The Days Go By
The days go by, the nights go by,
The summer's passing; yellow leaves
Are rustling; light deserts the eye,
Thoughts fade away and feeling sleep -
All falls asleep. And I don't know
If I'm alive or but so-so,
Just floundering about the earth,
For I know neither rue nor mirth...
Where art thou, Fate? Where art thou, Fate?
No fate have I at all!
If You begrudge good fortune, Lord,
Let evil fate befall!
Don't let me walk around asleep,
A dead heart in my breast,
And roll about, a rotten log,
A hindrance to the rest.
Oh, let me live, live with my heart
And love the human race,
But if not that ... then let me curse
And set the world ablaze!
It's terrible to lie in chains,
To rot in dungeon deep,
But it's still worse, when you are free
To sleep and sleep and sleep -
And then forever close your eyes
And leave not e'en a trace,
So that the fact you lived or died
No whit of difference makes!
Where art thou, Fate? Where art thou, Fate?
No fate have I at all!
If You begrudge good fortune, Lord,
Let evil fate befall!
Vyunishcha, December 21, 1845
Translated by John Weir
Lights Are Blazing
The lights are blazing, music's playing,
Like jewels gleaming in the night
The eyes of youth are shining gaily,
Alight with hope, with pleasure flaming;
Their eyes are bright, for to the sight
Of innocence all things seem right.
So all are laughing, all are jolly,
And all are dancing. Only I,
As though accursed, in melancholy
Look on and wipe a mournful eye.
Why do I weep? Perhaps the reason's
That dreary, like the rainy season,
My youth has uselessly slipped by.
Translated by John Weir, Toronto
To V. I. Sternberg
At one time in Ukraina
Cannons roared like thunder;
At one time the Zaporozhtsy
Knew the path to power.
So they ruled and they acquired
Glory, yes, and freedom;
That is past - they've left behind them
Tombs upon the meadows.
And those tombs are high and lofty,
Where they laid to slumber
The white body of a Kozak
Wrapped in cloth of crimson.
And those tombs are high and lofty,
Black as gloomy mountains.
In the field they speak of freedom
Softly to the breezes.
And they speak to passing breezes
Of the past and serfdom.
And the grandson reaps the harvest
Singing songs they fashioned.
At one time in Ukraina
Evil there was dancing.
Sorrow vanished with the drinking
In the jolly circle.
At one time in Ukraina
Life was good and merry.
Let's recall it! Our hearts, maybe,
Can thus find some solace.
St. Petersburg, 1839
Translated by Clarence A. Manning
Top of the page
The Night of Taras
At the cross roads sits the kobzar,
Playing on his kobza;
Round about are boys and maidens,
Red as poppy flowers.
Plays the kobzar and he's singing,
Telling in his stories
How the Poles, the Horde, the Moskals
Struggled 'gainst the Kozaks;
How the brotherhood assembled
Early on a Sunday;
How they buried a young Kozak
In the green ravine;
Plays the kobzar and he's singing,
Even Evil's smiling.
"Formerly we had the Hetmans,
That is gone forever;
Formerly we knew to govern,
Nevermore we'll do it.
Yet the former Kozak glory
We are ne'er forgetting!
Now a cloud looms over Lyman
From the field another follows;
Ukraine's fate is such forever
To have endless sorrows.
My dear heart! My darling!
When I tell of your misfortune,
Then my heart starts weeping!
What has happened to the Kozaks
With their crimson tunics?
Where are vanished our old freedom,
Standards, and the Hetmans?
What has happened? Are they ashes?
Has the blue sea swallowed
All your noble, holy mountains
And your tombs so lofty?
Mountains speak not, plays the blue sea.
And the tombs are mournful,
While above the Kozak children
Heathen rascals triumph!
Play, O sea! Speak up, O mountains!
Blow, winds, o'er the meadows!
Weep, O children of the Kozaks!
Such is now your fortune!
Translated by Clarence A. Manning
A Spring Evening
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 mothers with supper wait at home.
Close by the house they eat their supper;
Just then the evening-star appears;
As daughter serves. Her mother cares
To teach to do things in ways proper.
The nightingale's song interferes.
Close to the wall on the clay-benches
The mother lulls her Nell and Bill,
And falls asleep ... But the sweet wenches
And nightingales are singing still.
Translated by Honore Ewach
Top of the page
If You But Knew
Young gentlemen, if you but knew
Where people weep their whole life through
You'd not compose your rhapsodies
And God for nothing you'd not praise -
And mock our tears and twit the truth.
The tranquil cottage in the grove
You call a paradise, I know.
In such a cottage once I dwelt
And there my first hot tears were spilt,
My early tears! I know no vice,
No wrong or evil anywhere
That's not within that cottage fair ...
And yet they call it paradise!
I do not speak of that wee house
Beside the village, by the copse,
As though 'twere paradise on earth.
'Twas there my mother gave me birth
And, singing as her child she nursed,
She passed her pain to me ... 'Twas there,
In that wee house, that Eden fair,
That I saw hell ... There people slave
Without a let-up night and day,
Not even given time to pray.
In that same village to her grave
My gentle mother, young in years,
Was laid by toil and want and cares-
There father, weeping with his brood
(And we were tiny, tattered tots),
Could not withstand his bitter lot
And died at work in servitude! . . .
And we — we scattered where we could
Like little field mice. I to school —
To carry water for the class.
My brothers slaved on the estate
And then, conscripted, marched away!
And you, my sisters! Fortune has
Reserved for you the cruellest fate!
What is the purpose of your life?
Your youth in service slipped away,
Your locks in servitude turn grey,
In service, sisters, you will die!
My blood runs cold when I recall
That cottage in the village fair!
Such deeds, 0 God. do we do there
Where piety rules over all
And all in paradise should dwell!
Of heaven we have made a hell,
Yet for another heaven call.
We with our brothers live in peace,
We with our brothers plow the fields
And water them with brothers' tears.
And also, maybe . . . Nay, I fear,
But so it seems . . . perhaps, 0 God
(Because without Thy will divine
We'd not in nakedness repine
In paradise), perhaps You mock
Us also, Father, from the sky
And with the masters You conspire
On how to rule us here below.
For look: there smiles a verdant grove,
And from behind the grove a pool
Peeps shyly out, behind it stands
A row of willows washing hands,
Their branches, in the waters cool ...
Is this not truly paradise?
Look once again until your eyes
See what has made this heaven cruel!
You'll see rejoicing, songs of praise
To Him, our God above, alone
For all the marvels He has made!
No, not a bit! There's praise for none!
Just blasphemy and blood and wails -
All things are cursed, all is blasphemed!
There's nothing sacred left on earth ...
And even Thee, it seems to me,
The people have already cursed!
Translated by John Weir, Toronto
I Am Unwell
I am not feeling well, I fear,
And yet the eye sees something near,
The heart for something seems to wait.
It weeps and whimpers, yearns and aches,
Just like a tot that's not been fed.
Perhaps the things that lie ahead
Will evil prove? Await no good,
Long longed-for freedom don't await —
It is asleep: our gracious tsar
Lulled it to sleep. But if you'd wake
This sickly freedom, all the folk
Into their hands must sledges take
And axes sharpen well — then go
That sleeping freedom to awake.
If not, the wretched thing will stay
Asleep right up to Judgment Day!
The master class will keep it lulled,
More palaces and shrines they'll build,
Their drunken tsar they will adore,
Sing praises to Byzanthian ways,
And, all the signs say, nothing more.
St. Petersburg, November 22nd,
Translated by John Weir, Toronto
Top of the page
Shevchenko called the poem below (which, by the
way, was the one which sent the tsar into the greatest rage) a Comedy,
that is, a farce. It is one of the most devastating political satires
In the first part, the poet describes conditions in Ukraine. In
the second, he is transported to the northern reaches of Siberia
where prisoners toiled in the mines, among them the revolutionary
democrats - the Decembrists ("the king of freedom"). Then the scene
shifts to St. Petersburg.
