril and Methodius, as we have already seen, had for their immediate object propaganda against serfdom. Shevchenko especially fought against it and contributed much to its abolition by influencing liberal public opinion which at that time directly after the Crimean War defeat and the death of Nicholas I, played for a certain time an important part and induced the young Tsar Alexander II to initiate liberal reforms. The influence of some of Shevchenko's poems in bringing about the abolition of serfdom could be compared with the effect of the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin on the anti-slavery campaign in the United States.

Together with the Bible, Shevchenko's favourite reading was Shakespeare, especially after having seen Aldridge in St. Petersburg one of the best known Shakespearian actors of the time. He was a mulatto from the United States, and was introduced to the London stage through Kean. The two former slaves became friends and Shevchenko left a record of this friendship in his various sketches from "Othello," where Aldridge played the leading part and also his portrait in pastel.

As an apostle of liberty and an enemy of all kind of oppression, Shevchenko goes beyond the narrow limits of his country and those of the Russian Empire. In his poem "The Heretic or John Huss" he gives us the glorification of the Czech reformer, champion of religious tolerance. John Huss is represented not only as a religious reformer but as a prophet of social equality. The culminating point of the poem - the death of Huss at the stake -- is the real glorification of the victory of spirit over the body. The poem "Neophytes" brings us to Rome in the first centuries of the Christian era and shows us a Roman mother, who hitherto indifferent to religious matters, becomes converted to the new faith in the arena, over the torn body of her son, a Christian martyr.

One of the favourite subjects of the poet, the love of a mother for her child, is often to be found in Shevchenko's works. He attains the highest point in "Maria," with the touching image of the Virgin where her life is treated in the simple ingenuous manner of the popular apocryphal
legends. "The sacrifice of one's own individuality for works of mercy, the surmounting of one's own sorrows and the dedication of all one's strength to the noble dream of the welfare of humanity - this ideal of woman has been left to us by Shevchenko as his dearest legacy. No wonder then that he saw above all in the work of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the highest moral achievement of mankind, the great idea of human love which is the foundation of Christianity." *5)

According to the opinion of Alfred Jensen, a Swede scholar, author of one of the latest biographies of our poet, "Taras Shevchenko has been not only a national poet, but also a universal genius, one of the lights of humanity."

In the last decade of our century there appeared a number of research works on the advanced views of the poet and on the influences that contributed to the formation of his political opinions. After a thorough study of his works, his letters and the books he read, the conclusion was arrived at that Shevchenko was more highly educated than was hitherto supposed. He read widely in Russian and Polish and had extensive knowledge of history and foreign literatures. With the intuition of a genius he resolved the most complicated questions. Vasyl Shchurat, a Ukrainian scholar in Lviv, has shown that Shevchenko was well read in all that was published abroad by the Polish emigrants after the defeat of the Polish rising in 1830. Some said that this influence on the poet should not be exaggerated, but still his hatred of the Tsars was more or less nourished from this source.

It is certain that having joined the "Brotherhood of SS. Cyril and Methodius," Shevchenko's sympathy for liberty was certainly deepened. But in my opinion sufficient emphasis was not laid upon the fact that Shevchenko, during his visits to Ukraine much frequented the society of Ukrainian nobles among whom at that time there were persons holding advanced liberal views on politics, and interested in all social questions. In fact his closest friends were among the members of the Ukrainian aristocracy: Lizohub, Tarnovski, Princess Repnin, Count de Balmain, General Kucharenko, who did not abandon him during the hardest times of his exile; their letters, their anxiety about him and the steps they took on his behalf in order to alleviate his misfortune prove their solicitude. They appreciated him especially as a national poet and their influence on him was certainly important.

Can we, as is only too often repeated by Communists to-day, consider Shevchenko as an ideologist of the social revolution? Evidently not. Those who assert it quote certain passages especially from the testament" where the poet appeals to his countrymen ,,to break the chains"... They do not wish to understand that Shevchenko was far from desiring a bloody revolution, but that he foresaw it, menacing the dominating classes unless they made the decision to set their serfs free. He appealed to the whole Ukrainian nation, nobles and peasants, entreating the nobles to renounce their privileges and trying to bring about a good understanding between the classes.

"Brothers, embrace the feeblest among you,
That the mother may smile through her tears."

