Taras Shevchenko, "Poplar", 1839
To P. S. Petrovska(1)
("Topolja" / "Po dibrovi viter vyje")
The wind goes howling down the vale,
It blusters through the plain;
A poplar tall beside the road
To touch the ground is fain.
Her slender shape, her ample leaves
In vain expand with green;
The fields around her like a sea
Of boundless blue are seen.
A carter gazes as he goes
And bows his head in sorrow;
A morning shepherd with his pipe
Sits down upon a barrow,
And as he looks, his heart is pained:
No blade of grass is found
About her feet—all, all alone
She dies in alien ground!
Who then has reared her, slim and tall,
To perish on the plain?
Listen, fair maidens! I shall tell
The story - for your gain.
A black-browed beauty loved of old
A Cossack in his pride;
She loved, but could not hold him here:
He left her, and he died.
Had she but known that he would go,
She had not loved, alack.
Had she but known that he would die,
She would have held him back.
Had she but known, she had not gone
So late to fill her pail,
Nor stayed till midnight with her love
Deep in the willowy dale.
Had she but known!...
May likewise be an evil.
Seek not for word of what shall be,
But shun it like the devil!
Try not, young maids, to know your fate!
The heart will find its doom
In love. So, let it throb with pain
Till it is in the tomb!
And not for long, my lovely ones,
Do hazel eyes gleam bright,
Your snowy cheeks will briefly glow
And then will pass from sight!
Your flowers will fade before the noon,
Your beauty will be hid...
Love then, and join in mutual vows
As your own heart may bid.
Often the nightingale would chant
Upon the bushy plain;
Often a Cossack lad would sing
A simple lovers strain.
He'd sing and sing, until his love
Out of the hut would stray
And he would ask: “Has mother dear
Yet beaten you today?"
They stand there in each other's arms
And hear the bird-notes pour
Forth joys of heart - and then they part,
Glad to have met once more.
No one will ever see them thus,
No one will ever ask:
‘Where have you been?
What have you done?”
She plies her own sweet task...
And so she loved, infatuate,
Although her heart grew faint:
It sensed misfortune that would come
But could not speak its plaint.
It did not speak - and now alone
She grieves by day and night;
She coos, a dove without her mate,
With none to know her plight.
No longer does the nightingale
Make sweet the bushy plain;
No longer under willow boughs
The maiden sings her strain;
She cannot sing, her orphaned heart
Feels weary of the earth.
Her parents seem like strangers both,
Since love has closed in dearth;
Without one's love, the sun above
Seems like a foe to smile;
Without one's love, as in a tomb
Life seems corruption vile.
A year passed by, another went,
No Cossack treads the spot;
She withers like a dying flower, -
Her mother notes it not.
‘Why are you pining, daughter dear?”
Her mother did not ask.
To wed her to a rich, old man
Was now her secret task.
“Marry him, girl!” the mother says.
“Old maid you should not be.
The man is rich; he has no child;
You'll live in luxury!”
“A lady I refuse to be!
Such marriages I waive!
My bridal towels are only good
To wrap me for my grave!
Let priests intone and bridesmaids weep
Above its portal grim:
I'd rather in my coffin lie
Than see the likes of him.
The mother paid no heed, but wrought
To bring the nuptial day;
The black-browed beauty saw it all
And mutely pined away.
At night she sought a sorceress,
To find the future out,
Whether she'd live in loneliness
Or die without a doubt.
“Granny, my precious darling,
My dearest friend I vow,
Tell me without concealment -
Where is my sweetheart now?
Is he alive? And loves me?
Has he forgotten me?
Where is my love?
To find him
Far in the world I'd flee!
Granny, my precious darling!
Tell me - you surely know!
Mother will now compel me
To marry a rich, old crow.
To force me into such a match
Is not in her control.
Yes, I would gladly drown myself
Though loath to lose my soul.
Then see to it, my birdie,
That if my lad lives not
I homeward shall return no more...
Ah, heavy is my lot!
The old man and the brokers wait...
Tell me what is to be!”
- 'Well then, my child!
Rest here awhile,
And with my words agree!
I, too, was once a maiden
And knew the pangs of love;
All that has passed; the things
A help to others prove.
Your future fortune,
O my child,
I knew two years ago;
Two years ago I brewed from herbs
A potion for your woe.”
The old crone went and from the shelf
Took down an inky phial.
“Here is a drink to serve your
needjust give these herbs a trial!
Go to the well ere cockcrow
And bathe you in its water;
Then drink a portion of this brew -
'Twill cure your mother's daughter.
Drink it, and run - no matter what
May strangely cry behind you;
Don't look around until you reach
The place he last did find you.
There rest a while. And when the moon
Mounts in the sky sublime,
Drink it again; if he comes not,
Drink for a third, fierce time.
At the first sip, your beauty fair
Will match its former proof;
After the second, on the steppe
A horse will stamp its hoof;
If your young Cossack is alive,
Then he at once will come;
After the third - my dearest child,
Seek not your fate to plumb!
Only you must not cross yourself -
Or nothing will appear!
Now go and see how beautiful
You looked in yester-year!"
She took the herbs and parting bowed:
“Granny, my thanks you earn!"
Then left the hut: “To go, or not?
I never can return!"
She washed her face, she took one drink,
And shone in beauty rare;
A second and a third she drank,
Then burst out singing there:
“Float, ever float, dear little swan,
Upon the soft, blue sea!
Grow, lovely poplar, upward grow,
Still higher you may be!
Grow slender, tall, and beautiful,
Up to the clouds mount straight;
Ask God if live long enough
To find myself a mate.
Grow, ever upward grow, and gaze
Beyond the soft, blue sea:
Across it there my sorrow lies,
My lover stays from me.
Somewhere my handsome lover
Is roaming on the plain,
While I in weeping waste my years
And wait for him in vain.
Tell him, my darling poplar,
That people at me spurn;
Tell him that I shall perish here
If he does not return!
My mother wants to bury me
By marriage in despair...
And who, when I am gone, will give
A daughter's tender care?
Who will console and tend her,
And help her in her age?
O mother! O my wretched fate!
O God, my prayers engage!
Look yonder, my dear poplar!
And if you find him not,
Shed tears before the sunrise
Lest people throng the spot.
Grow then, my darling poplar,
Still higher may you be!
Float, ever float, dear little swan,
Up on the soft, blue sea!"
In such a song the lovely maid
Recounted what concerned her;
The herbs were of a wondrous power -
And to a poplar turned her.
Back to her home she went no more;
She never met her mate;
Up to the clouds her beauty grew
All slender in estate.
The wind is howling down the vale,
It blusters oer the plain,
The poplar by the highway-side
To touch the ground is fain.
(1) Mother of a fellow-student of Shevchenko at the Academy of Art.
He dedicated this ballad to her in appreciation of the many kindnesses she bestowed upon him.
"Topolja" / "Po dibrovi viter vyje"
("Тополя" / "По діброві вітер виє" )
1839, S.- Petersburg, (C. - Петербург)
Translated by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell
Taras Shevchenko. Zibrannja tvoriv: U 6 t. — K., 2003. — T. 1:
Poezija 1837-1847. — S. 113-118; S. 620-623
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. 42-48