"The Second to the First" is engraved on the monument Empress Catherine
II erected beside the Neva River to Tsar Peter I. Shevchenko recalls
the destruction of the Sich (fortress) of the Ukrainian Cossacks
by the tsars and how the Cossacks and serfs were driven to build
St. Petersburg on the marshes, where many perished. He depicts their
souls as a flock of white birds hovering over the tsar. The acting
hetman (whose song is heard by the poet) was Pavlo Polubotok, imprisoned
by Peter the Great in the Petro-pavlovsky fortress, where he died
Even the spirit of truth, whom
the world cannot receive because
it seeth him not, neither knoweth him.
John, Chapter 14, Verse 17.
Each person's destiny's his own,
His road before him lies:
This one builds up, that one tears down,
And that casts greedy eyes
O'er all the earth, to find somewhere
A land not yet enslaved,
Which he could conquer and then bear
With him into the grave.
This fellow in his neighbour's home
His host cleans out at cards,
While that one in a corner hones
A blade for brother's heart.
Then there's the solid citizen,
The worthy, pious kind,
Who'll creep up like a cat and then
Bide patiently his time
Until hard luck hits your affairs,
Then pounce! - Don't plead your cause:
Your wife's appeals and children's tears
Won't save you from his claws.
And that one, generous and grand,
The fervent patriot,
So deeply loves his native land,
So worries o'er its lot,
As from his country's heart he sucks
The blood as though 'twas water!...
The brethren meanwhile sit and look,
Their eyes agape like saucers!
And bleat like lambs: "Perhaps it was
Thus ordained from on high."
That's how it's meant to be! Because
There's no God in the sky!
You pull your yoke until your breath
Gives out and you are done,
Yet pray for heaven after death?
In vain! There's none! There's none!
Your labour's lost. Come to! Come to!
In this world every one -
The princes, and the beggars, too,
They all are Adam's sons.
Both he... and he... What's this I prate?
What is it all about?
I banquet every single day,
Carouse day in, day out,
While you with envy burn and hate!
Don't scold: 'Twill do no good -
I'm deaf to you! I drink my own,
Not other people's blood!
Such thoughts went flitting through my head
As tipsy from a merry feast
In dead of night, on reeling feet,
I made my way to home and bed.
No bawling child or nagging spouse
Have I to spoil my rest -
With perfect peace I'm blest
Both in my mind and in my house.
I climbed into my bed
And soon slept like the dead.
And when a man has had a few,
Though cannon roar he still will snore,
He'll sleep whate'er you do.
Oh, what a vision rare I saw
In sleep that night:
A staunch abstainer would get iight,
A tightwad would a coin bestow,
If they could only get a glance.
But not a chance!
I dreamed: high in the air's expanse
It was as though an owl was flying
Over meadows, over valleys,
Over river banks and gulleys,
Over steppes and over forests.
And in the owl's wake I flew, too,
And flying, bid the earth adieu:
"Goodbye, O world, O earth, farewell,
Unfriendly land, goodbye!
My searing pain, my tortures cruel
Above the clouds I'll hide.
And as for you, my dear Ukraine,
I'll leave the clouds behind
And fall with dew to talk with you,
Poor widow-country mine.
I'll come at midnight when the dew
Falls heavy on the fields;
And softly-sadly we will talk
Of what the future yields.
Until the rising of the sun
We'll talk about your woes,
Until your infant sons are grown
And rise against the foes.
Goodbye, my lovely, poor Ukraine,
0 widow-land of mine!
Your children teach the living truth -
That justice is divine!"
We fly... I look - the dawn has come,
The sky's edge bursts ablaze;
In shady glades the nightingales
Sing out the new sun's praise.
The breezes softly, lightly wake
The steppelands from their dreams;
About the coulees, by the lakes
The willows shimmer green.
The orchards, heavy laden, bow;
The poplars stand at ease
Like watchmen who, their duty done,
Hold gossip with the fields.
And all about, the whole land gleams
With nature's warmest hues,
Bedecked with blossoms, dressed in greens,
And bathed in drops of dew.
Since time began it bathes in dew
And greets the morning sun...
There's no beginning to all this,
Of ending, too, there's none!
There's no-one on the earth can raze
And ruin this beauty-land...
And all of this... My aching heart,
My soul, why are you sad?
My poor, my desolated soul,
Why do your useless weep?
For whom is your pity? Alas, can't you see?
And cannot you hear how the multitudes cry?
So go, take a good look! And meantime I'll fly
Into the blue sky, above the grey clouds;
Up there are no rulers, no prisons or knouts,
No jeers of contempt and no people's lament.
Go, closer look: in that same Eden which you flee
His tattered shirt from off a cripple's back they tear
With skin and all - because his hide they need
To shoe their princelings with. And over there
A widow's crucified for taxes, while they drive
Her only son - her only hope! - in chains
Into the army. And there - more dead than 'live,
A starving babe beside a hedge awaits
Its mother from the feudal lord's estate.
And there, d'you see? My eyes! my eyes!
While I was yet a child
Why did you not along with tears
Flow out and leave me blind?
An unwed mother with her babe
Is shuffIing down the lane -
Her parents drove her from the house,
And none will take her in!
E'en beggars chase her from their midst!
Young master pays no mind:
He's had some twenty lasses since,
To while away the time!
Does God look from behind a cloud
And see our woes and ills?
Perhaps He does, but helps as much
As do these ancient hills
Which mute and motionless endure
While washed with human gore!
My soul! My miserable soul!
I cannot suffer more.
Let us drink down a poison draught
And sink into the snow,
And send a thought right up to God
And ask of Him to tell
How long will hangmen longer rule
And turn earth into hell?
Then leave me, my thoughts, my torment, my pain,
And take away with you all evils, all woes -
Your constant companions! Together you've grown
And clung to each other; by woe were you trained
From earliest childhood. So take thern and fly,
Unleash angry riot all over the sky.
Let it turn black, let it turn red,
Let conflagration spread,
Let once again the dragon's breath
Pile mound on mound of dead.
And meanwhile, I will hide my heart
And go far, far away
To seek and find somewhere a place
Where Eden still holds sway.
Again I tell the earth good-bye.
Again above the earth I fly.
It's hard to leave your mother dear,
No roof above her head,
But harder yet to watch her tears,
Her rags, her lack of bread.
I fly, I fly, the north winds blow;
Before lie endless miles of snow,
Muskeg and woods, a fog-bound land,
A wilderness untouched by man.
No human sound, not e'en a track
Is seen of fearful human feet.
To foe and friend alike I speak:
Farewell! I'm never coming back!
Carouse, make merry all you like!
I'll never hear you now -
All by myself I'll sink to sleep
Forever in the snow.
And till the day comes when you find
There is a corner yet
That's not been drenched in blood and tears
I'll take a little rest...
I'll rest a bit... What's this I hear? -
The clanging sound of chains
Beneath the earth... I'll take a look...
Oh, evil human race!
Where have you come from? And what for?
What is it that you seek
Beneath the earth? No! I'm afraid
There'll be no rest for me
In heaven too!... What have I done?
What way am I to blame?
To whom and how have I done wrong?
Whose heavy hands have chained
My soul within this searing breast
And set my heart on fire?
And who let loose these carrion crows -
These rebel thoughts of mine?
I don't know why I suffer so,
Why I'm tormented so!
Oh, when will I my sins atone
And pay the debt I owe? -
I am afraid, I must confess,
I neither see nor know!
Then suddenly the wasteland shook.