It is with these lines that Shevchenko closes his "EpistIe to my countrymen, living, dead and unborn." He began this epistle with a severe admonition to the Ukrainian nobles:

"Repent! Be human,
Because a calamity will befall you:
The enchained people will soon break their chains.
The judgment will come. The Dnieper and the hills will speak,
And by hundreds of rivers will flow to the blue sea
Blood of your children ...
There will be no one to help:
A brother will repudiate his brother
And a mother - her child.
Clouds of smoke will hide the sun from you
And your own sons will curse you for ever."

It is evident that this prophetic evocation of revolutionary horrors - which we see to day - was not in the least Shevchenko's desire. To attribute to him sympathy with the events generally produced by social upheavals, would be an error. The same error was committed by Polish critics when they accused the poet of having approved of the horrors he described in the "Haidamaky", because he drew a powerful image of this popular rising of Ukrainians against the Poles.

It was not in the least in Shevchenko's nature to incite to cruel actions prompted by the spirit of vengeance. It would be an error to consider his Muse as an instrument of violence. It is necessary to remember that Shevchenko was a profoundly religious man; that the Bible was his favourite book especially during the years of exile and that this influence left a marked stamp on his poetical work. Not only did he take biblical texts as mottos for several of his poems, but he also left translations and paraphrases of a number of Psalms and fragments of the Prophets. His whole work is deeply impregnated with a sincere faith in God as the supreme ideal of justice and goodness.

The idea of love and mercy runs through Shevchenko's poetic work from one end to the other. His most cruelly abused characters, his martyrs, his most tragic heroes forgive their oppressors and tormentors. In the "Neophytes" the Christian martyrs forgive Nero; the unhappy man in "Vagabond" forgives the seducer of his sweetheart, the squire of their village, though he had an opportunity of satisfying his craving for vengeance. This high idea of mercy puts the work of Shevchenko on the highest level that human sentiment can reach.

Kulish, one of the Ukrainian literary critics and historians, himself a poet of merit, said about our poet: "the whole beauty of Ukrainian poetry, was revealed to Shevchenko alone," wishing, no doubt, to say that no one penetrated as deeply as he the mysterious sources of the poetical treasure of the Ukrainian people and transformed in such a consummate manner the popular themes and devices of their folklore. The whole wealth of the popular poetry, from the ancient epics of the XIIth century relating the expedition of Prince Igor, down to the Dumy rhapsodies of the Cossacks, and charming lyrical folk-songs, found its synthesis in the poetical work of Shevchenko. His power of expression, sweetness, tenderness and delicacy of sentiment, his wealth of images and rhythmic harmony-all is to be found there, and therein lay the secret of his magic power over all those who understand Ukrainian.

A beautiful appreciation of Shevchenko was given by Ivan Franko in an article written on the centenary, of the birth of the poet, but printed only in 1924, ten years later, in the Slavonic Review:

"He was a peasant's son and has become a prince in the realm of the spirit.

"He was a serf, and has become a Great Power in the commonwealth of human culture.

"He was an unschooled layman, and has shown to professors and scholars newer and freer paths.

"He sighed for ten years under the Russian soldiery, and has done more for the freedom of Russia than ten victorious armies.

"Fate pursued him cruelly throughout life, yet could not turn the pure gold of his soul to rust, his love of humanity to hatred, or his trust in God to despair.

"Fate spared him no suffering, but did not stint his pleasures, which welled up from a healthy spring of life.

"And it withheld till after death its best and costliest prize - undying fame and the ever new delight which his works call forth in millions of human hearts". (Ivan Franko: Taras Shevchenko, Slavonic Review, VoL 3, 1924, London).

Shevchenko's poetical works exercised a powerful influence on Ukrainian literature and the Ukrainian national movement. A. Grigoriev, the well known Russian literary critic, called Shevchenko "the last bard and the first great poet of a great new Slavonic literature." These words convey some idea of the place that Shevchenko occupies in Ukrainian literature. On the other hand, Kulish, speaking at the burial of the poet, said: "all that is really noble in Ukraine will gather under the banner of Shevchenko."

His volume of verse, the Kobzar, has been, since its first appearance, the most widely read book in Ukraine. It is a kind of national Gospel. The memory of the poet is the object of exceptional veneration, and the day of his death (which is a day after his birthday) has ever since been celebrated as a national holiday.

