Ukrainian Artists #5: Taras Shevchenko

12th March 2022

Considered the national poet, Taras Shevchenko was born in 1814 in central Ukraine. He was born into serfdom, not becoming free until 1838 when some friends were able to purchase his freedom.

Shevchenko wrote novel and dramas, as well as being an artist, but is best known for his poetry. His first collection, Kobzar, was published in 1840. A contemporary poet referred to the collection as “a new world of poetry … (an) artistic expression not previously known in Ukrainian writing.” (Ivan Franko).

Haidamky, an epic poem, followed in 1841. By now, he was living in St Petersburg, but made several trips to Ukraine in the 1840s, capturing the scenes in oil and watercolour.

Kateryna, 1842. National Museum, Kyiv

Shevchenko was arrested in 1847 after Tsar Nicholas I read the poem Dream, which he found offensive. The poet was forced to march from St Petersburg to Orsk near the Ural Mountains. He was later sent to a severe penal settlement before being released in 1857. The years of exile and imprisonment contributed to his death in 1861, just days before the emancipation of serfs was announced. He is buried in Ukraine at Taras Hill, neat the Dnipro River.

Will and Testament

When I die bury me
in the middle of the steppe
of my Ukraine. So I can seize
broad the broadback field and
Dnipro, twisting, so
I can see and hear it roar,
roaring, carrying 

thieves’ blood
to the ocean. Then I’ll toss
the fields and mountains and me
and burn them all like prayers.
I won’t know God till then.

Stash me away then stand,
split your chains and spatter
the soil with blood and fury,
having your body back. Now

in our vast family, the free
one, the new one,
don’t forget to remember me
in good-willed words,
a word unangered,

December 25, 1845, Pereyaslav, Ukraine




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