As though their coffins they forsook
On that, the final Judgment Day,
The dead arise to justice claim.
No, these are not the dead at all,
And not to judgement claim!
They're people - living, breathing men
In heavy irons chained.
Deep from the bowels of the earth
The gold they daily bring
To fill his hollow coffers with! . . .
They're convicts! . . . Why in chains?
Go ask the tsar... And even he,
Perhaps, cannot explain.
See, there a branded bandit drags
His ball and chain behind;
And there, fresh from the torture rack,
His teeth an outlaw grinds -
To kill his barely-breathing pal
Is topmost in his mind!
And there, amid those wretched dregs,
In iron chains he stands:
The king of freedom! World-wide king,
Crowned with a convict's brand!
In prison dread he does not groan,
He does not quail or weep!
A heart that once with worth was warmed
Will warm forever keep!
And where are the thoughts you so lovingly nurtured,
Your lofty ideals, boId plans for the future -
To whom did you pass them, my friend, oh to whom?
Or will they lie buried with you in the tomb?
Don't bury them, brother! Scatter them wideIy!
They'll sprout and they'll grow - in time they will ripen!
Enough? Or must I undergo
Still more of this? Enough, it's coId
And I must flee these snows.
Again I fly. The land turns dark.
My mind is drowsing, faint my heart.
Big towns I see as I look down,
A hundred churches in each town,
With men their squares and streets are filled -
They're soldiers busy at their drills;
Supplied with boots and clothes and food,
And given heavy chains to boot,
They're training... But what's that ahead?
A swampy, boggy lowland spreads,
And in that slough a city stands;
A heavy cloud above it hangs,
A cloud of fog... Up close I fly -
The city's of enormous size.
Perhaps in Turkey,
Or in Germany,
Or, maybe, even Muscovy:
With churches, palaces galore,
Big-bellied masters score on score,
And not a solitary home!
'Twas growing dark... Then fires were lit -
With torchlights all about
The people press upon all sides...
"Hurrah! Hurrah!" they shout.
"Come to your senses, you poor fools!
What do you celebrate?
Why all the fuss?" "What a khokhol,
Can't see it's a parade!
His Majesty himself has deigned
This day to promenade!"
"So where's that marvel to be seen?"
"There - through the palace gate."
I push my way; a countryman
With buttons made of brass
Elected to acknowledge me:
"Where are you from?" he asked.
"I'm from Ukraine." "How comes it that
You do not even know
To talk the way they do up here?"
I answered, "That's not so -
I know, but do not choose to." "Queer!
Well, I'm in service here,
I know the ins and outs, and so
I'll lead you, if you care,
Into the palace. But, you know,
We're educated folk
So don't be stingy with the tip..."
Oh loathsome inkpot, go
Away from me... I made myself
And to the chambers made my way.
Oh God, what I saw then!
Now there is heaven! In those halls
The very cuspidors
Are gold-encrusted! Scowling, tall,
Here comes himself, the tsar,
To stretch his legs; and at his side
His empress struts and preens,
All wrinkled like a dried-up prune
And like a beanpole lean,
While every time she steps, her head
Goes jiggling on her neck.
Is this the beauty rare they praise?!
Poor thing, you are a wreck!
And silly I, not having seen
You once with my own eyes,
Accepted what your scribblers wrote,
Believed your poets' lies.
Oh, what a fool! I took for cash
A Moscow pledge to pay.
How can I after this believe
The things they write again!
Behind the gods come gentlefolk
In gold and silver dressed,
With heavy jowl and portly paunch -
Of well-fed hogs the best!...
They sweat, but closer, closer press
Around the august thing:
Perhaps he'll deign to slap a face
Or show a royal fig,
Or even half a fig to show,
Or maybe tweak a nose -
If but with his own hand.
Then all line up in one long row
And "at attention" stand.
The tsar-god jabbers; and his spouse,
That royal marvel rare,
Just like a heron among birds
Hops briskly here and there.
They walked about a goodly while,
A pair of puffed-up owls,
And talked in whispers all the time -
We couldn't hear at all -
About the fatherland, I think,
The officers' new pips,
And still more drills for army men! . .
And then the empress sits
In silence on a tabouret.
I watch: the tsar comes close
To him who is of highest rank
And whops him on the nose! . . .
Poor fellow, he just licked his lips
And poked right in the pot
The next in line! . . . Then that one gave
A smaller ace a clout;
That one punched still a smaller fish,
And he - still smaller fry,
Until the smallest at the end
Got theirs and opened wide
The palace gates, and poured outside
Into the city streets
To put the boots to common folks;
Then those began to screech
And holler fit to wake the dead:
"Our little father deigns to play!
"Hooray, hooray, hooray, 'ray, 'ray!"
I laughed out loud, and that was all;
I own, in the melee
I too got banged. 'Twas nearing dawn,
The city was asleep;
Just here and there some orthodox
Lay groaning on the street,
And moaning, begged the Lord their tsar
In best of health to keep.
Laughter and tears! I sauntered forth
The city's sights to see.
There night is bright as day. I look:
Beside the silent stream
Rich mansions, palaces abound,
The river banks are seamed -
Shored up with stone. I look around
As though I were entranced!
What magic wrought such marvels rare
Where once was a morass? . . .
What quantities of human blood
Upon this spot were shed -
Without a knife! Across the way
There looms a fortress dread,
Its steeple rising like an awl -
A comic sight to see.
The tower clock ticks off the time.
I turn - I see a steed
A-gallop and his flying hooves
The granite seem to cleave!
The rider, bareback on the horse,
In something like a cloak,
Is hatless. His bare head's adorned
With leaves, perhaps of oak.
The steed rears up as though it means
To leap across the sea,
And he extends his arm as though
He coveted to seize
The whole, whole world. Who is that man?
I read the message terse
Inscribed upon the mound of stone:
"The Second to the First."
I understand right well what's meant
By those laconic words:
The First was he who crucified
The Second - she who finished off
Whatever yet remained.
Oh, butchers! butchers! cannibals!
And did you gorge and loot
Enough when 'live? And when you died
What did you take with you?
A heavy weight pressed on my heart.
It was as though engraved
Upon that granite I could read
The story of Ukraine.
I stand . . . And then I faintly hear
A melancholy strain,
From ghostly lips a mournful song:
"From Hlukhov-town at break of dawn
The regiments withdrew
To build abutments on the line.
I, with a Cossack crew,
As acting hetman of Ukraine
Due northward took my course -
Up to the capital. Oh God!
Oh wicked tsar, accurst!
Oh crafty, evil, grasping tsar,
Oh viper poison-fanged!
What did you with the Cossacks do?
Their noble bones you sank
In the morass and on them built
On tortured Cossack corpses built!
And me, a hetman free,
You threw into a dungeon dark
And left in chains to die
Of hunger . . . Tsar! We'll never part.
We are forever tied
Together by those heavy chains.
E'en God cannot untie
Those bonds between us. Oh, it's hard
Eternally to bide
Beside the Neva! Far Ukraine
Exists, perhaps, no more.
I'd fly to see if she's still there,
But God won't let me go.
It may be Moscow's razed the land,
And emptied to the sea
Our Dnieper, and our lofty mounds
Dug up - so none may see
The relics of our former fame.
Oh God, please pity me."
Then silence fell again. I look:
Across the leaden sky
A white cloud like a sheet is drawn
And from it comes a cry,
A dismal howl. That's not a cloud -
A flock of snowy birds
Soar like a cloud above the tsar
And wail a mournful dirge:
"We're chained together with you too,
Inhuman monster vile!
When Judgment Day comes we'll screen God
From your rapacious eye.
"Twas you that drove us from Ukraine
A hungry, tattered lot -
Into these far-off snows to toil,
And here our throats you cut;
Our bleeding skins you used as cloth
To make your purple robe,
Our sinews served you as the thread
With which the robe to sew.