On this day there is no place in his native country where a church service is not celebrated. Meetings, lectures and concerts are held in his memory with recitation of his poems, many of them having been put to music by our best composer Lysenko. This is often done not only in towns but also in small provincial places even in villages. Thousands of schools, libraries, popular reading-rooms and theatres, not only in Ukraine, but also in the Ukrainian colonies in America and Asia, are named after him, including the Scientific Society in Lviv, Galicia, which was the most important scientific body in Ukraine before the founding in 1918 of the Ukrainian Academy of Science in Kiev.

The grave of the poet is an object of pious pilgrimages. As early as 1876 Emile Durand, a French scholar visiting Ukraine, wrote:6) ,,The grave of the poet is never solitary. As soon as the first sunbeams in the spring have melted the snow that covers the country, pilgrims of a new fashion, merry lay pilgrims, come from all sides and stop at the foot of the barrow. They make their meals in the open air sitting on the grass, recite and sing the poems of the poet according to their free fancy. It would be impossible to find elsewhere a poet to whom the almost illiterate crowd would thus render homage such as is usually reserved for sanctuaries or saints."

This homage has increased considerably since then. The war and subsequent events have hindered the erection of the monument of Shevchenko in Kiev for which considerable sums have been collected by popular subscription. Is it necessary to say that the most lasting monument to the poet is erected in the hearts of his countrymen and countrywomen?

The popularity of Shevchenko and his influence is not limited to his native country. In 1860, in his lifetime, his poems were translated into Russian by the best Russian poets. Several new editions and translations have since appeared, not only in Russian, but also in Polish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Czech and other languages. Bulgarian literature especially was influenced to a great degree by the poetical work of Shevchenko. The Bulgarians had fought so long for their national independence, that they, more than others, found sympathy with his ideas so characteristic for the aspirations of national independence.

Besides the translations into Slavonic languages, there are also those in French German, English, Italian, Swedish. In England there appeared in the Westminster Review (1880), in the article of W. R. Morfill "The peasant poet of Russia," a biography of Shevchenko, and in 1911 a collection of Shevchenko's poems in a beautiful translation by E. L. Voynich with a biography of the poet. A. J. Hunter published in Winnipeg 1922 a volume of his excellent translations of Shevchenko s poems with biographical fragments and in 1933 there appeared, also in Winnipeg a volume of Ukrainian Songs and Lyrics translated by Honore Ewach, a young and very promising poet, that contains half a dozen of Shevchenko's short lyrical poems; about twenty very good translations appeared in the Ukrainian Weekly, New York, 1933-36, mostly by V. Semenyna.

The name of Shevchenko is to his countrymen a symbol of national sentiment and of aspirations to national independence. Likewise his work is, for a foreigner who would wish to know the life, the soul and the spirit of the Ukrainian people, a true mirror which marvelously reflects the spiritual image of Ukraine.


*1) The Athenaeum, The Saturday Review. The Westminster Review.

*2) Change of metre as in original.

*3) W. R. Morfill.

*4) Ivan Franko: Taras Shevchenko. Slavonic Review. Vol. 3. London 1924/25 p. 116.

*5) Ivan Franko: Taras Shevchenko. Slavonic Review etc.

*6) In the Revue des deux Mondes.

Minor corrections have been made to the text.


Shakespeare, Burns & Shevchenko
By Andrew Gregorovich
Speech at the Shevchenko Museum, Toronto, March 10, 2012

Yesterday was the 198th anniversary of the birth on March 9, 1814 of Ukrainian poet and patriot Taras Shevchenko.  Today is the anniversary of his death on March 10, 1861.

We are here today mainly because of our Ukrainian heritage and especially because of the greatest Ukrainian poet, artist and dramatist Taras Shevchenko.

Shevchenko, the national bard of Ukraine, and the greatest Ukrainian, has often been compared to Robert Burns, the national bard of Scotland. Born in 1759 and dying at age 37 in 1796 Burns was part of a generation before Shevchenko. It has been said that Shevchenko knew about Robert Burns. Like Shevchenko, Burns was born into a farm family and was called a peasant. Like Shevchenko he was first taught to read and write by a church deacon.

The first book of poetry by Burns was published in 1786 when he was 27 and it was mainly in Scottish rather than English. From their books of poetry both Burns and Shevchenko became very famous and very popular among the common people. Also both entered intellectual circles and had friends in the upper classes and literary circles.

