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(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
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
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.
T.Shevchenko, Beggar in Graveyard,
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
Shevchenko's revolutionary convictions were formed gradually. He
forged and tempered his outlook in the crucible of suffering and
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.
Arrest and Exile
Quick facts on Shevchenko Biography
Destiny - an autobiographical essay by Taras Shevchenko