Essay About Taras Shevchenko

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World literature has some great names which have become symbols of the nations to which they belong. Thus, Shakespeare is generally recognized as a majestic achievement of England, Dante represents the biblical wisdom of Italy, while Goethe is a synonym of the constantly investigating spirit of Germany. In the Slavic world, Mickiewicz and Pushkin are glorified among the Poles and Russians respectively.

However, none of these five giants of world culture had exerted such an influence on the development of his respective nation as did Taras Shevchenko (1814 - 1861), the great Ukrainian poet laureate and national hero.

Son of simple enslaved people, he rose from obscurity to the heights of world literature and became an ardent defender of human rights, "a prince in the realm of spirit," "a Great Power in the commonwealth of human culture."(1) Shevchenko's inspired poems aroused Ukraine "lulled to sleep by the enemies," as he said, showed her the glorious past of her sons, drew attention to the terrible nineteenth-century serfdom and predicted for her a great free future. Thus, Shevchenko began the formation of the modern Ukrainian nation. His work was carried on and completed by Ivan Franko, Michael Hrushevsky and others.

To understand the greatness of Taras Shevchenko and his significance for the Ukrainian nation, one must understand the epoch which preceded the poet's appearance. As early as 1709, after the unhappy battle at Poltava, the comparatively independent Ukraine (it had been completely independent under Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky) lost her importance as a state. Tsar Peter I, actually the Russian invader, forbade publication of Ukrainian books in 1720. Little by little Ukraine declined politically during the eighteenth century. The Zaporozhian Kozaks' order of Sitch, the only defender of the country, was treacherously uprooted by the Russians in 1775, and the autonomy of Ukraine was completely destroyed a few years later. Almost all the East Ukrainian territories gradually became the province of the Russian Empire while the "West Ukrainian lands fell under the Austrian-Polish rule. The Ukrainian gentry, enticed with privileges, became either Russianized or Polonized and subsequently left their people without any social and cultural guidance. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the concept of Ukrainian nationality had almost disappeared, and Ukraine, forcibly divided between Austria and Russia, vanished from the political arena, as well as from geographical maps of the world.

Moreover, the serfdom, introduced by the Russian Empress Catherine II in the previously free Ukraine turned the freedom-loving Ukrainians into nameless serfs, downtrodden and illiterate "Ivans without kith and kin." No wonder that Shevchenko himself was born a son of a serf. Fortunately, his talent as a painter helped him to gain freedom in his twenty-fifth year.

What did represent the Ukrainian literature before Shevchenko's time? The works of the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries written mainly in the bookish Church Slavic language, with a slight Ukrainian colouring at times, were incomprehensible and practically inaccessible to the nineteenth-century readers. Moreover, the policy of Russification had swallowed the best Ukrainian writers, such as Teofan Prokopovych (1681 - 1736) and Stefan Yavorsky (1655 - 1722). It had partly absorbed even the Ukrainian philosopher Hryhoriy Skovoroda (1722 - 1794). Modern Ukrainian literature in the spoken and generally understandable language made its first feeble steps only at the end of the eighteenth century. Ivan Kotlyarevsky (1769 - 1833), Hryhoriy Kvitkn-Osnovyanenko (1778 - 1843), Markian Shashkevych (1811-1843) and a handful of other poets and writers were among the first to make the initial efforts to create it. Since Ukrainian had been spoken almost exclusively by villagers, it was regarded as a laughing-stock because of its so-called stinted development. In fact, the majority of Ukrainian elite did not use it, preferring either Russian or Polish, the tongues of the ruling landlords.

In this tragic time for the declining Ukraine, Shevchenko appeared and proclaimed as early as 1838:

Have your love, you black haired maidens,
But avoid the Moskals (Russians - Y.S.),
For the Moskals  - they are strangers,
And they treat you foully...
For the Moskals - they are strangers,
And they always mock you. (2)

His poem "Kateryna" from which we quote was not only a story of an honest Ukrainian girl, seduced and abandoned by a Russian officer, but a symbol of a Ukraine defrauded by Russia.

In another of his poems, Shevchenko pictured the Russians' behaviour in the occupied Ukraine:

Cruel Russians rob and pillage
What their eyes can notice;
There are even opened graveyards
In the search for money.

As a result of the Russian tsarist takeover of Ukraine, the robbed and enslaved Ukrainians, descendants of the freedom-loving Zaporozhian Kozaks,

Move up to work; they're dumb and mute;
Their children follow them afoot.

Shevchenko does not have a problem in finding the cause of that evil and the Ukraine's tragedy. He fully understands it and, thus, proclaims that the gradual decline of Ukraine originates in the Russian tsarist policy, which has brought serfdom. To destroy it, the poet turns his creative power toward the glorious past of Ukraine as to a bright milestone:

At one time in Ukraina
Cannons roared like thunder;
At one time the Zaporozhtsi
Knew the path to power.
So they ruled and they acquired
Glory, yes, and freedom ... (4)

In other words, for the oppressed Ukrainians the only solution is libera¬tion, regaining of freedom.  Shevchenko, therefore, openly calls for an uprising:

Rise and break your chain!
Water liberty with blood-drops
Of the foeman slain!

("My Last Will"). (5)

The poet directs his appeal for an uprising not only to Ukrainians. The Caucasian peoples, who fight the advancing Russian armies of imperialist Russia, appear to him as brothers, "crusaders for holy freedom." Shevchenko addresses them in his poem "The Caucasus":

Keep fighting — you are bound to win!
God helps you in your fight!
For fame and freedom march with you.
And right Is on your side. (6)

Without any doubt the poet deeply believes in the final result of an uprising — in victory:

Ukraina will arise,
Drive away the dark of prison,
Make verity gayer,
And the captive rebels risen
Will rejoice in prayer.