Every year Scots celebrate Robert Burns Day on January 25 with a dinner and haggis. Every year Ukrainians celebrate Taras Shevchenko with a concert of his poetry put to music and sung by choirs or solo singers close to March 9 or 10. Often they will include bandura player musicians. When the Ukrainian National Anthem was prohibited by Moscow Ukrainians would spontaneously stand when Shevchenko’s Zapovit (Testament) was sung so it served as a substitute for the missing anthem.

Ukrainian communities around the world have spontaneously erected monuments of Shevchenko in many countries such as the United States, Canada, France, Greece and Argentina.  In 1999 I established the world’s first Shevchenko web-site and it has now served over one-third of a million visitors. The Taras Shevchenko Museum web-site on infoukes in Toronto has pictures of over 80 Shevchenko monuments and statues around the world but there are actually many, many more.  By contrast Shakespeare has extremely few monuments. There are two Shevchenko monuments in Canada (Winnipeg and Ottawa) but only one Shakespeare monument which is in Stratford.

Shevchenko’s poem Testament (Zapovit) has been translated into over 140 languages of the world.  Burns is most famous for the New Year Eve song Auld Lang Syne.

There is one huge difference between Burns and Shevchenko. All his life Burns was a free man and his poetry was not suppressed. Shevchenko was born a serf, similar to a slave, and was a free man for only 9 out of his 47 years.

The Shevchenko Museum in Toronto plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Shevchenko in 2014 by publishing a book of his poetry in Ukrainian, English and French. By coincidence another great writer, William Shakespeare (1564-1616), will be celebrated that year on the 450th anniversary of his birth.

Both Shevchenko and Shakespeare were poets and dramatists of genius, but Shevchenko was also an artist. Shevchenko was mainly a poet with only one play, Nazar Stodolya, to his credit. Shakespeare was mainly a dramatist with 37 plays and 154 poems his lifework. His plays like Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and King Lear, are known around the world and performed everywhere including Ukraine. A portrait of Shakespeare is included in the Odessa Opera House.  There is a six volume collection of Shakespeare’s plays published in Ukraine in 1983-86. His 154 sonnets have also been translated and published in Ukrainian although they are not considered as important as his plays.

There is an interesting contrast between these two geniuses of literature. We still don’t know for certain how Shakespeare looked because there is still controversy about all his portraits. By contrast, because Shevchenko was an artist he created a dozen self portraits including his early years before photography was invented or available.  After his 1847-1857 exile in Siberia Shevchenko had ten portraits taken by photographers. We also have the death mask of Shevchenko and the Toronto Shevchenko Museum has one of the three that exist in the world. Shevchenko loved to sing but we do not have his voice because a system of recording had not yet been invented in his time. Many of Shevchenko’s great poems have been put to beautiful music by many composers.

Their lives were as different as you could imagine. Shevchenko was born a serf in the Russian Empire which then dominated Ukraine and he was not a free man until age 24 in 1838. By contrast Shakespeare enjoyed complete freedom his entire life. When I visited Stratford-on-Avon in England in1964 I was surprised at how large his birthplace home was. So Shakespeare was born in a wealthy family compared to Shevchenko. I was pleased to see in a Shakespeare book exhibit that a Ukrainian book was included. Both writers have house museums dedicated to them.

When Shevchenko became a free man he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy of Art in St. Petersburg and published his first Kobzar book of poetry in 1840. In 1847 he was arrested by the Russian police and exiled to Siberia for ten years. The Russian Emperor, Tsar Nicholas I, himself added to his sentence that he was forbidden to write and paint. But in exile Shevchenko secretly wrote poetry while serving as a soldier in the Russian Army which treated him with brutality.

In 1857 Shevchenko was free again and lived in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital, because he was not allowed to live in Ukraine. When Shevchenko died on March 10, 1861 there were huge crowds of mourners and prominent people paid homage to him. Finally his body was allowed to return to Ukraine and he was buried in Kaniv by the Dnipro River. Kaniv on the Dnipro River is the Mecca of Ukraine which every Ukrainian would like to visit at least once in their lifetime.

Shakespeare never was persecuted like Shevchenko. He lived a free and comfortable life in London as an actor and dramatist.  The Englishman was never censored by his government while Shevchenko’s poems were censored by the Soviet government especially in the 1930s.