Your new throne-city thus you built:
Palaces and churches!
Rejoice then, wicked, vicious tsar!
Curses on you, curses!"
They flew away, they all dispersed.
The morning sun appeared.
I still stood fascinated there,
With awe akin to fear.
The poor were hurrying to work
Though it was early still,
And soldiers, lined up in the squares,
Were busy at their drills.
Young drowsy girls came scurrying
Along the sidewalk's edge,
But homeward, not away from home
They bent their weary tread! . . .
Their mothers send them out all night
To earn a crust of bread.
I stand there with a heavy heart
And bow my aching head
And think how hard must people toil
To earn their daily bread.
The civil servants hasten next
Their office desks to man,
To scribble - and to rob the folks
Of everything they can.
Among them here and there I see
They chatter in the Russian tongue
And bitterly condemn
Their parents that when they were small
They didn't teach them how
To jabber German - that's the cause
They've no promotions now!
Oh leeches, leeches! It may be
Your father sadly sold
His last remaining cow that you
The Moscow tongue should know.
My poor Ukraine! My poor Ukraine!
These are your hapless sons,
Your youthful blossoms, splashed with ink,
In German reared salons,
On Moscow's silly-potions fed
Until they are inane! . . .
Oh weep, my childless widow-land!
And now to visit once again
The royal palace hall
And see what's doing there. I come -
The upper crust stands, all
Panting, snorting, short of breath,
Big-bellied, puffed with pride
Like turkey gobblers, and each one
Askance the doorway eyed.
And now the waited moment's here -
The portal swings ajar
And like a grizzly from his den
He shambles out - the tsar;
All bloated and his face tinged green:
His hangover was bad.
At those who stood out front he roared,
The fattest of the fat -
And instantly they disappeared,
Just vanished into air!
With bulging eyes he looked around
And struck fear everywhere.
And then as though he'd gone berserk
At smaller fish he roared -
They disappeared. Then at the fry -
They too are there no more!
To servants next he turned - and they,
They too were whisked away.
Then to the soldiers - they dissolved
And didn't leave a trace
Upon the earth. Oh what a sight -
A miracle for fair!
I look to see what else will be,
What next my teddy-bear
Intends to do! He just stands there
With hanging head. And lo,
What's happened to the raging beast
He was a while ago?
Meek as a kitten now - how droll! . . .
I laughed to see the sight.
He heard and cast a glance at me -
I froze from sudden fright
And woke from sleep . .
Such was my rare
And truly wondrous dream!
How strange it was! . . . Tis but by loons
And drunks such dreams are seen.
Don't be astonished at this tale,
My well-beloved friends,
I did not tell you what I saw,
But only what I dreamt.
July 8th, 1844, St. Petersburg.
Translated by John Weir
Top of the page
(Maiden's song from "Topolya" — Silver
Swim, o swan, my snowy cygnet,
O'er the sea's blue water!
Keep on growing taller, taller,
Slender silver poplar!
Rise up slim and straight and stately
To the clouds above
And ask God if I am fated
Ne'er to find my love?
Rise until your topmost branches
See across the sea!
On that side's my happy future,
Here — just misery.
There, perhaps, my handsome lover
Spends his days at play,
While I wait and weep and wither,
Years slip fast away.
Tell my sweetheart how I suffer,
How the people jeer;
I will die unless my dear one
Comes back home to me!
E'en my mother, deaf to pity,
Drives me to my grave . . .
Who'll then care for her and tend her
When she's old and grey?
Who will nurse her, soothe her forehead
When the fever burns?
Oh, my mother! ... My misfortune! . . .
I've nowhere to turn!
Look across the sea, o poplar!
And, if he's not there, —
Face the east when day is dawning,
Drop a silent tear . . .
Grow up straight and tall and stately,
Slender silver poplar!
Swim, o swim, my snowy cygnet,
Sail upon the water!
1839, St. Petersburg.
Translated by John Weir
The poem below in given incomplete
(six sections out of fourteen). The name Haidamaki was given by
the Polish gentry to the peasant rebels that operated together with
the Cossaks on the part of Ukraine that still remained under Polish
rule during the eighteenth century. The word is of Turkic origin
and means "unruly ones". The height of the Haidamaki movement,
known as Koliyivshchina, was reached in 1768, and this is the theme
of Shevchenko's poem.
To Vassily Ivanovich Grigorovich
in memory of April 22, 1838
All flows and all passes—this goes on forever....
Yet where does it vanish? And whence did it come?
The fool does not know, and the sage knows no better.
There's life... then there's death.... As here blossoms a
Another there withers beyond a returning....
Its yellow leaves fall, to be green never more.
But still the bright sun will come up in the morning,
At nightfall the stars will come out as before
To swim in the heavens, and then, gentle sister,
You too, silver moon, will come out for a stroll,
You'll glance as you pass into puddles and cisterns,
And sparkle the oceans—you'll shine as of old
You shone over Babylon's fabulous gardens,
And as ages from now you will still be regarding
What haps to our children. Forever you'll glow!
I tell you my notions, my heart I unburden,
And sing you the muses inspired by yourself.
Oh, what shall I do with my onerous burden?
Advise me, for I am not just by myself,
I've children: what am I to do with my offspring?
To bury them with me? That would be a crime —
The soul is alive. Its ordeal may be softened
If someone will read these word-teardrops of mine,
The tears that were shed in the night, in seclusion,
The tears that were poured from the heart in profusion.
I'll not have them buried, for they are alive!
And as the blue sky overhead has no limit,
There's also no start and no end to the spirit.
And where does the soul stay? Those words are but guile!!
May it on some heart here on earth leave an imprint —
Because it is hard unremembered to die.
Oh girls, to remember you first are obliged!
For it always loved you, my roses, sincerely,
And tenderly strove your sad lot to describe.
So rest ye in peace until daybreak, my children,
The while I consider who should be your guide.
My sons, my Haidamaki brave!
The world is free and wide!
Go forth, my sons, and make your way—
Perhaps you'll fortune find.
My sons, my simple-minded brood,
When you go forth to roam,
Who will receive my orphans poor
With warmth into his home?
So fly, my fledgling falcons, fly
To far Ukraine, my lads—
At least, if there you hardship find,
'Twon't be in foreign lands.
Good-hearted folks will rally 'round
And they won't let you die;
While here.... Well, here... it's hard, my sons!
If you're allowed inside
The house, it's only to be jeered—
You see, they are so wise,
So literate and so well-read,
The sun they even chide:
"It does not rise the proper way,
Nor shine the way it should;
Now, here's the way it should be done...."
So what is one to do?
You must pay heed, perhaps indeed,
The sun's not rising right,
The way they read it should in books....
Oh, they are brainy, quite!
About you, then, what will they say?
I know what fate is yours!
They will poke fun and laugh their fill,
Then throw you out of doors.
"Let them stay there," they'll say, "until
Their father will get wise
And in our language tell his tale,
His hetmans old describe.
The fool, instead, is holding forth
In language obsolete,
And a Yarema in bast shoes
Brings out for us to see.
The fool! He hasn't learned a thing
Though he was soundly caned.
Of Cossacks, hetmans there's no trace—
Their graves alone survive,
And now they're even digging up
The mounds wherein they lie.
And he wants us to listen to
What the old minstrels say.
Your labour's lost, sir: if you aim
To make yourself a mint
Of money, and a lot of fame,
Then of Matryosha sing,
And of Parasha, charming witch,
Parquet, gold braid and spurs.
Then you'll make good!! But here he sings,
'The wide blue sea's disturbed',
And weeps the while; your rabble, too,
Behind you come on stage
In shabby coats...." My thanks to you
For your advice so sage!
