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 and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I'll pray...
But until that day
I know nothing of God.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrant's 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 Hryhorovych Shevchenko 1814 - 1861🇺🇦
Translated by John Weir, Toronto 1961
Birth, Childhood, & Youth
Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko was born on 9th March 1814 and died on 10th 1861, aged 47 years.
Taras was also known as Kobzar Taras or simply Kobzar. Kobzar being the Ukrainian word for bard. Taras was a Ukrainian poet, writer, public and political figure.
His literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and to a large extent the modern Ukrainian language; though it is not the language of his poems. Shevchenko is also known for his many masterpieces as a painter and an illustrator.
Taras Shevchenko was born in the village of Moryntsi in Zvenyhorodka County in Kyiv Governorate, Russian Empire. ( Today: Zvenyhorodka Raion, Ukraine.)
He was the third child after Kateryna, his sister and Mykyta, his brother. He was born into a family of serf peasants who were owned by their landlord, Vasily Engelhardt.
According to the family legends, Taras’s forefathers were Cossacks who served in the Zaporozhian Host and had taken part in the Cossack uprisings of the 17th and 18th centuries. Those uprisings were brutally suppressed in Cherkasy, Poltava, Kyiv, Bratslav and Chernihiv, disrupting normal social life for many years afterwards. Most of the local population were then enslaved and reduced to poverty.
In 1816 the family moved to Kyrylivka where Taras’s father had been born. Two more sisters and another son were born to the family and Taras’s education started. From 1822 – 1828, Taras painted soldiers and horses.
On 1st September 1823 his hard working mother died. One month later his father remarried. His stepmother already had three children and she was especially cruel to young Taras.
At the age of eleven, Taras became an orphan on 2nd April 1825 when his father died as a serf in corvee ( Corvée is a form of unpaid, forced labour, which is intermittent in nature and which lasts limited periods of time: typically only a certain number of days’ work each year.) Soon after his stepmother and her children returned to Moryntsi, where she came from.
After being taken on as an apprentice, Taras ran away to find a painting master to work for. He did various jobs including, shepherd, cart-driver, and as a serving boy at a lord’s court in Vilshana where he was given permission to study painting.
When Taras became fourteen his landlord and ‘owner’ died and the whole village and people of the village of Kyrylivka became the property of his son, Pavlo Engelhardt. In 1829 Pavlo caught Taras painting at night, a portrait of the Cossack hero, Matvil Platov from the Patriotic War of 1812. He was so angry he boxed the young man’s ears and had him beaten in the stables with rods. During 1829 – 1833 Taras copied paintings of Suzdal masters.
Adult Life, Exile & Death
In 1831 Pavlo Engelhardt moved to St. Petersburg and took Taras Shevchenko with him and apprenticed him to the painter, Vasiliy Shiriayev for four years.
In 1833 Taras painted a portrait of his master, Pavlo Engelhardt which is now in the National Museum of Taras Shevchenko.
Through his friend, Ivan Soschenko he met Professor Karl Briullov, a famous painter, who was encouraged by Taras’s friends to donate his portrait of Russian Poet, Vasily Zhukovsky as a lottery prize. The proceeds were used to buy Taras Shevchenko’s freedom from Pavlo Engelhardt on 13th May 1838.
Accepted into the Academy of Arts in the workshop of Karl Briullov, then in the following year 1839, he was accepted as a student into the National Association of the Encouragement of Artists. During the various annual examinations of the Imperial Academy of Arts Shevchenko won the Silver Medal in:
- 1839 – Landscape painting
- 1840 – First Oil painting
- 1841 – The Gypsy Fortune Teller.
Although Taras Shevchenko started writing poetry while he was still a serf, it was not until 1840 that his first book of poetry, Kobzar, was published.
He wrote 237 poems although only 30 were ever published in his lifetime. Of his paintings, 835 survived into modern times but some 270 are lost or have not been found yet.
Taras Shevchenko returned to Ukraine several times whilst living in St.Petersburg. He visited his siblings and was concerned that they were still serfs and the conditions they had to live in. On one of his trips back to Ukraine he met with historian, Nikolay Kostomarov and the clandestine secret society, known as the Ukrainian-Slavic Society (Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius.)
This society was dedicated to the political liberalisation of the Russian Empire and its transformation into a federation of Slavic nations. Following the suppression by the authorities, Shevchenko wrote a poem called ‘Dream’ which was confiscated and led to his arrest; together with all the society’s members on 5th April 1847.
The poem was read by Tsar Nicholas 1 who knew the Ukrainian llanguage. He enjoyed it until he got to the part where there were insults to the Tsarina.
Taras Shevchenko was charged with using the Ukrainian language, writing outrageous content and not being grateful to have been redeemed out of serfdom. He was further charged with alleging the enslavement of Ukraine, glorifying the Cossack Hetmanate and with incredible audacity poured slander and bile on persons of the Imperial House.
After being convicted, he was exiled as a private to the Russian Military Garrison at Orenburg in Orsk near the Ural Mountains. Tsar Nicholas 1 personally confirmed the sentence with the caveat that he should be, “Under the strictest surveillance, without the right to write or paint.” He was then force-marched from St Petersburg to the garrison in Orsk.
In 1848 he was assigned to an expedition to the Aral Sea where his job was drawing! On his return, he was sent to one of the worst penal settlements, the remote fortress of Novopetrovsk in the Mangyshlak Peninsula, where he spent seven terrible years. He was able to do another geological expedition on the peninsula and in 1857 after receiving an amnesty from a new emperor, Taras Shevchenko returned from exile but not to St. Petersburg. He had to stay in Nizhniy Novgorod, an administration centre on the Volga River.
In 1859 Shevchenko got permission to return to Ukraine. He intended to buy a plot of land but got arrested again, this time for blasphemy. The charge was dropped but he was ordered to St. Petersburg. Taras Shevchenko spent his last two years, painting, writing and editing his poetry and plays. Due to his difficult years in exile and his
various illnesses he died on 10th March 1861 in St. Petersburg. This was only 7 days before the emancipation of serfs law was brought in.
He was originally buried in St. Petersburg but knowing of his wish to be buried in Ukraine, his friends arranged the transfer of his remains by train to Moscow and then by horse-drawn wagon to Ukraine where he was reburied on Monk’s Hill (Now Taras Hill) near the Dnipro River and Kaniv. A mound was erected over his grave now a memorial part of The Kaniv Memorial Preserve.
Taras Shevchenko’s life and work are revered by Ukrainians throughout the world and his impact on Ukrainian literature is immense.
©Original information from Wikipedia.