These lines, as well as "The Caucasus" and "My Last Will," were written in 1845 when the secret political organization, the Brotherhood of Cyril and Methodius, existed in Kyiv. It advocated the abolition of serfdom and the liberation of Ukraine and other Slavic countries from foreign yoke. Soon the poet became closely associated with this organization, the members of which highly praised his poems and regarded him as a national prophet of Ukraine.

It was quite obvious for the tsarist government of imperialist Russia that Shevchenko became a spiritual leader of the downtrodden Ukraine, which strove for freedom and independence. When the poet arrived in Kyiv from Petersburg, after his successful graduation from the Academy of Arts, he was hastily arrested by the gendarmes and brought back to the Russian capital for interrogation. After the hearing, at which he behaved manfully, he was deported without trial to the special Orenburg corps in Asia to be kept under harsh discipline. The Russian tsar Nicholas I wrote the following words on the document bearing the sentence: "Under the strictest surveillance, with prohibition to write and to paint."(7) The poet spoke of this: "I am punished and I suffer, but I don't repent!"   Motifs of liberation never leave his mind thereafter.

Thus, Shevchenko for the first time in Ukrainian literature raised his powerful voice calling for an uprising and liberation from Russia's yoke. He laid a foundation for Ukraine's independence when he proclaimed:

In your home, you'll find your justice
And your strength and freedom. (8)

Obviously, the signal greatness of Taras Shevchenko lies in the fact that his name became a symbol of Ukraine's struggle for freedom and independence from Russia. To a great extent, he was, and is, a champion of justice and liberty for all men of earth.

We have many authentic evidences concerning Shevchenko's views of his native country. Jakub Jatowt, a Polish revolutionist in exile, met the Ukrainian poet in 1850:

I spoke to Shevchenko on various topics for a long time. He did not like the Poles (Polish landlords who took over Ukrainian lands - Y.S.) and could not bear the Russians. An independent Ukraine was the goal of his dreams, a revolution was his aspiration.(9)

Shevchenko himself very often spoke of Ukraine as a country distinctly different from Russia. After the severe and unjust attacks of V. Belinsky, a Russian chauvinistic scholar, who blamed the poet for the only "sin," that of writing in Ukrainian (!), Shevchenko advised his literary friends:

Do not pay attention to Russians. Let them write in their own language, and we shall use ours. They are a nation with their literature, and we, too, are a nation with our own literature... Brothers! Do not despair, but pray to God and work purposefully for the glory of Ukraine, our hapless (enslaved by Russians - Y.S.) mother. (10)

To be sure, these words taken from the preface, written in 1847 for the subsequent edition of the Kobzar (first published in 1840), became known to readers as late as 1906, because the Russian censors, appointed by the tsarist government, had been constantly deleting them.

Having discussed Shevchenko's political and social importance for Ukraine, let us turn to his literary and artistic achievements. Shevchenko was one of the foremost men of that time, highly self-educated, a graduate of the Academy of Arts in Petersburg. He received several silver medals for his paintings. He was acquainted with many masterpieces of West European literature. On the basis of the poet's correspondence and diary, we know that he read at least the following writers, many of them in the original (particularly, the French writers): Homer, whose songs he compared to Ukrainian epics, or dumy, Herodotus, Plutarch, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tass, Chateau¬briand, Beranger, Barbier, Dumas (pere), Balzac, Eugene Sue, Voltaire and other Encyclopedists, Shakespeare, Defoe, Richardson, Goldsmith, Burns, Byron, Walter Scott, Dickens, Goethe, Schiller, Koerner, Kotzebue. He knew Russian and Polish literatures. He did not know English, and read Shakespeare's plays in Russian and Polish  translations. (11) It has been proved now that Shevchenko disclosed some influence of Shakespeare, Chateaubriand, and especially of Mickiewicz. Nevertheless, the ideas of the Polish poet were developed by Shevchenko "broadly and boldly, excelling that of the author "Dziady."(12)

Depicting the horror of Ukrainian reality under Russian serfdom, Shevchenko made a striking reference to Dante's Inferno:

My beautiful country, rich and opulent!
Who has not ravaged thee? If one were to recount
The true history of any
One of our gentry, one could horrify
Hell itself.  And old Dante
Would be amazed at a petty landowner of ours. (13)

We should point out also some similarities between Shevchenko and Robert Burns, though the Ukrainian poet "had larger influence" (14) upon the Ukrainian liberation  movement  than the Scottish poet in his Scotland. In every respect Shevchenko was a greater poet than Burns. (15)

The west European influence on the Ukrainian poet should not be exaggerated. Shevchenko remained a poet of unique originality. Because of this, he raised Ukrainian literature to a level of world significance. At the same time, he was one of the first authors who began to depict simple men, villagers, revealing  their great human qualities.

Great variety of themes in Shevchenko's works was an unusual phenomenon in the Ukrainian literature of that time. First of all, the poet writes on Ukrainian life, pouring out his heart to express his attitude to it. As we have already pointed out, his long narrative poem "Kateryna" symbolizes Ukraine deceived by Russia. His epic masterpiece Haydamaky reflects the uprisings of the eighteenth-century Ukrainians against the ruthless Polish landowners in Ukraine, while his "Ivan Pidkova," "Hamaliya," "Irzhavets" and many others depict the heroic deeds of Zaporozhian Kozaks. In many meditative poems he arouses patriotic sentiments, as well as national pathos. He dedicates a great number of poems to the precarious conditions of the life of serfs and peasants.