Mark Twain, the American writer, noticed a strange thing about Shakespeare: “When Shakespeare died in 1616, great literary productions attributed to him as author had been before the London world and in high favour for twenty-four years. Yet his death was not an event. It made no stir, it attracted no attention. Apparently his eminent literary contemporaries did not realize that a celebrated poet (dramatist- AG) had passed from their midst. Perhaps they knew a play-actor of minor rank had disappeared, but did not regard him as the author of his Works.”

The English language and the Ukrainian language were influenced by the genius of Shakespeare and Shevchenko. In fact, Shevchenko is credited as the founder of the modern Ukrainian language. The Encyclopedia of Ukraine says: “Shevchenko firmly established the literary Ukrainian language.”

Not only is Shakespeare the greatest English writer he also has world significance. Shevchenko was a patriot and the national poet of Ukraine but he is also a world poet because his themes are both Ukrainian and of world significance. For this reason UNESCO twice, in 1961 and 1964, celebrated Shevchenko internationally around the world. Shevchenko read Shakespeare’s plays and attended some performances. One of his engravings was of King Lear inspired by Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

In 2014, we will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of our great genius the immortal Taras Shevchenko. In his Zapovit Shevchenko commanded the Ukrainian people to win their freedom and independence, which happened in 1991, and he concluded with these words:

 “And in the great new family, the kinship of the free, with a kindly and gentle word, remember also me.”

We remember.


Out of Cossack They Made a Valet

And Out of a Valet
A Genius Was Made


By Van Wyck Brooks
Published in the "Ukrainian Life" magazine in March 1940

...Never was there a more exact confirmation of Shelley's belief that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world than in the life and influence of Taras Shevchenko.

Shevchenko was a serf, born March 9, 1814, near the river Dnieper. While quite young he was set to work as a cook's boy in the village school where he was also obliged to take charge of the Saturday floggings. He ran away, hoping to be able to make his own living as an itinerant painter of icons; then, obliged to return home, he was turned over to his owner's son as a valet. This new master took him along on his journeys about Russia and Poland, and at last, seeing that no amount of brutal treatment could .prevent Shevchenko from stealing pencils and paper for his drawing, conceived the idea of exploiting the boy's talent for his own benefit. It was the custom for proprietors to permit their serfs to carry on trades in the towns and in this way earn revenue for them: in the principal cities of Russia there were merchants, singers, actors, musicians who were still serfs and who, belonging body and soul to their masters, raised large incomes for them by the exercise of their gifts. Thus in 1832 Captain Engelhardt took Shevchenko to St. Petersburg and apprenticed him to a painter and decorator. In six years the young artist won his freedom. The director of the Academy, Briulov, taking a fancy to him because his face was "not the face of a serf," raised enough money to satisfy his master by raffling a portrait which he had himself painted.

Painting, however, soon gave place in Shevchenko's mind to poetry. In 1840 the first collection of his verses appeared; a second volume was issued in 1842. In a little prose work called "The Artist" he tells how one moonlit night in the Summer Garden, where long before in silence and a stolen freedom his other gift had first really come to him, the Ukrainian Muse whispered in his ear. She had been shy, he says, of the sophistication and the false taste that had clung to him from the ribald songs he had been compelled to sing to his master and the marks that his life in hotels and antechambers had left upon him; and he adds that it was the breath of liberty that restored to him the purity of his childhood and made him a poet. He had already become, through his painting, and like Burns in Edinburgh under somewhat similar conditions, a fashionable curiosity; and again, as Burns had attempted to write in classical English, so he had attempted to write in Russian. His Ukrainian poems, however, instantly created a profound impression. In the history of every literature there is a moment when the speech of the people, stamped by some superior genius, is suddenly lifted above itself and becomes a member of the family of literary languages. This was what had now happened with the Ukrainian tongue, which was commonly regarded as a rude and corrupt peasant jargon: it had found its Dante. Not until 1905 did the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences proclaim the full and independent status of modern Ukrainian among the various Slavonic tongues. Shevchenko had given it this position sixty years before. It was not long, moreover, before he discovered that in reclaiming the language he had reclaimed the self-respect of all those who spoke it.

