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


My Friendly Epistle Translated by C.H. Andrusyshen & W. Kirkconnel
The Testament Translated by E. L. Voynich, London, 1911
My Testament Translated by John Weir, Toronto, 1961
The Reaper Translated by E. L. Voynich, London, 1911
It Makes No Difference To Me Translated by Clarence A. Manning, New York, 1944
I Was Thirteen Translated by John Weir, Toronto, 1961
The Mighty Dnieper Translated by John Weir, Toronto
Shevchenko's Last Poem Translated by Vera Rich, London, 1961
A Reflection Translated by John Weir, Toronto
My Thoughts Translated by John Weir, Toronto
Don't Wed Translated by John Weir, Toronto
Don't Envy Translated by John Weir, Toronto
Calamity Again Translated by John Weir, Toronto
Fate Translated by John Weir, Toronto
More poetry ...

Shevchenko Art
T. Shevchenko
Self-Portrait, 1845

My Friendly Epistle

To the Dead, the Living, and to Those Yet Unborn, My Countrymen all Who Live in Ukraine and Outside Ukraine,

If a man say, I Love God, and
hate his brother, he is a liar,
1 John iv. 20

Day dawns, then comes the twilight grey,
The limit of the live-long day;
For weary people sleep seems best
And all God's creatures go to rest.
I, only, grieve like one accursed,
Through all the hours both last and first,
Sad at the crossroads, day and night,
With no one there to see my plight;
No one can see me, no one knows me;
All men are deaf, no ears disclose me;
Men stand and trade their mutual chains
And barter truth for filthy gains,
Committing shame against the Lord
By harnessing for black reward
People in yokes and sowing evil
In fields commissioned by the Devil...
And what will sprout? You soon will see
What kind of harvest there will be!
Come to your senses, ruthless ones,
O stupid children, Folly's sons!
And bring that peaceftil paradise,
Your own Ukraine, before your eyes;
Then let your heart, in love sincere,
Embrace her mighty ruin here!
Break then your chains, in love unite,
Nor seek in foreign lands the sight
Of things not even found above,
Still less in lands that strangers love...
Then in your own house you will see
True justice, strength, and liberty!

Then in your own house you will see
True justice, strength, and liberty!
There is no other such Ukraine,
 No other Dnieper on the plain;
And yet you throng to foreign lands
To seek the Highest Good that stands.—
True Liberty, that sacred Good
In fair fraternal Brotherhood! ...
And you have found it as you roam!
From foreign fields you bring it home,
A heap of words that sound most great
And naught else ... You vociferate
That God created you to be
His Justice's epitome,
Yet you still bend your backs today
To aliens, and are prompt to flay
The hide off lowly peasant brothers;
Then, seeking "Truth" beyond all others,
You scurry off to German strands
And to the lore of other lands.
If you could in your baggage bind
The misery you leave behind,
Or carry off beyond appeal
Those gains our forbears had to steal,
 There would be left, to mourn our ills,
 Lone Dnieper with its holy hills.

For this great boon my spirits yearn.—
That from abroad you'd not return,
That there you'd die, where you did learn!
 For children then in our Ukraine
No more would weep in futile pain,
Nor would your motherland lament
Or God declare you insolent;
The sun would not a task perform
Your stinking carcasses to warm
Upon a land, pure, free, and vast
And people would not know at last
What birds you are, how greedy, dread,
And at you shake a hopeless head...

Come to your senses! Human be,
Or you will rue it bitterly:
The time is near when on our plains
A shackled folk will burst its chains.
The Day of Judgment is at hand!
 Dnieper will speak across the land;
Hundreds of streams will surge in flood
To bear along your children's blood
To the blue sea,. . . Nor man nor whelp
Will offer you the slightest help:
Brother will turn from brother wild,
The mother will forsake her child;
Thick clouds of smoke at noonday bright
Will hide the sunshine from your sight;
And your own sons, for all your crime,
Will curse you to the end of time.
Make yourselves clean! God's image clear
In man should not be sullied here!
Don't breed your children up in scorn
To think that they were proudly born
To lord it over humble folk—
The peasant's untaught eye will poke
And peer into their very souls
Unsnared by specious aureoles.
Soon will the wretched creatures find
Your hides are of a kindred kind,—
Then will the meek in judgment sit,
All your fine wisdom to outwit.