At this point we should concentrate our attention on one of Shevchenko's most famous poems, The Great Grave, in which the poet symbolically pictures the history of Ukraine. Three souls represent three tragic periods of Ukrainian history. One had aided Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky in the unification of Ukraine with Moscovy, the second did not aid Hetman Ivan Mazepa in his war against Moscovy, and the third had participated in the destruction of the Kozaks' order of the Sitch. These three souls are followed by three crows symbolizing the Ukrainian, the Pole, and the Russian who express their views on their respective countries. Then three wandering folk singers give different opinions about the excavation of the grave. Finally, the poet depicts the disentombed "Bohdan's bones". However, Moscovy has not succeeded in finding the great grave in which presumably the independence of Ukraine is buried. This mysterious poem serves as Shevchenko's bitter protest against the devastation of Ukraine by Russia, whom he regards as the chief enemy of the Ukrainian people.

The poet, however, is not restricted to the Ukrainian themes only. He glorifies the restive nations of the Caucasus for their resistance to the Russian invading troops ("The Caucasus"), praises Jan Hus, the great Czech humanist ("Heretic"), sarcastically condemns the Russian monarchs Peter I, Catherine II and Nicholas I with their despotic system of government (comedy "A Dream”), denounces Russian serfdom (in many poems) and develops biblical themes ("The Prayer", "David's Psalms", long narrative poem "Mary"). He has even a narrative poem "Neophytes" on the life on ancient Rome and the early Christians. In it, Nero resembles the Russian tsar. Some eighty of his lyrical poems and ballads are set to music, mostly by the great Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko, and sung everywhere in Ukraine as folk-songs. (16)

Shevchenko proved to be a great master of prosody; he could write in various manners with delicacy of expression. On the one hand he casts fiery invectives ("The Caucasus')) while on the other hand he presents tender lyrical pictures of village life, as in "A Spring Evening of Ukraine":

Close by the house the cherries flower.
Above the orchard the beetles hum,
Still singing, the girls homeward come,
The tired plowmen's steps grow slower,
And dames with supper wait at home.
Close by the house they eat their supper;
Just then the evening-star appears;
As daughter serves, and mother fears
That she may serve in ways improper,
The nightingale's song stuns their ears.
Close to the wall on the clay-benches
The mother lulls her Nell and Bill,
And falls asleep against her will.
All fall asleep... But the sweet wenches
And nightingales are singing still. (17)


One has to admit that the mastery of Shevchenko's eloquence is amazing. The Ukrainian poet posesses the power of aphoristic expression, the depth of feeling and thoughts. Particular attention to the musical side of verse is one of Shevchenko's unique poetic characteristics. For example, he frequently makes use of alliteration, especially that with the letter "L":


BuLo koLys' v Ukrayini —
ReviLy harmaty;
BuLo koLjs — Zaporozhtsi
VmiLy panuvaty.
PanuvaLy, dobuvaLy
I sLavu, i voLyu —
MynuLosya; ostaLysya
MohyLy po poLyu.


Each line of this fragment has one or two letters "L" that give the verses a mellifluous fluency of expression. Shevchenko's eloquence proves that he precedes the French symbolists, great masters of music in verses, by many years. One might assume that the latter could have proclaimed Shevchenko their teacher, ii they had known of the existence of his melodious verse.

Among Shevchenko's epithets we find strikingly original such innovations as : nebo nevmyte (the sky is "unwashed"), zaspani khvyli ("sleepy" or "drowsy" waves).
The Ukrainian poet's metaphors are very imaginative. The Dnieper River, "our strong grandfather roared with laughter - and the foam streamed down his moustache." High art of Shevchenko's poetry, as well as national ideas of liberation and their significance in the struggle for justice and freedom for all men made the Ukrainian literature "an issue of international importance." (18)

The greatness of Shevchenko is well illustrated also by the fact that he, indeed, was the father of almost all styles in modern Ukrainian literature. Fundamentally a romanticist, he moved in the direction of realism in his later works; his "The Great Grave" is written in symbolistic manner; in some cases he was also an extreme modernist. He has such metaphors as a first-rate modernist of our time would easily accept: "Heart, close your eyes!"

Great merit should be attributed to Shevchenko for his development of the Ukrainian literary language. He took the spoken tongue ignored by the enemies of Ukraine, mastered and polished it, as if a precious stone, and returned it to his readers - to enchant their ears. Shevchenko's language, capable of creating refined emotions, should be compared to enchanting music. No wonder that Ivan Franko, another great Ukrainian poet, advised his fellow writers to learn Ukrainian from Shevchenko's works.

As a painter, Shevchenko opened a new realistic period in Ukrainian arts. Some of his pictures have historical themes which, reflect the Kozak period of Ukraine, but most of them deal with the village life. Depicting simple men with great love, he led the "academic art of painting to the new roads...  making it peculiarly Ukrainian.” (19)

Finally, we should mention that Shevchenko ardently promoted the need of education for common men. Soon after his return from exile where he spent over ten years, he published his Primer in Ukrainian and distributed free copies through his country among the illiterate children.

Shevchenko's influence on modern Ukrainian literature has been tremendous. One of his first disciples, Marko Vovchok; whom the poet called his "daughter", depicted the life of serfs and their landlords and, thus, became "a bitter scourge of all the greedy and ruthless men.” (20) Ivan Franko, second greatest Ukrainian poet, developed Shevchenko's ideas of liberation in his new environment; he strove to unite all Ukrainians into a single independent state. Almost every Ukrainian writer of the last one hundred years experienced Shevchenko's impact one way or the other.

