Taras Shevchenko's poem "To Osnovianenko". Ukrainian-to-English translation by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell


To Osnovianenko (1)
("Do Osnovianenka" / "Biut porohy; misiats skhodyt")

The rapids (2) rage; the moon appears,
As once it rose before...
The Sitch  (3) is gone, and gone is he Who led them all of yore. (4)
The Sitch is gone! The reed-beds ask The Dnieper and its foam:
“Oh, where have all our children (5) gone?
What country do they roam?”
The sea-mew, on the wing, laments,
As weeping for her brood;
The warm sun and the blowing wind
Alone reflect her mood.
Across the steppe the grassy mounds
Still stand and mourn the past;
They question of the boisterous sea:
“Where are our dear ones cast?
Where do they rule and revel now?
Where are your steps bestead?
Return! Return! The oats bend low
Where once your horses fed,
Where feather-grass once rustled soft,
Where blood of Tartar fell,
Where Polish blood once flowed in flood.
Return, and break the spell!”
“They never will return at all,”
The blue sea roared reply,
“Though hearts may yearn, they'll not return;
Forever still they lie!”
Right art thou, sea; right, azure one:
Such must their dark doom be!
Those we most long for will not come,
Here comes not liberty;
Old Cossackdom will not return,
Nor hetmans rise again,
Their scarlet mantles nevermore
Will cover our Ukraine.
In tatters, like an orphan waif,
She weeps by streams of night,
Sorely oppressed in loneliness
With none to see her plight,
Except the enemy who mocks.
Laugh, then, ferocious foe, (6)
But not too loudly, for our fame
Will never be laid low.
It will not perish, but proclaim
The annals of our age,
What is our justice, what our wrong,
And what our parentage.
Our epic and our ancient song
For ever shall remain,
And that is where our glory lies,
The glory of Ukraine.
Most chaste, with jewels unadorned,
Without embellished speech,
Yet it is deep-toned and precise,
A tongue that God might teach. (7)
Am I not right, my captain, (8) friend?
Is it the truth I sing?
If I but could...
But what’s the use!
’Tis past my reckoning.
Besides, I live in
Muscovy And aliens surround me.
“Pay them no heed!” you say perhaps;
But mocking would confound me.
This psalm (9) of mine I chant with tears
They'll (10) jeer at as a joke,
They'll scorn it! And how hard it is
To live with hostile folk!
Perhaps I'd grapple with my foes
If I but had the strength;
I once could boast a ringing voice
But it grew mute at length. (11)
Such is my grievous lot today,
My chieftain and my friend!
I roam in grief, and softly sing
As meadow-grasses bend.
Weak is my song, while you, O Sire,
As you yourself well know,
Command the reverence of all,
Your voice can strongly flow.
Then sing the Sitch to them, dear man,
And sing the barrows (12) bare,
Sing of the time when each was raised,
And who lies buried there;
Sing to them all of olden times,
The marvel that is past,
Strike up so loud a tune, O Sire,
That all may hear at last
What happened in Ukraine of old,
Why she in bondage lay,
And how the Cossack fame was born
And through the world made way!
Strike up the tune, grey eagle, now!
I'd weep to hear your song,
And see Ukraine revive again
In accents deep and strong;
In your great song I’d hear again
The roaring of the sea,
Or a maiden sing of fruitless love
Beneath a willow tree;
So let my heart again rejoice
In this far, foreign land
Till coffin’d close in alien wood
I lie in alien sand.


(9)  His poetry.
(10) Russian critics.
(11) Meaning: he lost the power of expression in Ukrainian, because he had to labour jn serfdom and live among the Russians. Here Shevchenko falsely underestimates himself.
Cossack burial mounds, considered by Shevchenko as being the repositories of Ukrainian glory.

(1) Hrihoriy Kvitka-Osnovianenko (1778-1843), a Ukrainian landlord from the village of Osnova (from which he derived his additional surname). He was a noted writer of long short stories dealing with the life, manners, and customs of the common people, and in that respect was the first writer in Europe (before I. Turgenev and George Sand) to introduce the peasant into the literary scene. His short sentimental novel Marusia was the first of this genre to be written in Ukraine. The fact that he insisted on writing in Ukrainian, in spite of the harsh reaction to him on the part of Russian critics, endeared him to Shevchenko who, for that reason, considered him even greater than himself.
(2) The Dnieper’s rapids near its estuary.
(3) Cossacks’ first permanent encampment on the Dnieper’s island of Khortitsia, beyond the rapids. Established there in the latter part of the sixteenth century, the bitch was finally destroyed by Catherine II in 1778 and the territory around it was settled by German immigrants whom she favoured. The term derived either from the word “zasika”—the palisade, or from “sikti”—to cut or hew (as one does in battle).
(4) Hetmans, the Cossack commanders.
(5) Cossacks.
(6) The next fifteen lines constitute one of the highlights of Shevchenko’s work, for in them he voices his firm faith in the power of the Ukrainian speech to express the glory of Ukraine’s past.
(7) Meaning: the Ukrainian language was not fashioned in learned academies or literary salons, but issued pure from the very soul of the people.
(8) Shevchenko considered Kvitka-Osnovianenko a leader in the movement to foster Ukrainian as a literary language.

Taras Shevchenko
"Do Osnovianenka" / "Biut porohy; misiats skhodyt"
("До Основ'яненка" / "Б’ють пороги; місяць сходить")
1839, S.- Petersburg, (C. - Петербург)

Translated by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell

Original publication: Taras Shevchenko. Zibrannia tvoriv: U 6 t. — K., 2003. — T. 1: Poeziia 1837-1847. — S. 119-121; S. 623-628

Source: The Poetical Works of Taras Shevchenko. The Kobzar. Translated from the Ukrainian by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell. Published for the Ukrainian Canadian Committee by University of Toronto Press, 1964. Toronto and Buffalo. Printed in Canada, Reprinted 1977, p. 51 - 54


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