If you would train yourselves alone,
You'd have some wisdom of your own;
But you must prattle from the sky:
"We are not we, and I not I!
All have I seen, I'm now all wise,
There is no hell, no paradise,
Not even God; but I exist
And this smart German atheist
And nothing else . ."—"Brother, go slow!
Who are you then?"—"I do not know—
We'll let the Germans speak to that,
For they have all the answers pat!"

In such a fashion then you train
Yourselves in foreigners' domain!
A German pundit says, "You're Mongols."
And you reply: "Of course, we're Mongols,
The naked seed upon this plain
Sowed by the golden Tamerlane!"
Or if some German says: "You're Slavs,"
You'll echo back: "Of course, we're Slavs,
The ugly, graceless progeny
Of our great ancestors, you see!"
Perhaps you even read old Kollar,
 Enthusiastic for that scholar,
And Hanka too, and Safatik
And strive with zeal most politic
To rank among the Slavophils
And demonstrate linguistic skills
In all Slav tongues except your own.
"Some day we'll have the time," you groan,
"To speak our native language well
If some smart foreigner will tell
Its principles; if he'll relate
Our history as well, then straight
We'll study at a furious rate!"

How you have sought with ardent suction
To soak up foreigners' instruction!
You talk in such a mongrel speech
That even Germans, wise to teach,
 Gape at it as a senseless joke —
Still more, of course, the common folk.
And such a noise! What row you raise:
"What harmony beyond all praise!
Our tongue is music from the skies!
Our history? Behold it rise,
A freeborn people's lofty poem...
Rome seems to this a paltry proem!
Horatius, Brutus, whom they will,
Let Romans praise! We've greater still,
More famous, ne'er forgotten too...
It was with us that Freedom grew,
Lay stretched in Dnieper's mighty bed
And on our mountains couched her head
And made our steppe her counterpane!"
No, you are wrong! In this Ukraine
Our history was bathed in blood
And slept on corpses in the mud,
On Cossack corpses, no more free
But here despoiled of liberty! ...

Look well into our history's store
And read it closely, o'er and o'er;
That glorious tale you may have heard,—
But take it slowly, word by word;
No punctuation mark omit,
For even commas lend their bit;
Examine everything you see;
Then ask yourselves: Now, who are we?
Whose children?  Of what fathers born?
By whom enslaved in utter scorn?
Then only will you understand
The Brutuses of this your land
Slaves, grovellers of Muscovy
And Warsaw's refuse, such will be
The illustrious hetmans you applaud!
And have you something then to laud,
Sons of Ukraine, where misery chokes?
Perhaps that you walk well in yokes,
 More nobly than your fathers walked?
Don't boast that you have bravely stalked:
Your hides are being tanned, though callow,
But they were often boiled for tallow!

Perhaps you base your boast on this:
The Cossack Brotherhood with bliss
Defended and preserved our faith?
That in Sinope's flaming wraith
And Trebizond's, they cooked their cake?
They did, but you've the belly-ache;
 For in the Sitch the German sage
Now plants potatoes; without rage,
You buy his produce with your wealth
And eat  it gladly for your health,
And glorify the Cossacks' fame.
But whose rich blood, O men of shame,
Has saturated all the soil
That yields potatoes which you boil?
You do not care; you merely know
It's good to make the garden grow!
And yet you boast that with our frown
We once sent Poland toppling down!
You are quite right: for Poland fell;
And in the wreck crushed us as well.
And that is how our sires, now dead,
For Muscovy and Warsaw bled,
And left their sons, as legacy,
Their shackles and their infamy!