The works of Shevchenko have also influenced the writers of other Slavic nations. Nicholas Chernyshevsky and Nicholas Dobrolubov, the Russian revolutionary democrats, employed Shevchenko's ideas of liberation in their struggle against the tsarist autocratic system of government. The revolutionary democrats published his Kobzar in the Russian translation and spread it as a kind of agitation against serfdom. (21) Thus, Shevchenko's poems exerted a great influence also on Russian public opinion and precipitated the issue of the so-called krestyanskaya reforma in 1861. We have enough grounds to compare Shevchenko with Abraham Lincoln who emancipated American Negroes. One has to bear in mind that the Ukrainian poet's anti-slavery works were written five to ten years prior to the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Under the Turkish yoke, the Bulgarian liberation movement which culminated in the establishment of an independent state in 1878 extensively employed Shevchenko's fiery poems either in Bulgarian translations or in adaptations. K. R. Zhinzifov borrowed not only the Ukrainian poet's motifs, but also the unique form of his verses. (22) As N. T. Balabanov pointed out, Luben Karavelov considered Shevchenko "his first and almost only teacher, especially in poetics." Out of Karavelov's 191 poems, at least 133 are written in the metres peculiar to Shevchenko. (23) In 1939, at the observance of the 125th year since Shevchenko's birth, fourteen Bulgarian writers wrote in their letter to the Ukrainian writers in Kyiv:

Shevchenko's influence on the Bulgarian literature was ... so important that one cannot imagine certain of our distinguished poets and writers without it, for example Luben Karavelov, Khristo Botev, and others. A part of the enthusiasm, which flamed in Shevchenko's poetry, passed into the blood and body of the Bulgarian nation at the time of its national liberation struggles. (24)

Shevchenko exercised even greater influence on the poets Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas, the fathers of the modern White-Ruthenian literature. It should be mentioned that Maksim Gorky, a well known Russian writer, speaking of the poets who "embody a spirit of their respective nations" named Shevchcnko first, with A. Pushkin and A. Mickecwicz followmg. (25) Apollon Grigoryev, another Russian critic, called Shevchenko "the first great poet of a great new Slavonic literature” (26), and ranked him "as a poet above Pushkin”. (27)

Shevchenko is beloved not only in his native Ukraine but far beyond her borders. His works are as vital as they were over one hundred years ago. Many of his aphoristic expressions may be applied to the present Soviet life. "From Moldavia to Finland all tongues are muted," because there is no freedom under the Soviet regime. The Ukrainian farmers, forcibly pressed into the collective or state farms, "move up to work; they're dumb and mute," as it was at the time of the unhuman Russian serfdom brought to Ukraine. Deported to the concentration camps in Siberia, to the camps of death, the patriots of Ukraine died "in the foreign land, in alien labour," as was the case under the tsarist regime. The Ukrainian "unbaptized Kozak children" grow up without religious education because the communists do not allow them to attend church. In brief, as Shevchenko expressed it in his time,

Ukraina is plunged in sadness...
There is no one who can save her
And the Kozaks perish;
Lost is the glory and the country;
Nowhere it is sheltered. (28)

Because in Ukraine "nowhere it is sheltered," the Ukrainians are to be found now in every corner of the world, including Canada and the U.S. where they enjoy full freedom and a life of prosperity.

In Ukraine under the Soviet regime, the Communists falsify Shevchenko's works. Many editions of the Kobzar, especially pocket editions, lack such poems as "Subotiv", "The Opened Grave", "The Great Grave", "Chyhyryn", and others, in which the tragedy of Ukraine and the condemnation of Russia are clearly revealed. This falsification may be traced even in the Soviet publications of Shevchenko's works. Under Stalin, all the editions of the Kobzar, including the so-called "academic editions," had the passage in the poem "Chyhyryn" which reads as follows:

For what we harrowed with our lances
The Tatar's ribs. (29)

The 1956 edition, with Maksym Rylsky's introduction, shows the same lines differently:

For what we harrowed with our lances
The Russians' ribs. (30)

Thus, the Ukrainians utilized the difficulties of the Kremlin, caused by Khrushchev's struggles for power, and published in 1956, perhaps for the first time under the Soviet regime, the true original texts of Shevchenko's poems. The interpretation of the poet's works, however, has been constantly falsified; Shevchenko is shown as a friend of Moscow, although it is evident from his works that he hated Russia, the prison of nations, with all his heart.

The Ukrainians, either in Ukraine or abroad, solemnly commemorate Shevchenko on the centennial of his death. Every Ukrainian family has Shevchenko's Kobzar - at least in a pocket edition. Every Ukrainian family has his portrait, often next to the icon. Shevchenko's poems are read again and again, as a source of inspiration, by both the adults and youngsters. The poet's tomb on the hill near the Dnieper River is visited and revisited like Mecca by Moslems. Many streets and towns, schools and institutions have been named after Shevchenko, including the Shevchenko Scientific Society in New York. Shevchenko monuments have been erected in many Ukrainian cities, towns and villages. Among the recent ones, the Shevchenko monument in Winnipeg, Manitoba, unveiled in July, 1961, is considered as one of the best.

Major works of the Ukrainian poet have been, and are being, translated into many languages. For example, his "The Testament" has been rendered into forty-five tongues. (31) There exist at least four English editions of Shevchenko's poems by the following translators: E. L. Voynich (1911), Alexander Jardine Hunter (1923), Clarence A. Manning (1945), and Vera Rich (1961). Separate Shevchenko poems have been translated also by Honore Ewach, Waldimir Semenyna, Percy Paul Selver, Sunray Gardiner, Helen Lubach Piznak, Morse Manly, Yar Slavutych, and others.

Probably the first English-language account on Shevchenko was presented by Charles Dickens who published in 1877 a biography of the Ukrainian poet and found inspiration in his poems. He pointed out that "some of Taras's saddest poems... would apply almost word for word to our land." (32) Among the best English-language critical studies of Shevchenko's life and works are: D. Doroshenko's Taras Shevchenko: The National Poet of Ukraine, Winnipeg, 1936; Clarence A. Manning's explanatory notes to his translation of Shevchenko's Selected Poems, Jersey City, 1945; Europe's Freedom Fighter: Taras Shevchenko, Washington: House of Representatives Document No. 445, 1960; and W. K. Matthew's Taras Shevchenko: The Man and Symbol, Winnipeg: UVAN, 1961 (second edition).