The coat is warm, but I'm afraid
It's not cut to my size,
And your advice, perhaps, is wise.
But it is lined with lies.
Excuse me, please!... Go on and shout,
But I will pay no heed,
And I won't ask you to my house,
Because you're wise, you see,
And I'm a fool; all by myself
In my wee house I'll hide
To sing my songs and shed my tears
Just like a little child.
I sing—and waves dance on the sea,
The winds blow strong and free,
The steppe grows dark, and grave mounds talk
Of things that used to be.
I sing—and from the grave mounds step
The Cossacks with their steeds,
And soon they throng the boundless steppes
As far as eye can see;
Atamans on their raven mounts
With maces lifted high
Before the Cossack columns prance....
Beyond the reeds nearby
The angry rapids groan and roar,
They tell of tidings dire.
I listen and my heart is sore.
Of oldsters I inquire:
My fathers, tell me why you mourn?
"No cause is there for cheer!
The Dnieper's angry with us, son,
Ukraine is all in tears...."
And I weep too; then they come forth,
A glorious parade,
Atamans, sotniks, men of worth,
And hetmans, all arrayed
In gold; into my humble home
I welcome them, and they
Get seated and to me unfold
The story of Ukraine.
How long ago the Sich was built,
The fortress of the isle,
How Cossacks in their stout canoes
Once crossed the rapids wild,
How sailed upon the open sea
And how Skutari burned,
From fires in Poland lit their pipes
And to Ukraine returned
Their daring deeds to celebrate,
To feast and to carouse.
"Innkeeper, pour! Play, minstrel, play!"
The Cossacks blithely shout.
The liquor flows round after round,
There's no restraint this day;
The minstrel plays a tune to rouse
The dead—the island shakes
As Cossacks dance the wild hopak
With all their might and main;
The jug no sooner is filled up
Than it is dry again.
"Make merry, coatless gentlemen,
As free as wind at play!
Let's have more music, more to drink,
Make merry while we may!"
Both youth and oldsters join the dance,
Their feet like lightning fly.
"Ah, that's the way! Go to it, sons!
You'll make good bye-and-bye!"
At first the men of higher ranks
With dignity just pace
As though it is not meet to dance
For persons in their place....
Then their feet too begin to prance
Despite their weighty years.
I watched the dashing Cossack dance
And laugh through brimming tears.
I look on with laughter, my eyes overbrimming....
I'm lonely no longer, I've friends at my side!
In my modest dwelling the Cossacks make merry,
The rushes are rustling, the steppe stretches wide;
In my little cottage the blue sea is sounding,
A poplar-tree whispers, a grave mound complains,
A maiden sings softly of love in the springtime—
I'm lonely no longer, I've plenty of friends!
That's where my gold, my wealth I find,
That's where my glory lies!
As for your counsel—you're too kind!
Thanks for your false advice.
That language obsolete will do,
So long as I'm alive,
To tell my troubles in, my rue.
So I bid you good-bye!
I'll go to see my children off,
They must be on their way.
Perhaps somewhere they'll come across
A Cossack old and grey,
Who'll open up his arms to them,
Greet them with trembling tears.
And as for me, I say I am
A peer above all peers!
Thus, seated at the table's end,
I think: Whom should I ask?
Who will agree to guide my sons?
The new day dawns at last;
The moon retires, the sun is red.
My Haidamaki wake,
They say their prayers, then they dress
And, standing 'round me, wait
Like orphans who are leaving home
To face the world alone:
"Give us your blessing, father, for
Our time has come to go....
So wish that fortune we may find
As o'er the earth we roam."
But wait.... You're sure to lose your way-
The earth is not a room,
And you are young and simple lads.
Who'll show you where to go?
Who'll guide you? Who will walk ahead?
My sons, I'm worried so!
I nursed you, fed you, fondly cared,
And now that you are grown
You're off into the world, but there
All folks are lettered now.
Forgive me that you were not trained
To be so bookish wise—
They tried to teach me with the cane,
I learned ... but otherwise!
I know the alphabet, of course,
But not the things they prize.
What will they think of you, my sons?
Come, let us find your guide!
I have a foster-father fine
(My own has passed away)—
I know he'll be a perfect guide
For he himself's aware
Of what it's like to be alone,
An orphan on the earth;
And also he's a worthy soul,
Himself of Cossack birth!...
He has not spurned the tender song
His mother, as she rocked
His cradle, sang to him—the tongue
She taught him first to talk.
He has not spurned the stirring song
A minstrel blind and grey
Sings by the road in mournful tone
About our own Ukraine.
He loves those songs, those truthful
Of Cossack fame of old,
With all his heart! So let us make
Our way to his abode.
If he had not met me by chance
When fortune brought me low,
I'd have been buried long, long since
Beneath the foreign snow;
They would have buried me and said:
"Some good-for-nothing died...."
Oh, it is difficult indeed
To suffer, not know why.
That's past and gone, so let it be!...
Let's go to him, my lads!
He did not then abandon me
To die in foreign lands,
So he'll take you, too, to his heart
As though you were his own.
And then, a prayer, and you start—
Off to Ukraine you go!
Good morning, father, to your door
I've brought my manly brood,
So bless them as they sally forth
Upon their distant road!
April 7, 1841
The nobles once ruled Poland's roost,
A very haughty lot;
With Muscovites they measured swords,
The Turk and Tatar fought,
And Germans too.... Yes, once 'twas so....
But all things pass away.
The high-born braggarts used to strut,
And drink both night and day,
And with their kings play ducks and drakes.
Not with Sobieski Jan,
Nor yet Batory: those two were
Not of the common run—
But with the rest. And they, poor souls,
In fear and trembling ruled.
The conclaves, big and little, fumed,
And Poland's neighbours viewed
A spectacle—how Polish kings
The Polish kindom fled,
And listened how the noble mob
The sejms brought to an end.
"Nie pozwalam! Nie pozwalam!"
The haughty nobles roared,
While the big magnates stoked up fires
And tempered well their swords.
This lasted for a lengthy time
Until to Warsaw-town
The lively Poniatowski came
To occupy the throne
And undertook to some degree
The noble breed to squelch....
He failed! He wanted what was best,
Or maybe something else.
Only their veto—that one phrase
To take from them he sought.
And then.... All Poland burst in flames,
The gentry ran amok....
"The king's a villain, scoundrel vile,
A Moscow tool!" they cry.
At Pac's appeal, Pulawski's call
The Polish nobles rise.
A hundred leagues—Confederates—
All Poland they inflamed,
Lithuania they overran,
They scattered wide and they forgot
That freedom was their aim—
They joined with Jews in compact foul
To rob and devastate.
They ran mad riot through the land,
They churches set ablaze....
The Haidamaki then began
To sanctify their blades.
THE RED BANQUET
Throughout Ukraine the clang of bells
Proclaims the day of doom;
The Haidamaki fiercely, yell:
"The gentry's end has come!
The gentry's finished! We shall set
A fire to sear the sky!"
The very clouds are painted red—
The province is on fire.
Medvedivka's the first to burn
And heat the clouds above.
Smila is next, the country 'round
Well-nigh aflood with blood.
Korsun and Kaniv are ablaze,
Along the Highway spread the flames
As far as the Volyn,
And blood flows freely. Gonta's made
Polissya his domain,
While near Smila bold Zaliznyak
Tests his Damascus blade—
In old Cherkassy, where his dirk
That has been sanctified,
Yarema, too, tries out. "Good work!
The mad dogs all must die!
Good work, my lads!" so Zaiiznyak
Shouts in the market-place
Which now's a hell; and through that hell
The Haidamaki race.
Yarema—a blood-curdling sight—
In battle-frenzy fells
Three-four at once. "Good work, my boy!
Their souls be damned to hell!
