Taras Shevchenko Museum of Canada
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Museum Building

Taras H. Shevchenko
Museum & Memorial
Park Foundation

1614 Bloor St. West
Toronto Ontario
M6P 1A7
Tel: 416-534-8662
Fax: 416-535-1063


   Short Biography
   St. Petersburg Period
   Arrest and Exile
   Final Years
   Quick facts on Shevchenko Biography
   My Destiny - an autobiographical essay by Taras Shevchenko

Final Years, Freedom on a Chain

On August 2, 1857, Taras Shevchenko sailed from Novopetrovsk Fortress on a fishing boat and after three days on the Caspian Sea arrived at Astrakhan. From there he took a steamboat up the Volga to Nizhny Novgorod.

Shevchenko Art
T. Shevchenko
Self-Portrait in Fur Hat.
Etching. 1860

On board the ship he procured the lastest illegal revolutionary literature, and also became engrossed in the works of his contemporary, the great satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin, whom he considered a worthy successor to the great Gogol. Shevchenko wrote in his diary:" Write, raise your voice on behalf of that poor, dirty, reviled rabble! On behalf of that desecrated, lowly, smerd!"

When Shevchenko arrived in Nizhny Novgorod, he was informed that entrance to the capital was forbidden him. In consequence, he was compelled to live about six months in Nizhny. "Now I am free... as free as a dog on a chain" he wrote from Nizhny Novgorod to his friend, the famous Russian actor, M. Shchepkin.

Shevchenko's release returned the pen to the poet. He began by rereading, correcting and rewriting his earlier works. Simultaniously he begun to work on a new poem, The Neophytes. The scene of the poem was transferred to the ancient Roman Empire. It is easy to surmise why that was done.

The reader readily saw through the camouflage and understood that Nero was Nicholas I, the patricians were the landowners and upper classes generally, the plebs were the people, and the Neophytes were the revolutionaries, champions of the people's happiness.

In one of the poems written in Nizhny Novgorod, Shevchenko tells his muse:

With lips that know no lie
Teach but the truth to preach...

To preach the truth - that, to Shevchenko was his lofty duty. And he remained true to that precept all his life. Shevchenko served the truth as a man, as a citizen, as an artist, and as a master of the pen, who profoundly understood the power of words and selected them as his weapons in the struggle for the happiness of the degraded and the oppressed.

I shall lift up
These lowly, voiceless slaves!
And I shall put my words
To stand on guard for them!

In March 1858, Shevchenko finally received permission to enter the capital of the Russian Tsar. On his way to St. Petersburg he stopped over in Moscow to visit Shchepkin and other Moscow friends.

"In Moscow I was particularly pleased to find among celebrated Moscovites the very warmest cordiality toward me personally, and unfeigned appreciate of my poetry."

A wave of new impressions overwhelmed the poet. He realized that an intense struggle was beginning to gain momentum. It was waged by the new revolutionary-democratic camp in the Russian Empire, which was striving to emancipate the working people and destroy the autocracy. So he hastened to St. Petersburg, although the freedom that awaited him there was but a phantom, since he would be under constant police surveillance.

V. Averin, Shevchenko with representatives 
                    of Russian democratic revolutionary literature
V. Averin, Shevchenko with representatives of Russian democratic revolutionary literature(Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov, Nekrasov, Kurochkin and Mikhailov)

Taras Shevchenko arrived in St. Petersburg in the spring of 1858. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the foremost Russian intellectuals. The doors of the literary salons were flung open to him. "A new star has risen over Taras's head... St. Petersburg now does not know where to seat him, how to best entertain him," one of his contemporaries wrote.

Shevchenko became closely associated with Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov and other writers grouped around the most progressive journal of that time, Sovremennik (The Contemporary). Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov held Shevchenko's revolutionary ardor in high regard and greatly esteemed the poet-accuser and poet-citizen.

Shevchenko also called upon the people to take up the axe and start the decisive struggle:

Await no good,
Expected freedom don't await -
It is asleep:Tsar Nicholas
Lulled it to sleep. But if you'd wake
This sickly freedom, all the folk
Must in their hands sledgehammers take
And axes sharp - and then all go
That sleeping freedom to awake.