1.    Ivan Franko, "Taras Shevchenko", Slavonic  Review, London, 1924, Vol. 3.
2.    Taras Shevchenko. Selected Poems, translated by Clarence A.Manning, Jersey City:    Ukrainian National Association, 1945, p. 89.
3.    All unmarked translations have been done by this author.
4.    Shevchenko's  Thoughts  and  Lyrics,  prepared by the  Editorial  Staff of  Svoboda, Jersey City, 1961, p.
5.    Ukrainian  Songs  and  Lyrics, a short anthology of Ukrainian  poetry translated
and  edited  by  Honore  Ewach,  Winnipeg: Ukrainian  Publishing  Co., 1933, p. 66
6.    Taras Shevchenko, Selections, translated by John Weir, Toronto: The Ukrainian Canadian, 1961, p, 71.
7.    Ibid, p. 15.
8.    Taras Shevchenko, Selected  Poems, translated by Clarence A. Manning, p. 173.
9.    Ukrayinsky hotos, a Ukrainian weekly, Winnipeg, July 19, 1961, p. 11.
10.   See our review of Danylo lofanov's book Materialy pro zhyttya i tvorchist Tarasa Shevchenka in Symposium, Syracuse University Press, 1959, spring issue, p,  159.
11.   See our review of Jurij Bojko's Taras Shevchenko and West European Literature in Comparative Literature, 1958, Vol. No. 4, p. 372.
12.    Jurij Boiko. Taras  Shevchenko and West European Literature: London: Association
of Ukrainians in Great Britain, 1956, p. 29.
13.    Ibid., p. 35.
14.    W. K. Mathews, Taras Shevehenko: The Man and the Symbol, London, 1951, p.4.
See also our review of J. B. Rudnyckyj's Burns and Shevchenko, Comparative Literature,
University of Oregon, 1960, Vol. XII, No. 3, p.286.
15.    Prof. George Y. Shevelov's  talk  delivered on April 12, 1961, to a meeting of the Columbia University students on the occasion of Taras Shevchenko exhibit in the Butler  Library on campus.
16.    Narodni pisni na slova Tarasa Shevchenka, Kyiv: Akademiya Nauk Ukrayinskoyi RSR, 1961.
17.    Ukrainian  Songs and  Lyrics, p. 31.
I8.    O. Biletsky, Vid davnyny do suchasnosty, Kyiv: Ukrainian State Publishing House, 1960, Vol. II, p. 399.
19.    S. Hordynsky, Taras Shevchenko — malyar, Lviv, 1943, p. 6.
20.    Shevchenko's  Thoughts and Lyrics, p. 97. See also Yar Slavutych, "Marko Vovchok: A Ukrainian Scourge of Russian Serfdom," The Ukrainian Quarterly, 1958, Vol. XIV, No. 4, p. 363-367,
21.    Ye. Shabliovsky, Shevchenko i rosiyska revolutsiyna demokratiya, Kyiv, 1958, p. 202.
22.    M. I. Mandryka, Z bolharsko-ukrayinskykh literaturnykh vzayemyn, UVAN: Winnipeg, 1956, p.8.
23.    Ibid., p. 9-10.
24.    Ye. Kyryluk, Shevchenko i slovyonski norody, Kyiv, 1958, p. 58-59.
25.    Istoriya ukrayinskoyi literatury, Kyiv, 1954. Vol. I, p. 274.
26.    D. Doroshenko, Taras  Shevchenko: The National Poet of Ukraine, introduction by George W. Simpson, Winnipeg:  Ukrainian Voice,   1936,   p.   54.
27.    Clarence A. Manning's article in the symposium Europe's Freedom Fighter:  
Taras Shevchenko, Washington: House of Representatives, Document No. 445, 1960, p.4.  
28.    Taras Shevchenko, Selected Poems, translated by Clarence A. Manning, p, 85.
29.    Cf. T. Shevchenko, Povna zbirka tvoriv, Kyiv, 1949, Vol.I, p. 200,
30.    Cf. T. Shevchenko, Kobzar, Kyiv 1956, p. 171.
31.    Zapovit movamy narodiv svitu, Kyiv, 1961,
32.    Winnipeg Free Press, March 11,  1954.


"Greatness of Taras Shevchenko", by Yar Slavutych.
Title page of the book


Original publication:

"Greatness of Taras Shevchenko", by Yar Slavutych (University of Alberta), Slavuta Publishers, 1962.

Shevchenko Essay Contest Winners

Love your Ukraine,
Love her at all times.
In the last tough moment
Pray for her to God.
T. Shevchenko

We learn Shevchenko’s poems since childhood, we read about his hard life, about his sufferings and struggles and tears that he couldn’t hold because it was unbearable to endure everything that was happening to his dear Ukraine. Every conscious and educated Ukrainian can recite at least one of Shevchenko’s poems by heart. Each and every book that has ever been written about him says that he was one of the greatest and most outstanding figures in Ukrainian history, a hero, whose heart was beating and aching for the Ukrainian nation till it stopped. No matter how arduous it was, no matter what he was going through, Shevchenko never stopped pursuing the goal of his Fatherland’s revival. And his dream did come true.