Kill, kill! You'll either win high rank,
Or go to paradise!
Now, children, ferret out the rats!"
The rebels in a trice
Spread out to cellars, attics, nooks
To search for hiding foes;
They killed them all, all goods they took.
"Now you may stop, my boys!
You've tired yourselves, now rest a bit."
The market squares and lanes,
With corpses strewn, are flowing red.
"More vengeance yet we claim!
Go over them a second time
To make sure, doubly sure,
That the vile dogs will never rise,
And never plague us more!"
The Haidamaki after that
Assemble in the square.
Yarema on the outskirts stands.
"Come closer, don't be scared,"
Shouts Zaliznyak. "I'm not afraid!"
With cap in hand he comes
Up to the chief. "Where from, my lad?"
"Vilshana is my home."
"Vilshana? Where the villains slew
The warden of the church?"
"What's that? They slew?"
"His daughter, too,
According to reports,
They carried off. You knew them well?"
"They took some girl away?"
"The warden's daughter, so they tell."
"Oksana!" Just the name
Yarema whispered and he fell
Unconscious where he stood.
"Oho! So that's what.... The poor lad!
Mikola, bring him to!"
Mikola brought him to. He cried:
"A hundred hands I need,
A blade in each, to extirpate
The Polish gentry breed!
Revenge, such terrible revenge
'Twill put hell in the shade!"
"Well said, my lad, to keep that pledge
There'll be no lack of blades.
Come with us to Lisyanka now,
We'll temper there our steel!"
"Oh father, quickly let us go!
I'll follow where you lead,
I'll follow to the ends of earth
I'll go to hell below
To tear her from the devils, sir!
To the earth's end I'd go....
But I'll not find her anywhere,
I'll never see her more!"
"Perhaps you will. Don't give up hope.
Now tell us what's your name?"
"And your surname, boy?"
"I have none!"
Were you a bastard? In the lists,
Mikola, put him down
As ... let us find a name that fits—
How does Hasnothing sound?
Let's name him that!
"No, that's not it!"
"Is Hardluck better, friend?"
"No, that won't do."
"Here, wait a bit,
Halaida, that's the name!"
They wrote it down. "Halaida, lad,
Now we'll go out to play
You'll find good fortune ... maybe, bad.
Well, boys, let's on our way!"
From extra horses in the camp
They gave one to the lad.
He laughed as on his horse he leapt,
And then again was sad.
Outside the city gates they rode;
Cherkassy was in flames....
"All here, my sons?"
"Let's go then!"
Like a chain
Along the Dnieper's wooded banks
The Cossack column winds.
Behind them on a little nag
The minstrel Volokh rides,
And as from side to side he sways.
He sings a new-born lay:
"Oh, Zaliznyak his Cossacks brave
Leads for an outing gay!"
Cherkassy's left behind, the flames
Still leaping to the cloud.
No one looks back. Nobody cares!
They only laugh aloud
And curse the gentry vile. Some talk,
Some listen to the song
The minstrel sings. While Zaliznyak
Rides at the head alone,
With glowing pipe, his ears alert
To any night surprise;
Yarema, too, without a word
Behind his leader rides.
The green groves and the darker woods.
The Dnieper and the hills,
The sky, the stars, the people, goods,
And his o'erwhelming ills—
All disappeared, all are no more!
He nothing knows or sees—
Just like a corpse. His heart is sore
And yet he does not weep.
He does not weep: the vicious snake
That's coiled within his breast
Drinks up his tears, his heart that aches
It tears to tiny shreds.
Oh, soothing tears! Oh, healing tears!
You wash away all woes;
Wash mine away.... I cannot bear
This ache that's in my soul!
Not all the water in the sea
Or in the Dnieper wide
Can calm my heart and drown my grief;
Is nought but suicide
Then left for me? Oksana, dear!
Oksana, oh my own!
Where have they taken you? I fear....
Perhaps the beasts have thrown
Her in a dungeon where in chains
She lies awaiting death,
The gentry cursing and her fate
With her last, dying breath.
Perhaps Yarema she recalls,
Vilshana, and her home,
Perhaps in thought to him she calls:
"Yarema, darling, come,
Take your Oksana in your arms!
Thus we'll together sleep
Forever. Let them work their harm—
We'll be beyond their reach, we'll be!..."
The wind blows from beyond Liman
And bends the poplar low—
A maiden also may be bent
Beneath misfortune's blows.
She'll grieve awhile, but time will pass
And all may be forgot....
Maybe... a lady, richly dressed,
She with some Pole.... O God!
The worst of tortures ever planned
In hell for sinful souls
I'll suffer, but I could not stand
That final fiendish blow:
"My heart would break though it were stone
If ever that came true!
Oksana, darling! Oh, my own!
Where have they taken you?
Where are you held, where are you hid?"
Then tears began to flow
In torrents like a summer rain
Or like a springtime flood.
Then came the dawn. Zaliznyak reined
His horse beside a wood:
"Here's where we turn off from the road
And turn our horses free!"
The Cossacks rode into the grove
And soon were hid by trees.
The rising sun found all Ukraine
In ashes or in flames,
Just here and there behind locked doors
The gentry trembling waits.
Each village has its gallows-trees
With corpses thickly hung—
Just of the bigwigs, smaller fry
Are piled in heaps like dung.
At cross-roads and along the streets
The dogs and ravens feed
On human flesh and pecked-out eyes;
And no one pays them heed.
There's no one left, only the dogs
And groups of children roam—
The women, too, took oven-prongs,
And Haidamaki joined.
Such evil 'twas that then engulfed
The whole of the Ukraine!
'Twas worse than hell.... And yet, what for?
For what were people slain?
They're so alike, one father's sons—
They should as brothers be.
But no, they could or else would not,
They had to disagree!
Blood had to flow, fraternal blood,
For one's with envy filled
Because his brother's bin is full,
His fields give handsome yield!
"Let's kill our brother! Burn his home!"
No sooner said than done.
And all was over! But not quite,
For there were orphan sons.
They grew in tears—but they grew up;
Their toil-worn hands they freed
And turned to vengeance—blood for blood
And hurt for hurt their creed!
The heart is sore when you reflect
That sons of Slavs like beasts
Got drunk with blood. Who was to blame?
The Jesuits, the priests!
The Haidamaki through ravines
And forests made their way,
Halaida riding in their midst,
His heart in constant pain.
Voronivka, Verbivka, too,
Already are behind,
And here's Vilshana. "What to do?
Shall I stop and inquire
About Oksana? Better not,
So no one knows my woe."
The Haidamaki meanwhile trot
Along the village road
Without a halt. Halaida hailed
One of the little lads:
"Is't true the warden here was slain?"
"Why no, my father says
The Polish lords burned him to death—
The ones that lie out there.
Oksana, too, was carried off,
My father says, somewhere.
The funeral...." He did not wait,
But gave his horse the spur.
"Why did I not die yesterday
Before I ever heard!
If I should die today, I know
I'd rise up from the grave
To take revenge upon the Poles.
Oksana! Where did they
Take you, my own?"
He bowed his head
And let his horse walk free.
Oh, it is hard for a poor lad
To hold in check his grief.
He catches up. The place they pass
Where inn and stables stood—
There's nothing now but smoking ash,
And Leiba is gone, too.
Yarema smiled—a mirthless grin
That fearful was to view.
Two days ago here he had been
A slavey to the Jew,
And now.... His heart began to pine
For those bad days of old.
The rebel band passed the ravine
And turned off from the road.
They came upon a stripling lad—
A patched coat on his back,
His shoes were bast, he also packed
Upon his back a sack.
"Hey, wait a minute, beggar boy!"
"I am no beggar, sir,
The Haidamaki I have joined!"
"A sight you are, for sure!"
