Born a serf, Shevchenko was freed in 1838 while a student at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. His first collection of poems, entitled Kobzar (1840, "Kobzar"), expressed the historicism and the folkloristic interests of the Ukrainian Romantics, but his poetry soon moved away from nostalgia for Cossack life to a more somber portrayal of Ukrainian history, particularly in the long poem " Haidamaks" (1841). In early 1847, Shevchenko started to work a teacher of visual arts at the Kyiv University. There, he has engaged in the activity of the clandestine St. Cyril and Methodius society. When the secret society was suppressed by the Russian authorities in 1847, Shevchenko was punished by exile and compulsory military service for writing the poems "Dream," "Caucasus," and "Epistle," which satirized the oppression of Ukraine by Russia and prophesied a revolution.
Though forbidden to write or paint, Shevchenko clandestinely wrote a few lyrical poems during the first years of his exile. He had a revival of creativity after his release in 1857; his later poetry treats historical and moral issues, both Ukrainian and universal.
Taras Shevchenko Monument near the University Red Building In 1857, Taras Shevchenko was allowed to return from exile, and in 1858, he eventually returned to Moscow, and then came to St. Petersburg. In 1859 he has managed to come to Ukraine, yet he was refused the right to live in his homeland permanently, so he was forced to return to Petersburg. Having ruined his health during his ten years long exile, Taras Shevchenko passed away in early 1861.
Taras Shevchenko is also one of the most prominent Ukrainian masters of visual arts. He has worked with easel painting, graphic arts, decorative and ornamental painting, as well as sculpture, watercolor and oil painting. He is the author of more than a thousand pieces of art (more than 160 of which are unfortunately lost). In 1859-1860, the artist has created etchings for the works of Russian and foreign authors. For this, he has was entitled to membership in the Academy of Etching.
The name of Taras Shevchenko is well-known in the world - monuments to him were erected in numerous countries, his literary works were translated into almost all languages of the world. The National Opera House, Kyiv National University, a central boulevard in Kyiv as well as many establishments, streets and squares bear the name of the great Ukrainian poet and artist, Taras Shevchenko.
(Pereyaslav, December 25, 1845
Translated by John Weir Toronto, 1961)
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 all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ 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.
(St. Petersburg, 1839.
Translated by John Weir Toronto)
My thorny thoughts, my thorny thoughts,
You bring me only woe!
Why do you on the paper stand
So sadly row on row? …
Why did the winds not scatter you
Like dust across the steppes?
Why did ill-luck not cradle you
To sleep upon its breast? …
My thoughts, my melancholy thoughts,
My children, tender shoots!
I nursed you, brought you up — and now
What shall I do with you? …
Go to Ukraine, my homeless waifs!
Your way make to Ukraine
Along back roads like vagabonds,
But I’m doomed here to stay.
There you will find a heart that’s true
And words of welcome kind,
There honesty, unvarnished truth
And, maybe, fame you’ll find …
So welcome them, my Motherland,
Ukraine, into your home!
Accept my guileless, simple brood
And take them for your own!
(St. Petersburg, 1838.
Translated by John Weir Toronto)
The river empties to the sea,
But out it never flows;
The Cossack lad his fortune seeks,
But never fortune knows.
The Cossack lad has left his home,
He’s left his kith and kind;
The blue sea’s waters splash and foam,
Sad thoughts disturb his mind:
“Why, heedless, did you go away?
For what did you forsake
Your father old, your mother grey,
Your sweetheart, to their fate?
In foreign lands live foreign folks,
Their ways are not your way:
There will be none to share your woes
Or pass the time of day.”
Across the sea, the Cossack rests —
The choppy sea’s distraught.
He thought with fortune to be blessed —
Misfortune is his lot.
In vee-formation, ‘cross the waves
The cranes are off for home.
The Cossack weeps — his beaten paths
With weeds are overgrown…