I am 19 years old and I was blessed to be born in a free and sovereign country. Fortunately, I don’t know what slavery is. Fortunately, I don’t know how is it to be forced out of my own country. Fortunately, I don’t know what suffering is. And no matter how many times we are being told about this in school, no matter how many times we read Shevchenko’s poems we cannot fully empathize with the poet’s feelings. We are a new generation. We are the free generation. This was Shevchenko’s main goal and this is what I’m really grateful for.

But while I’m writing this essay my heart is heavy from the pain and my eyes are full of tears because my country is hurting. Because being already independent, we have to fight for our true liberty. I’m ashamed to acknowledge that it is not foreign invaders that we are fighting against, but our own brothers and sisters: ”… in her struggle, our Ukraine/ Reached the last climax of pure pain: /Worse than the Poles, or any other, /The children crucify their mother…”, Shevchenko says in one of his poems. He imbued every word he wrote with pain and, unfortunately, I can feel it now.

2014, a year that will be carved in the hearts of Ukrainian people. It is a turning point in our minds and our history. It is a year that gave us a new Shevchenko. And this new hero is Maydan. Yes, the whole Maydan, because it is not just one person, but everyone who is standing there for freedom, independence, justice, everyone who is fighting against slavery and dictatorship. Among those people are ordinary students, businessmen, pensioners, housewives. It is hard not to be aware of what is happening in Ukraine right now. It is impossible to disregard it. One can ask, what does Shevchenko have to do with all of this? The answer is simple: everything he and people like him did when they lived gives hope and strength to all of us who are standing at Maydan nowadays. Yes, they are not here with us today, but their words have been imprinted on our hearts.

Why does Shevchenko matter today? His words are the main words of Maydan’s anthem. You can hear people singing: “As Shevchenko commanded, we will break the chains and defend together our truth and freedom!”. The poet was sure that his people will win, and called them to fight: “… get up, /Break the chains,…”. These lines are the culmination of the poet’s thoughts, the explosion of passion, his most cherished desire. He gave up everything he had, while pursuing his dream. It was the program of the poet’s life and today it is the program of our lives.

Why does Shevchenko matter today? The portrait of the freedom fighter can be seen in many places in Maydan. People remember Shevchenko and other Ukrainian heroes and it gives them hope, strength and patience to stand till they receive the desired victory.

This year we celebrate Shevchenko’s 200th anniversary and no matter how strange it may sound, but I am inclined to believe that Maydan is our best gift for his birthday. All his life he fought for freedom, suffered from the authorities, but he always saw Ukraine as a free and joyous country.

As a soldier uses a sword to fight in a battle, Shevchenko used a vociferous poetic word to fight his battle against the cruel treatment of his fellow compatriots. Every verse he wrote was full of pain for his beloved and tortured land, “I love so much, /I love my dear Ukraine…”, he says. I am sure that Shevchenko’s heart would be blissful watching his people fight for freedom, watching Ukrainians who are not afraid of anything, not even death.

Why does Shevchenko matter today? One of the Maydan heroes, a young man just a few years older than I, was reading Shevchenko’s poem “Caucasus” a day before he was killed by riot police: “Fight – and you shall overcome! / God is helping you!”. It was a real tragedy and unfortunately he wasn’t the only one killed for his county’s freedom. Surprisingly, this didn’t stop Ukrainians, but incited them to keep fighting. People read Shevchenko’s poems on the stage of Maydan and it inspires them even more: “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,… ” Isn’t it what Shevchenko wanted? Didn’t he want us to fight?

He always worried about the fate of Ukraine and its future. And our holiest duty is to build the country which Shevchenko and others saw in their dreams. It is a laborious task, but we can’t give up, we are Ukrainians: “… Then shall our day of hope arrive, /Ukrainian glory shall revive,… ”. So why does Shevchenko matter today? I think the answer is obvious now.

By Alona Liashenko, 19 years old, Kherson

“…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.”

He – our great poet of genius – while writing these lines, hoped that his strong feelings of a boundless love and yearning for the native Ukrainian land would reach the hearts and minds of his fellow countrymen and obviously all the people with the same full-blooded patriotic beliefs. And never mind the passing of time, his immortal poetic word is alive and will be embedded in our souls forever. What is the impact of Taras Shevchenko – an outstanding Ukrainian poet, artist, democrat, philosopher and prophet? Why does he matter today? I would like to put emphasis on the predominant motifs of his poetry that have considerable significance nowadays.

One of the distinctive features of Shevchenko’s “Kobzar” is a high freedom-loving spirit. His poetry – is an ode to “sacred liberty” as an indispensable prerequisite to welfare and happiness. Sorrow for lost freedom and a desire to get it back, a strong belief that people won’t tolerate social slavery and national oppression – these motifs permeate the whole poetry of “Kobzar”. Throughout his life, Taras Shevchenko fought for the abolition of serfdom and autocracy, hoped for such a sociopolitical system that would ensure freedom for the people and the all-round development of an individual. He wanted Ukrainians to rise against despotism and build a new independent Ukraine with no place for exploitation and betrayal.

“…Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained…”
(“My testament”)

Considering the events in Ukraine in winter 2013-2014, when half a million of people took to the streets to protest against corruption, social inequality, the self-will of the politicians and express their support for European Union Integration in order to gain the long-awaited democracy, sovereignty, prosperity and modernity for their country, Shevchenko’s appeal to all conscious Ukrainians to “break their heavy chains” greatly inspires and gives hope for a better future.

Taras Shevchenko’s poetry has an anthropocentric and cordocentric character. The problem of human destiny, as well as the destiny of the whole nation, played a central role in his outlook. Shevchenko’s protagonist (a serf, a widow, an orphan or a rebel, a folk hero, a fearless Cossack) although humiliated by poverty and social injustice, is the living embodiment of the highest human values and a bearer of the national idea. Shevchenko says to us all: never mind our social status or nationality – the most important things are the spiritual wealth of our hearts, a longing for kindness, honesty and fairness, the superiority of the heart over the mind and sincere patriotic love for our country – this idea is so noteworthy today – when materialistic values reign supreme!