"From where, young scarecrow, do you hail?"
"From Kerelivka way."
"Do you know Budishch and the lake?"
"Of course I know the place—
Go down that gully, it will lead
You straight to Budishch lake."
"Are any gentry to be seen?"
"There's not a one today,
Though yesterday were quite a few.
We couldn't bless our wreaths—
The Poles would not allow us to.
That's why we killed the beasts!
My dad and I used blessed blades,
While mother's sick in bed,
Or else she too...."
"Fine, that's the way!
Here's something for you, friend,
A ducat, which you must not lose."
He took the golden coin,
Inspected it, then said, "Thank you!"
"Well, let's get going, boys!
But don't make any noise, d'ye hear?
Halaida, follow me!
Beside this lake in the ravine
There is a clump of trees
In which a Polish treasure's found.
When we come to the wood
We will surround it without sound
In case some Poles still should
Be left on guard."
When they arrived,
They stood about the wood
And looked—but saw no sign of life....
"Oho, the devil's brood
Is here all right! What pears I see
Up there among the leaves!
They must be ripe! Just shake the trees!"
Like rotten pears, indeed,
The Poles came tumbling to the ground
To meet the penal blade.
The Cossacks scoured till all were found
And not one live remained,
Then found where treasure chests were hid
And took away the gold,
Ransacked the pockets of the dead,
And on their mission rode
on to Lisyanka.
GONTA IN UMAN
to Uman they made their way,
The Haidamaki bragged:
Their silks and satins we will take
To make ourselves foot-rags!
The days go by, the summer wanes,
And the Ukraine is still ablaze;
In hamlets hungry children wail—
Their parents gone. The yellow leaves
Of autumn rustle in the trees;
The clouds roll by; the sun is glazed;
No sound is heard of human speech;
In villages the beasts that feed
On human corpses howl. The Poles
Were left unburied, food for wolves,
Until the heavy winter snows
Concealed their bones....
The raging snow-storms did not stop
The vengeance worse than hell:
The Poles froze, while beside the fires
The Cossacks warmed themselves.
Spring came and woke the sleepy earth
From its deep winter sleep:
With primroses it was adorned
And periwinkles sweet;
The larks in fields and nightingales
In groves each morning sing
Their sweetest songs in joyful praise
Of earth adorned by spring....
A heaven truly! And for whom?
For people. Yes, but they?
They do not even want to look,
Or that it's poor, they say.
They want it tinted up with blood
And brightened with a blaze;
The sun and blooms aren't bright enough,
And clouds cast too much shade.
What they mean is: too little hell!
Oh people! Will you e'er
Be satisfied with what you have?
Oh, people, you are queer!
To blood and human savagery
Spring did not bring a halt.
It's terrible.... Yet 'twas the same
In ancient Troy, recall,
And will be in the future, too.
The Haidamaki rode—
And where they went the earth was scorched
And washed with human blood.
Maxim acquired a worthy son,
Renowned throughout Ukraine;
Yarema, though adopted, is
His true son just the same.
While Zaliznyak is well content
To smile the Poles and slay,
Yarema rages—he would spend
In carnage night and day.
He shows no mercy, does not spare
Or miss a single Pole—
For the churchwarden's death he makes
Them pay a hundredfold,
And for Oksana.... At the thought
Of her his heart grows faint.
"Go to it, son!" cries Zaliznyak,
"We'll dance until our fate
And so they did:
Along the entire way
From Kiev to Uman the dead
In heaping piles were laid.
The Haidamaki on Uman
Like heavy clouds converge
At midnight. Ere the night is done
The whole town is submerged.
The Haidamaki take the town
With shouts: "The Poles shall pay!"
Dragoons are downed, their bodies roll
Around the market-place;
The ill, the cripples, children too,
All die, no one is spared.
Wild cries and screams. 'Mid streams of blood
Stands Gonta on the square
With Zaliznyak together, they
Urge on the rebel band:
"Good work, stout lads! There, that's the way
To punish them, the damned!"
And then the rebels brought to him
A Jesuit, a monk,
With two young boys. "Look, Gonta, look!
These youngsters are your sons!
They're Catholics: since you kill all,
Can you leave them alone?
Why are you waiting? Kill them now,
Before your sons are grown,
For if you don't, when they grow up
They'll find you and they'll kill...."
"Cut the cur's throat! As for the pups,
I'll finish them myself.
Let the assembly be convened.
"We're Catholics.... Our mother made...."
"Be silent! Close your lips!
Oh God! I know!" The Cossacks stood
Assembled in the square.
"My sons are Catholics.... I vowed
No Catholic to spare.
Esteemed assembly!... That there should
Be no doubt anywhere,
No talk that I don't keep my word,
Or that I spare my own....
My sons, my sons! Why are you small?
My sons, why aren't you grown?
Why aren't you with us killing Poles?"
"We will, we'll kill them, dad!"
"You never will! You never will!
Your mother's soul be damned,
That thrice-accursed Catholic,
The bitch that gave you birth!
She should have drowned you ere you saw
The light of day on earth!
As Catholics you'd not have died—
The sin would smaller be;
Such woe, my sons, today is mine
As cannot be conceived!
My children, kiss me, for not I
Am killing you today—
It is my oath!"
He flashed his knife
And the two lads were slain.
They fell to earth, still bubbling words:
"O dad! We are not Poles!
We ... we...." And then they spoke no more,
Their bodies growing cold.
"Perhaps they should be buried, what?"
"No need! They're Catholic.
My sons! Why did you not grow up?
My sons, why weren't you big?
Why did you not war 'gainst the foes
With me as Cossacks brave?
Your mother. Catholic accursed,
Oh why did you not slay?...
Let's go, my brother!"
Across the square he treads;
They cry together: "Punish them
Till every Pole is dead!"
And awesome was their punishment....
Uman went up in flames.
No house, no church, but had been searched,
And not a Pole remained—
They all were dead. Such carnage cruel
As at Uman that day
Had ne'er been seen. St. Basil's school,
Where Gotna's sons had stayed,
Was razed down to the very ground
By Gonta, raging wild.
" 'Twas you that ruined my little sons'"
With every blow he cried,
"You swallowed them when they were small
You taught them evil lore
And not the good!... Tear down the walls!"
The Haidamaki tore
The walls to pieces. 'Gainst the stones
They bashed the heads of priests,
And the young pupils still alive
They threw in cisterns deep.
Until late at night they slaughtered the Poles;
Not one was let live. Yet Gonta still raved-
Oh monsters, come out! Crawl out from your holes!
My sons you've destroyed-oh, cruel's my fate!
I've nobody now! For nothing to wait!
My sons, whom I loved, so handsome and good,
You're gone from me now. I'm thirsty for blood!
I want in the blood of the gentry to wade,
To drink it, and watch how it flows and turns black...
Oh winds, as ye blow, why waft ye not back
Some Poles for our blades?... Oh cruel's my fate!
And yet I can't weep! Ye stars in the sky,
Please leave me alone and hide behind clouds.
I murdered my sons!... My heart is wrung dry!
Where will I find peace?..." So Gonta cried loud;
And then in the square big tables were laid
Amid the debris, 'mid corpses and blood,
And loaded with looted liqueurs and fine food-
The rebels sat down. It was their last raid,
Their last supper too!" Make merry, my brood!
We'll drink while we may, and fight while we may!"
Old Zaliznyak cried. "We'll frolic, my lads!
Fast music, minstrel! Let earth really shake
Tonight in Uman when my Cossacks dance!"
And the minstrel played:
"My father's an innkeeper,
My mother is a spinner,
My brothers are brave fellows
They roam the woods,
A cow found in the forest,
Rich necklace too,
And I'm Khristya, a maiden
With beads so fine,
My needlework is made in
A leaf design.