"To make a valet out of a Cossack," Shevchenko wrote in a brief sketch of his life, "is to tame the Lapland reindeer." What he had done in his poems had been to revive, in the first place, in the minds of his countrymen, a sense of the great life their forefathers had known in the days before they lost their freedom. On these very steppes had lived the Cossacks of old whose descendants, sodden in their poverty, scarcely lifted their eyes between birth and death. Shevchenko described their exploits; he described his own life and how he had "squeezed the slave out of himself"; he sang of the miseries of the present and the possibilities of the future; he scourged the oppressors of the people for their injustice and their brutality and the oppressed for their self-abandonment and their sloth. Furthermore, he universalized the peculiar situation, the characteristic problems of the Ukrainian peasants, by showing how they had recurred among other nationalities and at other periods; he admonished his people, in opening their minds to the experience of humanity in general, not to surrender to their own experience; he reinterpreted the history of culture in terms of their own lives, so that his work was literally a "popular university." By thus invoking the past he had filled the present with an intolerable dissatisfaction, while at the same time creating values for the social and spiritual life of the individual; and the leaven instantly began to work. The close, dim horizon of the Ukrainian peasant expanded little by little; no longer could his round of days remain in its few circumscribed acts and sensations only a degree above that of the brutes; life began to present itself to him as a fresh and stirring adventure; the free man awakened once more in the serf. In a single poet, and to speak quite literally, a whole people had been born again.

For it was now, during the brief period, 1843-1847, of Shevchenko's residence at Kiev, that the other agencies of an enlightened popular existence in Ukraine began to appear. The historian Kostomariv, inspired on behalf of a people whose former life was the augury of an equally great future, began to recount in a series of monographs the most stirring episodes of Ukrainian history during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: he thus created for his people a genuine past, a human setting, as even our historians might do if they were willing to forget the statistics of American railroading and the sawdust heroes of the public schools and present our Tom Paines as something else than "dirty little atheists." A number of intellectual leaders in various fields formed a society to bring about the emancipation of the serfs, to educate them, to reform the agricultural system and to achieve religious liberty. Just then Shevchenko was arrested and condemned to imprisonment in Siberia, He had been on the point of going to Italy, having been presented with a sum of several thousand roubles to enable him to continue his art studies there; and it is probable that if he had done this he would have: entered the sphere of Mazzini and the other leaders of European liberalism and would thus have given the Ukrainian political movement two generations ago the international importance it has scarcely yet attained. On the other hand, nothing he might have accomplished in Europe could have signified half so much in the spiritual life of his people as the legend of his years in Siberia.
Shevehenko had been charged with "composing in the abominable character"; it was observed in the indictment that his reputation rendered his verses "doubly harmful and dangerous," and on the order for his deportation the Tsar wrote with his own hand: "Must not be allowed to read or write." At the first fortress to which he was sent he was treated with leniency; his commanders permitted him to correspond with his friends, to possess drawing materials and even to spend a part of his time away from the prison. In 1850, however, one of the officers informed against him, his cell was searched and it was discovered that he had in his possession a Bible, copies of Shakespeare and Pushkin, a paint-box and portfolios; thereupon he was transferred to the more remote fortress of Novopetrovsk, with the strict injunction that under no circumstances was he to be permitted the use of pencils, pens, ink or paper. Here, in these "desert wastes of alien snow," he contrived to write a few verses, some pathetic, some filled with undying rage for his lost motherland-

That was beguiled
Into a death-trap with a lie,
Trampled and ruined and defiled.

Then he wrote no more. At last, after ten years, he was released. Forbidden to settle in Ukraine, he returned to St. Petersburg, where he continued to live for a few miserable years as a ward of the Tolstoi family. Turgenev, remembering him, wrote afterward: "We literary men received him with friendly sympathy. But he was cautious and would scarcely ever open out to anyone; he had a trick of slipping past sideways. One seldom saw anything poetical in him; he seemed rough and hardened. The expression of his eyes was mostly sullen and suspicious, but now and then came a delightful smile."
...Thus died Shevchenko, as Burns had died; but in every other than a political sense he had justified the tribute of the Polish writer who said concerning him: "When the people give birth to a great poet, the time of their liberation is at hand."

["The Freeman," August 10, 1921.]

UKRAINIAN LIFE, MARCH 1940




Prints of Taras Shevchenko's watercolours are available at the Shevchenko Museum. These quality prints would be an excellent gift for Shevchenko art lovers. more ...
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The son of a serf, Shevchenko became not only an artist and academician of Saint-Petersburg Academy of Art, but one of the most versatile people of 19th century. His paintings and graphics reflect a refined world that did not resemble his own life.


 


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