Thus, in her struggle, our Ukraine
Reached the last climax of pure pain:
Worse than the Poles, or any other,
 The children crucify their mother;
As it were beer, they tap with zest
The pure blood from her sacred breast,—
They would enlighten, they surmise,
Their ancient mother's rheumy eyes
With clear, contemporary light,
And lead her, in her dumb despite,
A blind wretch, out upon the stage
 Into the spirit of our age.
Good! Show her! Lead her in the way!
Let the old mother learn today
How to take care, as Wisdom runs,
Of you, her new enlightened sons!
Show her! But do not raise a ruction
About the price of that instruction!
Well will your mother pay you back:
The wall-eyed cataract will crack
Upon your own dull, greedy eyes
And you will see her glory rise,
The living glory of your sires,
To shame your fathers' black desires! ...

Gain knowledge, brothers! Think and read,
And to your neighbours' gifts pay heed, --
Yet do not thus neglect your own:
For he who is forgetful shown
Of his own mother, graceless elf,
Is punished by our God Himself.
Strangers will turn from such as he
And grudge him hospitality --
Nay, his own children grow estranged;
Though one so evil may have ranged
The whole wide earth, he shall not find
A home to give him peace of mind.

Sadly I weep when I recall
The unforgotten deeds of all
Our ancestors: their toilsome deeds!
Could I forget their pangs and needs,
I, as my price, would than suppress
Half of my own life's happiness...

Such is our glory, sad and plain,
The glory of our own Ukraine!
I would advise you so to read
That you may see, in very deed,
No dream but all the wrongs of old
That burial mounds might here unfold
Before your eyes in martyred hosts,
That you might ask those grisly ghosts:
Who were the tortured ones, in fact,
And why, and when, were they so racked?...

Then 0 my brothers, as a start,
Come, clasp your brothers to your heart, --
So let your mother smile with joy
And dry her tears without annoy.
Blest be your children in these lands
By touch of your toil-hardened hands,
And, duly washed, kissed let them be
With lips that speak of liberty!
Then all the shame of days of old,
Forgotten, shall no more be told;
Then shall our day of hope arrive,
Ukrainian glory shall revive,
No twilight but the dawn shall render
And break forth into novel splendour....
Brother, embrace! Your hopes possess,
I beg you in all eagerness!

Taras Shevchenko
Viunishcha, December 14, 1845
Translated by C. H. Andrusyshen & W. Kirkconnell



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,
May be sometimes, very softly
You will speak of me?

Taras Shevchenko
Translated by E. L. Voynich
London, 1911



My Testament

When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes ... then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields --
I'll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I'll pray .... But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

Taras Shevchenko
Pereyaslav, December 25, 1845
Translated by John Weir Toronto, 1961



The Reaper

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.
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.

Taras Shevchenko
Translated by E. L. Voynich
London, 1911



It Makes No Difference To Me

It makes no difference to me,
If I shall live or not in Ukraine
Or whether any one shall think
Of me 'mid foreign snow and rain.
It makes no difference to me.

In slavery I grew 'mid strangers,
Unwept by any kin of mine;
In slavery I now will die
And vanish without any sign.
I shall not leave the slightest trace
Upon our glorious Ukraine,
Our land, but not as ours known.
No father will remind his son
Or say to him, "Repeat one prayer,
One prayer for him; for our Ukraine
They tortured him in their foul lair."

It makes no difference to me,
If that son says a prayer or not.
It makes great difference to me
That evil folk and wicked men
Attack our Ukraine, once so free,
And rob and plunder it at will.
That makes great difference to me.

Taras Shevchenko
St. Petersburg Citadel Prison May, 1847
Translated by Clarence A. Manning Columbia University New York, 1944



I Was Thirteen

I was thirteen. I herded lambs
Beyond the village on the lea.
The magic of the sun, perhaps,
Or what was it affected me?
I felt with joy all overcome,
As though with God....
The time for lunch had long passed by,
And still among the weeds I lay
And prayed to God.... I know not why
It was so pleasant then to pray
For me, an orphan peasant boy,
Or why such bliss so filled me there?
The sky seemed bright, the village fair,
The very lambs seemed to rejoice!
The sun's rays warmed but did not sear!
But not for long the sun stayed kind,
Not long in bliss I prayed....
It turned into a ball of fire
And set the world ablaze.
As though just wakened up, I gaze:
The hamlet's drab and poor,
And God's blue heavens -- even they
Are glorious no more.
I look upon the lambs I tend --
Those lambs are not my own!
I eye the hut wherein I dwell --
I do not have a home!
God gave me nothing, naught at all....
I bowed my head and wept
Such bitter tears.... And then a lass*
Who had been sorting hemp
Not far from there, down by the path,
Heard my lament and came
Across the field to comfort me;
She spoke a soothing phrase
And gently dried my weeping eyes
And kissed my tear-wet face....
It was as though the sun had smiled,
As though all things on earth were mine,
My own.... the orchards, fields and groves!...
And, laughing merrily the while,
The master's lambs to drink we drove.