Taras Shevchenko put forward the principles of the equality, unity and friendship of nations. He believed that every nation had the right to defend its national dignity, culture, language and traditions without establishing superiority over other nations but showing respect and seeking unity and understanding with them to meet future challenges. His conception of brotherhood between Slavic nations is transferred to the international arena and this is especially topical nowadays at the time of the global integration processes. Shevchenko emphasized the importance of “brotherly love” for one another – as the fundamental principle of the Christian doctrine and a basis for solving social issues.

“…Love one another, my brothers,
I pray you – I plead”.
(“My friendly Epistle”)

Shevchenko showed a great interest in the Ukrainian past and wanted it to live, to be the basis for understanding the present and laying the foundation for the future. Without the knowledge of the past there is no future, as well as it gives invaluable experience from the mistakes and triumphs of our ancestors – this idea, conveyed in Shevchenko’s lines, mustn’t be forgotten nowadays.

The poetic and artistic works of Shevchenko are the reflection of beautiful Ukrainian nature. The mighty Dnieper River, wide green meadows, picturesque villages, spreading willows and poplars were depicted not only to make us admire the beauty of nature but also strive to keep this beauty alive for years to come. It sounds especially significant today at the time of global environmental change and pervasive urbanization and serves as a reminder for the present generation that a person, being an inseparable part of nature, need to take drastic steps to protect the environment.

Shevchenko considered land to be sacred and depicted Ukrainians as the ploughmen who greatly appreciated to work the land. This cult of Mother Earth is transferred to the deification of a woman, a wife, a mother as the keeper of hearth and home and the source of love, tenderness, care and forgiveness. She gives birth and keeps national traditions alive by passing along her life experience to the next generation, that’s why she must be treated with the utmost respect. Fostering such an attitude to a woman in terms of gender equality is one of the primary issues in the present era.

Shevchenko expressed sociopedagogical and ethical views. He stressed the importance of education and family upbringing based on religion and high moral values in the shaping of a child’s personality. He attached great importance to the theme of a harmonious christian family as the basis of a state and society. Being an orphan himself, he raised the problems of orphanhood, poverty and public attitude towards it.

In conclusion, it must be stated that Taras Shevchenko as a unique national poet, ardent patriot and a spiritual leader, devoted all his life to serving Ukrainian people, arousing national self-consciousness and declaring the universal ideals of democracy, social equality, justice, freedom, unity and brotherly love. He enriched the spiritual potential of humanity and wished for a better and truer life for all people everywhere, that’s why he is a world poet and a universal genius.

By Ulyana Tatsakovych, 18 years old, Ivano-Frankivsk

Great poets are great and bright companions of their people, they are called to serve them faithfully and lighten up the people’s way. Taras Shevchenko is such a faithful companion for the Ukrainians, Ukraine’s pious son, the fame of whom does not subside through the years, but on the contrary, grows. Shevchenko’s great deeds, for the past almost two centuries, have been inspiring conscious people, not only Ukrainians, for new achievements and victories that leave a significant mark in history.

So why does this versatile personality who was living and thinking in a qualitatively different historical space, matter today? For me this question is more than relevant, it is urgent and requires an unusual, interesting answer. For anyone who has ever touched “Kobzar”, had a chance to be familiar with the poet’s creative work, discovered various Shevchenko, and of course because of it answers to this question will be genuine, passed through the personal outlook of each of us.

In my opinion, Shevchenko has never lost his very important and symbolic meaning over these two tumultuous centuries. For the work of the Great Poet is progressive in nature, clear for different generations, different nations and is designed to exist in various kinks of history. We live in the XXI century. In the dimension of relentless changes and new ideas. And, what is the most important, the twenty-first century is the time of the most flourishing democracy, equality, the fight for freedom and independence. It is exactly what Taras supported, he had always been against the brutal and greedy emperors and masters-enslavers who shackled free people in chains without giving any hope. Shevchenko was an ardent humanist – fighter who aspired to peace, faught against injustice and iniquity. And these efforts were directed by the poet not only for his brothers Ukrainians, but also for other disadvantaged by executioners-autocrats. From the recent events of the policital and social life of the global community, we can see that the struggle for human rights and liberty continues. It was Shevchenko’s dream and it comes true as we see. Shevchenko’s importance, even in this modern century, does not and will not subside until there is no injustice.

“Wherever he saw oppression, injustice or humiliation, be it on Volga steamship, or in Asia deserts, or came with a loud moan from the Caucasian Mountains – everywhere evil and lies caused the explosion of the poet’s protest, and every time he was ready to fight against violence and evil “- noted the known Ukrainian literary critic and writer Oles Gonchar.

Another aspect of Shevchenko’s importance in the present is his ardent and unbreakable patriotism, which has over a long time inspired young people and aims to do it now. It is youth who has always been a driving force for progress and a source of change. Today, when the patriotic feelings of youth develop unevenly and often go out for various reasons, Shevchenko’s patriotic words are especially important and relevant. Patriotic tones in souls should be developed from childhood, in order for conscious sons and daughters of their Motherland like Shevchenko to grow up. In the works “Haidamaki”, ” Hamaliya”, “Night of Taras’, the poet extols the heroic deeds of the Ukrainian people, their age-old struggle against the oppressors, their chivalry and courage. These works are imbued with patriotic energy of incredible strength. I’m sure every conscious patriot of their land must read them.