During this period Shevchenko's political poems became especially mature and poignant. One of his contemporaries wrote:"Shevchenko's accusations have become unrestrained; he strikes and he smashes; he is all afire with a frenzied, all-consuming flame".

He foretold that the day was near when "they'll lead the Tsar to execution," then "there'll be no foes, no evildoers, there will be sons, there will be mothers, and there'll be people on the earth."

The Ukrainian poet was not only a participant in the revolutuionary movement of the 1860s, but he exerted a fruitful influence on the development of progressive thought in Russia. No wonder Chernyshevsky considered Shevchenko an "incontestable authority" on the pesant question which was of special concern to the revolutionary democrats.

In 1859 Shevchenko sojourned in Ukraine for the last time. He visited places where he had spent his childhood, he saw his relatives, and observed the same life of poverty and slavery, the same drudgery for a crust of bread as before. There, too, he was under constant police surveillance. Gendarmes and spies evesdropped on his conversations with the peasants. Finally, he was arrested again.

The poet was barred from living in Ukraine and was forced to return to St. Petersburg. He lived in the attic of the Academy of Art in St. Petersburg, and enthusiastically busied himself with engraving, seeing it as a marvelous means for the propagation of art.

Shevchenko Art
T.Shevchenko, Beggar in Graveyard, 1859

Shevchenko achieved significant successes in etching and engraving. In 1860 the title of Academician of Engraving was bestowed upon him.

It would be incorrect to assume that Shevchenko limited himself only to themes and subjects from the life of the peasantry, which were close and dear to him. His wide knowlege in all spheres of world culture enabled him to turn to any historical epoch and make bold conclusions and generalizations. Describing the bloody struggle of the Haidamaky, for instance, the poet recalled the St. Bartholomew's night massacre; telling about the Neophytes, he drew an analogy between them and the Decembrists. Shevchenko often turned to biblical themes, and especially to the psalms of the old Hebrew prophets, from which he borrowed both themes and epigraphs. He found much genuine poetry both in the psalms and in the legends of the Gospel. All this served him as material that affirmed the principles of beauty, justice and love of humankind. The poet did not simply retell the contents. With all the power of original talent, and from his viewpoint of a revolutionary democrat, he transformed certain thoughts of a legendary prophet or biblical motif lending them an anti-Tsarist, anti-serfdom and revolutionary message.

Shevchenko's revolutionary convictions were formed gradually. He forged and tempered his outlook in the crucible of suffering and agonizing meditation.

From his early years Shevchenko reacted painfully to the oppression of man by man, and hated the oppressors. However, in the poem To the Dead and Living...(1845) the poet still tended to fleetingly entertain the illusion... he could yet address the Ukrainian gentry with the plea:

I pray you, brothers of mine, embrace
Your smallest brother too...

Such appeals became impossible for him later, as he believed in the reconciliation of the irreconcilable which then gave way to indomitable anger and flaming hatred of "the Czar and princelings." landowners , priests and the stooges of the Tsar and the masters. The lyrical poems The Dream amd The Caucasus, which evoked the wrath of Nicholas I and his faithful lackeys, were written prior to exile; there can be no doubt about their revolutionary, anti-Tsarist nature, and the indignation they aroused in the crowned hangman is quite understandable. Shevchenko's revolutionary outlook became profound and was steeled during his exile, and became fully defined and crystallized after his release.

Exhausted by the ordeals he underwent during exile, in prisons and in Ukraine, in the midst of that nature which he loved so much and described so beautifully. But a severe illness brought him down. On the morning of March 10th 1861, Shevchenko died.

Short Biography
St.Petersburg Period
Arrest and Exile
Final Years
Quick facts on Shevchenko Biography
My Destiny - an autobiographical essay by Taras Shevchenko

Prints of Taras Shevchenko's watercolours are available at the Shevchenko Museum. These quality prints would be an excellent gift for Shevchenko art lovers. more...

Collection of Ukrainian handicrafts and folk art
First Ukrainian Immigration to Canada
Shevchenko Stamp Collection
Quick Facts on Shevchenko Biography
Become a Donor

The son of a serf, Shevchenko became not only an artist and academician of Saint-Petersburg Academy of Art, but one of the most versatile people of 19th century.His paintings and graphics reflect a refined world that did not resemble his own life...(more)


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Since Feb 25th 2005