Oh, how disgusting!... Yet, when I
Recall those days, my heart is sore
That there my brief life's span the Lord
Did not grant me to live and die.
There, plowing, I'd have passed away,
With ignorance my life-long lot,
I'd not an outcast be today,
I'd not be cursing Man and God! ...

Taras Shevchenko
Orsk Fortress, 1847
Translated by John Weir Toronto, 1961

* Oksana Kovalenko to whom Shevchenko dedicated the Poem to
Oksana, May 1847 while in prison in the St. Petersburg Citadel.



The Mighty Dnieper

The mighty Dnieper roars and bellows,
The wind in anger howls and raves,
Down to the ground it bends the willows,
And mountain-high lifts up the waves.

The pale-faced moon picked out this moment
To peek out from behind a cloud,
Like a canoe upon the ocean
It first tips up, and then dips down.

The cocks don't crow to wake the morning,
There's not as yet a sound of man,
The owls in glades call out their warnings,
And ash trees creak and creak again.

Taras Shevchenko
Translated by John Weir



Shevchenko's Last Poem

Should we not then cease, my friend,
My poor dear neighbour, make an end
Of versifying useless rhymes?
Prepare our wagons for the time
When we that longest road must wend?
Into the other world, my friend,
To God, we'll hasten to our rest...
We have grown weary, utter-tired,
A little wisdom we've acquired,
It should suffice! To sleep is best,
Let us now go home to rest...
A home of gladness, you may know!

No, let us not depart, nor go --
It is early still,
We shall yet take walks together,
Sit, and gaze our fill,
Gaze upon the world, my fortune,
See how wide it spreads,
Wide and joyful, it is both
Bright, and of great depth!
We shall yet take walks my star,
On a hill climb high,
And take our rest together..... And
Your sister-stars, meanwhile,
The ageless ones, will start to shine,
Through the heavens glide...
Let us linger then, my sister,
Thou, my holy bride,
And with lips unsullied we shall
Make our prayer to God,
And then set out quietly
On that longest road,
Over Lethe's plumbless depths,
Waters dark and swarthy,
Grant me then thy blessing, friend,
With thy holy glory.
While this and that and all such wear on,
Straight let us go, as the crow flies,
To Aesculapeus for advice,
If he can outwit old Charon
And spinning Fate... And then, as long as
The old sage would change his purpose,
We would create, reclining there,
An epic, soaring everywhere
Above the earth, hexameters
We'd twine, and up the attic stairs
Take them for mice to gnaw. Then we
Would sing prose, yet with harmony
And not haphazard.

Holy friend, Companion to my journey's end,
Before the fire has ceased to glow,
Let us to Charon, rather, go!
Over Lethe's plumbless depths,
Waters dark and swarthy,
Let us sail, let us bear
With us holy glory,
Ageless, young for evermore...
Or -- friend, let it be!
I will do without the glory,
If they grant it me,
There on the banks of Phlegethon,
Or beside the Styx, in heaven,
As if by the broad Dnipro, there
In a grove, a grove primaeval,
A little house I'll build, and make
An orchard all around it growing,
And you'll fly to me in the shades,
There, like a beauty, I'll enthrone you;
Dnipro and Ukraina we
Shall recollect, gay villages
In woodlands, gravehills in the steppes,
And we shall sing right merrily.