As for purely Ukrainian dimension of the importance of the “Great Poet”, we can confidently assert that this true defender and fighter for a better future of his country, has been important for his people at all stages of Ukraine’s historical development. Nowadays Shevchenko is extremely important for patriotic Ukrainians who often set him as an example of faithful service to his people. Shevchenko is important for those who came to “Euromaydan”, those who decided to fight aganst the renewal of shackles, who came to fulfill the dream of the Poet about a good fortune for Ukrainian people, and conscious daughters and sons of mother Ukraine that will not “sow rye for the masters”, but will build their own lives on this land given to them by God. No wonder that in every Ukrainian school there is a portrait of Taras near the portrait of the president. Only one difference separates them: the images of presidents change, and Shevchenko’s does not. His portrait is symbolic, it is like a model for the presidential ones.

The importance of the versatile poet who became a symbol of Ukraine in the present cannot be described in one essay, for Shevchenko will be important as long as he lives in the hearts of thinking people…

By Mykhailo Lomonosov, 19 years old, Chernihiv

By Ruric Ellings, 16 years old, Washington State

After living in America for nearly half a century, my Dido (grandfather), moved back to his native Ukraine at the age of 82. He hoped that after the victory of the Orange Revolution, Ukraine would finally establish a true democracy. He wanted to live out the rest of his life in the homeland he had to leave as a young man. He wanted to die on Ukrainian soil.

When the Russian Red Army invaded western Ukraine in 1943-4, Dido joined other young men from Halychyna (Galicia) to defend Ukraine. Many of his friends died, but Dido survived, and fled to the West, leaving his family behind. He would never see his mother or father again. Like thousands of other Ukrainian refugees, he settled in the United States to work and raise a family.

Dido never forgot where he came from, and he never let us forget, either. There was a big poster in his house of a balding, mustachioed man sternly pointing his finger, (like those WWI army recruitment posters proclaiming, “Uncle Sam wants you!”) The caption on Dido’s poster asked, “Do your children speak my language?”

I eventually figured out that this serious character in the poster was the 19th century Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, and that his message challenged us to know and use our Ukrainian language. (That explained a lot to me, like why my mother made me memorize those lengthy poems for our community’s Shevchenko celebration every March. It explained the tiny bust of Shevchenko planted on my bookshelf, along with series of Ukrainian language books and a thick tome of the Kobzar)

Dido loved America. He wholeheartedly embraced the freedom he found here as an immigrant. Still, deep in his heart, he yearned for his homeland. Vivid memories remained with him for decades: the taste of his mama’s “pampukhy” (donuts) on Christmas Eve, and the aroma of spring in his family’s fruit grove. He seemed to have photographic recall about the streets and buildings of his town; he could name the species of all the trees at the town’s edge, where his family lived. Often, his eyes would water, making him unable to continue his stories about some of his most difficult years. And so he started to write them down, and published a book about his life and the struggle he and thousands of Ukrainians experienced in the 1940s when their stateless homeland became a bloody battlefield of German and Soviet forces. In his book, (My Struggle for Freedom) he was able to convey his grief about having to leave “a land that was ours, but not our own” as Shevchenko put it. (Shevchenko Museum, online)

Years later, I recognized that same deep yearning in Shevchenko’s poetry. Although Shevchenko and Dido lived almost a century apart, both were forced to leave their country because of oppressive governments. Shevchenko wrote a lot about his love and longing for Ukraine, and his desire to live in a free Ukraine. (William Matthews, University of London 1951) In 1847, Shevchenko was exiled from Ukraine for 10 years for his association with a group of Ukrainian intellectuals who worked towards social reform. His dream of living out the rest of his life in Ukraine never came true; he died at the age of 47 in 1861. Below is a part of a poem written by Shevchenko during his exile in 1848. (Translated by Peter Fedynsky, The Complete Kobzar, The Poetry of Taras Shevchenko. 2013)

“O my dear Lord!
How much more am I to roam the world
Along this useless sea and this open jail?
Silent is the yellowed grass,
Which sways amid the steppe as
If it were alive…”

In Zapovit, (translated by Peter Fedynsky in The Complete Kobzar The Poetry of Taras Shevchenko. 2013) Shevchenko expressed his deepest wish that his final resting place be in his country:

“When I die, then bury me
Atop a mound
Amid the steppe’s expanse
In my beloved Ukraine,
So I may see
The great broad fields,
The Dnipro and the cliffs,
So I may hear the river roar…”

While banished to a foreign land, Shevchenko tried to recreate the country he yearned for in his poems with depictions of Ukrainian steppes and groves. The Dnipro River appeared in Shevchenko’s works as a symbol of the strength of his nation. ( Michael Naydan, The Complete Kobzar The Poetry of Taras Shevchenko) Such images represent what Dido referred to as “ridne”. This Ukrainian word describes a relationship with something or someone known and cherished. It implies kinship and belonging. Shevchenko was an orphan. For most of his life, he felt alone and yet he wrote a lot about belonging to a family. The family addressed in his poems were his fellow Ukrainians; he called them his brothers and sisters.

I wonder whether Shevchenko could imagine that the family his work was written for would grow to include future generations of people like my Dido, and me, who live in different time periods, and even on different continents. Shevchenko made the struggles of the millions of enslaved serfs a part of my history. Similarly, Dido’s descriptions of the battles Ukrainians waged 70 years ago have also become a part of my history.

As a sixteen year old who grew up in the United States, in the Pacific Northwest, I never lived through the traumas of 19th century Ukrainian peasants; I haven’t had to fight for my very existence as my Dido did, or stand up to my corrupt government as millions of Ukrainians are doing right now. But as part of Shevchenko’s family, I stand with them. I hope that my now 90 year-old Dido will live to see Shevchenko’s dream of a truly free and independent Ukraine. And when the sad day comes when we have to lay Dido to rest, I pray that we will do it on the land “that is truly our own”. (Shevchenko)



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