from Kobzar

Taras Shevchenko


And the sky unwashed and
the drowsy waves; and
along the coast far-off
as if drunk, the reeds buckle
without wind. Jesus Christ!
Am I going to be trapped for long
in this unlocked prison, wasteland at the edge
of this monstrous sea,
nauseated globe? Speechless,
shut up and bent as if alive
in the steppe: the yellowing grass:
it doesn’t want to speak the truth,
but there’s no one else to ask.

late 1848, Kos-Aral, Kazakhstan

N. N.

Sun submerges, mountains charcoal,
a bird hushes, the fields go mute.
People revel finding rest but
I watch . . . and from my chest I fly
through a darkened grove to Ukraine.
Flying, I fly, with a poem I make up,
and it seems my heart unclamps.
Fields blacken and woods and peaks,
and stars surface in the still blue sky.
O stars! stars—and tears
drop. Have you risen in Ukraine yet?
Are brown eyes looking for you
against the sky? Do they overlook?
If they forgot or fell asleep, at least
they won’t hear about the life I had to live.

1847, Orsk serf outpost, Russia

In the Casemate


It’s all the same if
I settle in Ukraine or not.
If someone finds or forgets
me in the desert snow
in some other country—
doesn’t matter to me.
In slavery I grew
around strangers
and your folks
un-cried for. In slavery
you cry, die. Everything taken
up with you, don’t leave
light footprints
in this radiant country—
on ground that is not yours.
And the dad won’t reminisce
with the son. Won’t
tell the son, pray, pray,
for Ukraine was bludgeoned
down at some point.
I don’t care if the son prays.
But it’s not the same to me,
as vicious people lull
Ukraine to sleep slyly
and in a fire, kidnapped,
she’s woken up on fire . . . Ah,
it’s not all the same to me.

April 17–May 19, 1847, St. Petersburg, Russia


My thinking, my thoughts,
it’s so hard with you.
            Why do you stand on the page
            in grim rows? Why
            didn’t the wind blow you apart
            across the steppe like specks
            of grain. Why didn’t woe
            rock you past rest
            like your kids?
Because disaster birthed you for laughs,
drizzled out tears . . . Why didn’t they dunk you?
Take you out to sea, scrub you out in a field?           
You didn’t ask people, “what’s hurting in me.”
Didn’t ask “why curse fate,
why’s the world weary.” Didn’t say
“there’s no point,” while grinning.
            My blossoms, my kids!
Why did I love you and mind you?
Will the heart drain over the whole globe’s curve
as I did with you? Maybe you can guess.
            Maybe you’ll find yourself
            a young girl’s sympathy, her umber eyes
            to cry over your lines—
            I don’t want to anymore.
            A single tear from burnt umber eyes,
            My thoughts, my poems,
            it’s so hard with you.

            Over brown eyes, black
            brows . . . the soul splintered and laughed,
            pouring over with speech,
            brimmed as if capable
            over inky nights, over
            a green embroidered grove,
            over tender lovers.
            Over steppe and gravemounds           
            across Ukraine,
            the heart wilted not wanting
            to sing abroad.
            Didn’t want to in snow,
            in pine forests, with Kozak hordes
            and hetmen’s staff and banner
            gathered for summits.
            Let Kozak ghosts
            in Ukraine soar wide, gleeful
            from country to country.
            Like freedom evolving,
            Dnipro’s sweeping—ocean,
            steppe and steppe, rapids roar,
            and gravemounds—mountains.

            . . .

1840, St. Petersburg, Russia

Will and Testament

When I die bury me
in the middle of the steppe
of my Ukraine. So I can seize
broad the broadback field and
Dnipro, twisting, so
I can see and hear it roar,
roaring, carrying 

thieves’ blood
to the ocean. Then I’ll toss
the fields and mountains and me
and burn them all like prayers.
I won’t know God till then.

Stash me away then stand,
split your chains and spatter
the soil with blood and fury,
having your body back. Now

in our vast family, the free
one, the new one,
don’t forget to remember me
in good-willed words,
a word unangered,

December 25, 1845, Pereyaslav, Ukraine

translated from the Ukrainian by Daniel Moysaenko