Taras Shevchenko
February 14-15, 1861 St. Petersburg
Translated by Vera Rich London, 1961



A Reflection

The river empties to the sea,
But out it never flows;
The Cossack lad his fortune seeks,
But never fortune knows.
The Cossack lad has left his home,
He's left his kith and kind;
The blue sea's waters splash and foam,
Sad thoughts disturb his mind:

"Why, heedless, did you go away?
For what did you forsake
Your father old, your mother grey,
Your sweetheart, to their fate?
In foreign lands live foreign folks,
Their ways are not your way:
There will be none to share your woes
Or pass the time of day."

Across the sea, the Cossack rests --
The choppy sea's distraught.
He thought with fortune to be blessed --
Misfortune is his lot.
In vee-formation, 'cross the waves
The cranes are off for home.
The Cossack weeps -- his beaten paths
With weeds are overgrown...

Taras Shevchenko
St. Petersburg, 1838.
Translated by John Weir Toronto



My Thoughts

My thorny thoughts, my thorny thoughts,
You bring me only woe!
Why do you on the paper stand
So sadly row on row? ...
Why did the winds not scatter you
Like dust across the steppes?
Why did ill-luck not cradle you
To sleep upon its breast? ...

My thoughts, my melancholy thoughts,
My children, tender shoots!
I nursed you, brought you up -- and now
What shall I do with you? ...
Go to Ukraine, my homeless waifs!
Your way make to Ukraine
Along back roads like vagabonds,
But I'm doomed here to stay.

There you will find a heart that's true
And words of welcome kind,
There honesty, unvarnished truth
And, maybe, fame you'll find ...
So welcome them, my Motherland,
Ukraine, into your home!
Accept my guileless, simple brood
And take them for your own!

Taras Shevchenko
St. Petersburg, 1839.
Translated by John Weir Toronto



Don't Wed

Don't wed a wealthy woman, friend,
She'll drive you from the house.
Don't wed a poor one either, friend,
Dull care will be your spouse.
Get hitched to carefree Cossack life
And share a Cossack fate:
If it be rags, let it be rags --
What comes, that's what you take.
Then you'll have nobody to nag
Or try to cheer you up,
To fuss and fret and question you
What ails you and what's up.
When two misfortune share, they say,
It's easier to weep.
Not so: it's easier to cry
When no-one's there to see.

Taras Shevchenko
Mirhorod, October 4th, 1845.
Translated by John Weir, Toronto



Don't Envy

Don't envy, friend, a wealthy man:
A rich man's life is spent
Without a friend or faithful love --
Those things he has to rent.
Don't envy, friend, a man of rank,
His power's based on force.
Don't envy, too, a famous man:
The man of note well knows
The crowd's acclaim is not for him,
But for that thorny fame
He wrought with labour and with tears
So they'd be entertained.
But then, when young folk gather 'round,
So fine they are and fair
You'd think it's heaven, -- ah, but look:
See evil stirring there ...

Don't envy anyone my friend,
For if you look you'll find
That there's no heaven on the earth,
No more than in the sky.

Taras Shevchenko
Mirhorod, October 4th, 1845.
Translated by John Weir, Toronto



Calamity Again

Dear God, calamity again! ...
It was so peaceful, so serene;
We but began to break the chains
That bind our folk in slavery ...
When halt! ... Again the people's blood
Is streaming! Like rapacious dogs
About a bone, the royal thugs
Are at each other's throat again.

Taras Shevchenko
Novopetrovsk Fortress, 1854 (?)
Translated by John Weir, Toronto




You did not play me false, O Fate,
You were a brother, closest friend
To this poor wretch. You took my hand
When I was still a little tot
And walked me to the deacon's school
To gather knowledge from the sot.
"My boy, just study hard," you said,
And you'll be somebody in time!"
I listened, studied, forged ahead,
Got educated. But you lied.
What am I now? But never mind!
We've walked the straight path, you and I,
We have not cheated, compromised
Or lived the very slightest lie.
So let's march on, dear fate of mine!
My humble, truthful, faithful friend!
Keep marching on: there glory lies;
March forward - that's my testament.

Taras Shevchenko
Nizhny Novgorod, February 9th, 1858.
Translated by John Weir, Toronto


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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...(more)


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