With red boots my feet adorning,
I go milking in the morning-
I water the cow, I do,
And milk her too,
With the lads I stop to spoon,
I stop to spoon."
children, lock the door,
woman, don't you fret,
up to me, my pet!"
The Cossacks dance. But one is gone....
Why does not Gonta dance?
Why joins he not in merry song,
Nor drinks he with the lads?
He is not there; his heart won't let
Him sing and dance and joke.
But who is he who silent flits
In black loose-hanging cloak
About the square? See, there he stops
And 'mong the dead he digs
As though he's searching. Then he stoops,
Two little bodies picks
And lifts them gently on his back
And carries them away
Behind the blazing church, where black
He fades into the shades
Of summer night. Who can that be?
It's Gonta, and his load—
His sons—he bears some place where he
Can cover them with sod,
So that the youthful Cossack flesh
Should not be food for dogs.
Down darker lanes, where fires are less,
And smoke serves as a fog
To screen him from all prying eyes,
The Cossack bends his steps,
So none should see how Gonta cries
Or where his children rest.
Out in a field, far from the road,
He lays them; takes his knife
And with the bless'd blade digs a hole.
Uman supplies the light
So he can see the work he does
And the two lads who lie
As though asleep still in their clothes....
Why do they fear inspire?
Why is it Gonta seems to hide
As though he were a thief?
Why does he shake? From time to time
The wind bears to the chief
The sounds of Cossack revelry;
He does not heed the noise—
A fine deep house amid the fields
He's building for his boys.
It's done at last. He lays his sons
Into their home, the hole,
His ears still ringing with the sound:
"Oh dad, we are not Poles! "
Then Gonta from his pocket takes
A crimson silken cloth,
The dead eyes kisses, then he makes
The sign of sacred cross,
And covers the young Cossack heads.
Then lifts the cloth again,
To gaze once more upon his dead....
The tears then gush like rain:
"My children! Open up your eyes,
Look at Ukraine, my boys:
For her, my sons, you gave your lives
And I, too, am destroyed.
Who will there be to bury me?
In some far foreign field
Who will there be to weep o'er me?
My fate is black indeed!
The most unfortunate of men,
I'm left alone, in pain!
Why was I granted children, then?
Or why was I not slain?
They would have laid me in the earth-
I bury them instead."
Again he kissed them, made the cross.
The cloth drew o'er their heads,
And earth he then began to pile:
"Rest in your hole, my sons,
Your mother, bitch, did not provide
Fine beds to lie upon,
Without corn-flower wreaths and rue,
My sons, you'll have to sleep
Please pray to God. I beg of you,
That he should punish me
Yet on this earth for what I did,
For this most awful crime.
Forgive me, sons! You I forgive
That Catholics you died."
He levelled off the earth and laid
Green sod upon the grave,
So none could tell where Gonta made
His sons' last resting place.
"Sleep well, my lads, and wait for me,
I will not tarry long.
My knife cut short your span of life,
The same will be my lot.
They'll kill me, too.... May it be soon!
But who will bury me?
The Haidamaki! Just once more
I'll join them on a spree! ..."
So Gonta went; his shoulders sagged,
He tripped as though were blind.
The burning city lit his path,
He raised his eyes and smiled—
A smile most awful to behold.
He looked back on the field,
And wiped his eyes.... And then by smoke
I The Cossack was concealed.
Much time has gone by, since a child a poor orphan,
In sackine and coatless, without any bread,
I roamed that Ukraine where Zaliznyak and Gonta
With sanctified sabres had wreaked vengeance dread.
Much time has gone by since, along those same highways
Where rode Haidamaki, exhausted and sore
I tramped through the country, its high roads and byways,
And weeping, sought people to teach me good lore.
As now I recall them, my youthful misfortunes,
I grieve that they're past! I would trade present fortune
If only those days could be brought back again.
Those evils, the steppes that seem stretching forever,
My father and grandfather old I remember....
My father is gone, but my grand-dad remains.
0n Sundays, on closing the book about martyrs
And drinking a glass with the neighbours, my father
Would beg of my grand-dad to tell us the story
Of the Haidamaki revolt long ago,
How Gonta, Zaliznyak once punishment gory
Inflicted on Poles. And the ancient eyes glowed
Like stars in the night as the old man related
How gentry folk perished and how Simla burned ..
The neighbours from horror and pity near fainted.
And I, a wee fellow, the churchwarden mourned,
Yet, nobody noticed, all gripped by the horror,
The child that was weeping alone in the corner.
I thank you, my grand-dad, 'twas you that preserved
The story I've told of the old Cossack glory:
And by the grandchildren it now will be heard.
I beg your pardon, readers dear,
That artlessly I spin
This yarn of bygone Cossack feats,
Without the bookish skill.
I'm just repeating grand-dad's tale—
Good health to him! —and he
Ne'er dreamed that there would come a day
When learned folk would read
His narrative. Now don't be hurt,
Old grand-dad—let them rant.
And in the meantime I'll return
To my small rebel band,
And when I've led them to the end,
I'll rest—and then again,
At least in dreams, my eyes shall look
Upon that fair Ukraine
Where once the Haidamaki roved
And awful vengeance wreaked,
Whose roads I measured years ago
With blistered naked feet.
The Haidamaki had a spree,
Made merry unrestrained:
With gentry's blood almost a year
They watered the Ukraine,
Then were no more—their dented blades
Were put away to rust
And Gonta's gone: no cross or grave
To mark his place of rest.
O'er all the steppe the wild winds swept
The Cossack dust away,
No one was left to mourn his death
Or for his soul to pray.
A foster-brother yet remained
Alive upon the earth;
But when he learned the fiendish fate
The devils had reserved
For Gonta, how his brother died—
For the first time in life
Old Zaliznyak began to cry.
He did not wipe his eyes,
But pined away, and soon was dead;
He died in foreign parts,
In foreign earth his bones were laid:
So hapless was his lot!
Their iron chief with deepest grief
The Haidamaki bore
To bury in a foreign field;
They built a mound, and mourned
Awhile, then brushed their tears away
And went back whence they came.
Yarema, leaning on his staff,
Long stood beside the grave,
"Rest, father, in this foreign place,
For in our native land
No longer is there any space,
Nor freedom to be had....
Sleep soundly, honest Cossack soul!
You won't forgotten be."
Across the steppe Yarema went,
His tears still flowing free,
And he kept always looking back,
Till he was lost to sight.
Then just the grave mound in the steppe
Was dark against the sky.
By Haidamaki with good seed
Ukraine had then been sown,
The harvest, though, they did not reap.
So what is to be done?
The seeds of justice did not sprout;
Instead, injustice grew....
The Haidamaki all dispersed,
Each chose what he would do:
Some just went home, but others took
To forests with their blades
To prey on merchants. This repute
To our own days remains.
The ancient Cossack fortress, Sich,
Then later was laid waste:
Some Cossacks 'cross the Danube fled,
Some to Kuban escaped;
That's all that's left—except the plaint
The Dnieper rapids howl:
"They finished off our sons, and aim
To pulverise us now! "
But people, passing by, don't heed
The rapids' angry roar;
And the Ukraine is fast asleep,
Asleep for evermore.
Since those grim years the grain grows
And lush across Ukraine;
No screams are heard, no carnage seen;
The winds blow 'cross the plains,
They bend the willows in the wood
And grasses on the lea.
Now silence reigns. That is what God
Has willed. So let it be.
But sometime, when the day is done,
And all is warm with spring,
Old Haidamaki walk along
The Dnieper's banks and sing:
"Our good Halaida's house has floors.
Let the sea surge! Let the sea swell!
Halaida, all will yet be well! "
St. Petersburg, 1841
Translated by John Weir, Toronto
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