Taras Shevchenko – Selected Poems and Art


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.II

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, 0 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

The great poet, ardent patriot, thinker and humanist, Shevchenko, is at one and the same time an outstanding master of Ukrainian painting and graphic art, the founder of critical realism and the folk element in Ukrainian fine arts.The creative work of Shevchenko, which was closely tied with the reality of that period and was based on the national-liberation movement, was basically connected with and directed into the future. It is an important stage in the development of realism and the folk element in art. Ukrainian artists refer to the artistic heritage of Shevchenko as one of the greatest and most valuable national traditions.

T.Shevchenko, Kateryna
T. Shevchenko Kateryna, 1842
The inevitable value of Shevchenko’s art heritage is in that it expressed the interests of the Ukrainian people living in his own era. The ideas and themes of his works as an artist expressed the moods of the oppressed masses not only in Ukraine; they also expressed the aspirations and hopes of working people of different nationalities.

Shevchenko, simultaneously with Fedotov, affirmed critical realism as a new, progressive trend in Russian fine arts of that time. During his first years as a pupil of the “indoor painter”, Vasiliy Shiryayev, and at the same time attending drawing classes at the “Association of Young Artists”, the serf young, Shevchenko, turned to themes from the history of his homeland. He strived to convey in his compositions the sacred aspirations and deeds of the Ukrainian people, to truthfully portray their everyday life and reproduce the images of their heroical past.

In his letter to the editor of the magazine, The People’s Reader, Shevchenko wrote, “The history of my life is a part of the history of my homeland”. These words are the key to understanding the creative work of Shevchenko the artist and poet.

The themes of Shevchenko works, depicting life in Ukraine at that time, are very diverse, indeed. Among them we can single out the watercolor composition of 1841, “Gypsy Fortune-Teller“, which was awarded a silver medal by the Council of the Academy of Arts. These, in turn, led to the still greater canvas, “Kateryna“, in which the acute social-exposing theme sounded out in full voice. The poem of the same name served as a basis for this paining. The theme of “Kateryna” is an actual one for that period. In it Shevchenko exposed the tragic fate of a Ukrainian serf girl, who was seduced and than abandoned and disgraced by a Russian officer. This painting is an important page in the history of Ukrainian art, a new word in the formation of the folk element and critical realism in art.

Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Self-Portrait, 1840
Chihiryn viewed from the Subotiv Road, 1845
Gipsy Fortune-Teller, 1841

In the spring of 1843, after 14 years of separation from his homeland, Shevchenko visited his native Ukraine. In Ukraine under the influence of everything seen and experienced, the idea of a periodical art edition entitled Picturesque Ukrainecame to Shevchenko. And so, having arrived in St. Petersburg, he enthusiastically commenced this work. Shevchenko divided up the edition into three parts: Ukrainian landscapes, showing the beauty of the country or expressing its historical meaning, were included into the first part; the second part included scenes from the everyday life of that period; the third consisted of etchings, depicting the historical past of the Ukrainian people.

Shevchenko was the first among Ukrainian artists to set before himself a task of great patriotic significance – that of acquainting the progressive people with the everyday life of the Ukrainian people, their past, as well as with the enchanting beauty of Ukrainian nature.

However, he was unable to completely accomplish this, for soon afterwards, he was arrested and sentenced to exile. In 1844 the first and only edition of “Picturesque Ukraine“, consisting of six etchings, came out in print. The artist depicted many themes from the life of the oppressed and suffering people. He painted what was most dear to his heart, “The Paternal Hut of T. H. Shevchenko in the Village of Kyrilivka“… It was here that the little orphan, Taras, spent his gloomy and joyless childhood. Here his heart was first stung by human injustice, founded on the rule of the rich over poor. The painting “A peasant family” is warmed by the poet’s great love for the people and you can almost sense the compassion and lyrical peacefulness radiating from it.

Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
The Paternal Hut of Shevchenko
in the Village of Kyrilivka
A peasant family, 1843
Council of Elders, 1844, Etching

Among the paintings of this period is a great number of portraits, including those of Mayevska, Olexandre Lukyanovich, Illya Lizogub, Gorlenko, Elizabeth Keyuatova and others. In these portraits, especially in those of the women, you can easily trace the influence if Bryullov. He was delicate not only in the manner of painting, but also in the way he revealed the images, when traditional idealization united with the desire to convey the personality of a person. While still a student at the Academy of Arts, Shevchenko created a magnificent watercolor painting “Maria“on the theme of Pushkin’s poem “Poltava“. And already in the spring of 1841 Shevchenko’s name could be found alongside such names as Karl and Olexandre Bryullov, Fedor Tolstoy, Andrei Sapozhnikov, and other outstanding artists.

Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Portrait of Mayevska, 1843
Portrait of Keykuatova, 1847
Maria, 1840
Cathedral on the Ascension in Pereyaslav, 1845

In the spring of 1845 Shevchenko completed his studies at the Academy of Arts and returned to Ukraine. But he did not stay in Ukraine for long.

On April 5, 1847 he was arrested and without a trial he was exiled as a rank-and-file soldier to the far-off Caspian steppes. During his first year in exile Shevchenko portrayed himself in a uniform. The famous Shevchenko’s words “I am punished, I suffer… but I do not repent!…” belong to this period. In his “prison without doors”, as he himself called it, Shevchenko in the period of ten years created the greater part of his wonderful works. They raised Shevchenko to a still higher level, for in them his mastery became even more exact and thorough and the meaning behind them – even more acute and profound. Shevchenko Art

Self-Portrait, 1847

The works of the exile period can be divided up into three groups: portraits, landscapes and compositions.

Of the portraits the most interesting are Shevchenko’s self-portraits. Taken as a whole, they comprise one of the most valuable sources of learning about the artist’s life.

Having been sent as a soldier-guard on the Butakov expedition, which during 1848-1849 explored the shores of the Aral Sea, Shevchenko served as the expedition’s artist. During the Aral expedition and later too, during another expedition into the Kara-Tau Hills, that discovered several coal-fields in Kazakhstan, and still later, during his stay at the Novopetrovsky Fortress Shevchenko created a great number of watercolor landscape paintings.

Shevchenko Art
Novopetrovsky Fortress Viewed from the Sea, 1857
These landscape paintings attract us by their maturity of realistic mastery. Here, we see no conventionality which was so typical of the academic school of landscape painting. In the well-known watercolor painting, “Novopetrovsky Fortress Viewed from the Sea“, Shevchenko portrayed the fort where he spent seven long hard years.

The genre themes in the creative work of Shevchenko, during the exile period are also of great importance. Shevchenko viewed the everyday life of the people, whom Tsarist autocracy called foreigners, with the eyes of a friend. The artist saw, which he had known and experienced from childhood in Ukraine – social and national oppression.

In the sepia “Kazakh Beggar Children” Shevchenko portrayed himself in the background, looking on with an expression of sadness and sympathy. This self-portrait, combined with a genre scene, gave the artist an opportunity to show his own attitude to poor orphan children, as well as to all the Kazakh people, doomed by the tsar to suffer hunger and deprivation.In the sepia “Kazakh Katia” Shevchenko portrayed a girl holding a candle in front of a tombstone. In the brightly candle-litface of the girl the artist lovingly and with deep sympathy conveyed her spiritual purity.
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Kazakh Beggar Children, 1853
Kazakh Katia, 1857

During the last years of exile, Shevchenko created one of his main compositions – a series of works entitled “The Parable of a Prodigal Son“. The works included in this series impress us with their deep thought, critical acuteness, with which the artist condemned the evils of surrounding reality.

According to Shevchenko, “The Parable of a Prodigal Son” was supposed to be a satire on the savage habits and traditions of the Russian merchants, but it soon grew into a wrathful exposure of the whole system of autocratic serfdom.

Included in the series is “Punishment in the Stocks“. We see the hero of the “Parable” with a wooden block in his mouth portrayed on the background of the Novopetrovsky barracks. This served to signify the people, who had no freedom of speech. In the right-hand corner of the painting we see Shevchenko’s profile, as if conveying that he himself was a witness of these inhuman tortures.

Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Running the Gauntlet, 1857
Last Stock Lost, 1857
Punishment in the Stocks, 1857
In Prison, 1857

Prior to Shevchenko, none of the artists of Ukraine or Russia ever rose to such a height of social protest even in the following years.

In his diary and novels, there are quite a number of important expressions of Shevchenko about art, in which he comes forth as a true realist.

Sharply criticizing idealism, Shevchenko utilized his native landscape and life itself as the basis of his artistic work. At that time he resolutely opposed the blind copying of landscapes, i.e. naturalism. Shevchenko looked upon nature’s highest creation – the human being – as the main object in art.

His view on the role of art in society is directly connected with his materialistic outlook. He considers the service to humanity as the highest vocation of an artist.

The best works of Shevchenko after his exile were those done in the technique of etching with aquatint. The exceptions are some of the self-portraits and portraits in paints and pencil. Among the latter mentioned are the wonderful portraits of the actor Shchepkin, and the outstanding Negro actor, Ira Aldridge. It is enough to compare these portraits with the artist’s earlier ones to be convinced of the growth of Shevchenko’s realistic mastery. As to the free and easy stroke and the profound psychological depiction, these portraits can be placed on a par with the best portraits of the masters of the late XIX century.

Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Portrait of M.Shchepkin, 1858
Portrait of I.Aldridge, 1858
Portrait of F.Tolstoy,
Etching, 1860
Self-Portrait in a Hat and Sheepskin Coat, Engraving, 1860

In the art of etching Shevchenko achieved such great success, that the Imperial Academy of Arts was obliged to award him with the honorable title of Academician Engraver.

Special attention is attracted by his portrait and self-portrait etchings. Very impressive is the profound psychologism, with which Shevchenko portrayed the image of the well-known sculptor and Vice-president of the Academy of Arts, F. P. Tolstoy, who played a great role in freeing Shevchenko from exile.

Among the etchings of later years are those illustrating the works of other artists: “Friends” by I.Sokolov, Rembrandt’s “The Parable About the Workers in the Vineyard“, as well as works illustrating his own themes: “An Old Man in the Graveyard“, “Mangishlatsky Garden” and others.

Of his portraits, executed in the technique of etching, the “Self-Portrait with a Candle” and “Self-Portrait in a Hat and Sheepskin Coat” can be singled out. The first was executed after a drawing of his childhood years that has not been preserved. We see a young Shevchenko with a candle raised high in his hand and this is symbolic, for it was with a lighted candle that Shevchenko started out on the road of creative work; it was with it that died, leaving behind him the flame of artistic heritage, which to this day warms the hearts of people the world over.

Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Shevchenko Art
Beggar in the Graveyard, 1859
Mangishlatsky Garden, 1859
Self-Portrait with a Candle, 1860

In the summer of 1859, during his last days in Ukraine, Shevchenko created only a small number of sketches, for he was carefully watched by gendarmes. Under these conditions there could be no freedom of creative work. But even so, what Shevchenko accomplished is still of great interest to us. His works, executed while in Ukraine, as to their mastery and realistic expression, are way ahead of his era and can be undoubtedly placed on a par with the drawings of the most outstanding artists of the late XIX century.

And like the literary heritage of Shevchenko, his works in the fine arts are immortal. They will continue to live for ages reminding mankind of the great creative deed that the great son of humanity accomplished for the welfare of people the world over.



3 responses to “Taras Shevchenko – Selected Poems and Art

  1. very poignant. His poetry is the clear water of uncorrupted freedom shackled by the dread of dark forces and his Art is a magnificent triumph, portraying feminine sadness, and, or, the poverty and cruelty of mankind.

  2. thank you very much for the translation, it’s great, I think Shevchenko would appreciate it. I’m Ukrainian and I feel the poet’s soul and mind in the translation. Thank you for the paintings,too.

  3. Pingback: Recent Popes’ Favorite Poets | The Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College·

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