"In captivity I count the days and nights" - poem of T.Shevchenko (tr. Michael M. Naydan)

In captivity I count the days and nights

“Lichu v nevoli dni i nochi” (First version)

In captivity I count the days and nights,
Then lose count.
O, Lord. How hard
These days drag on.
And the years flow between them.
They quietly flow by,
They take away the good and bad
With themselves!
They take away, without returning
Anything ever!
And don’t plead, for your prayer
Will be lost on God.

And the fourth year passes
Quietly, slowly,
And I begin to embroider
My fourth book in captivity—I embroider
My sorrow in a foreign land
With blood and tears.
For you never can tell
Your grief to anyone in words,
Ever, ever,
Nowhere in the world! There are no words
In far-off captivity!
There are no words, no tears,
No nothing.
You don’t even have great God
Around you!
There is nothing to look at,
No one to speak to.
You don’t feel like living in the world,
But you have to live.
I must, I must, but why?
Not to lose my soul?
It’s not worth this sorrow…
This is why I am fated
To live in the world, to drag
These chains in captivity.
Maybe some day I’ll still look
At my Ukraine…
Maybe some day I’ll share
My word-tears with
Green oak groves,
Dark meadows!
For I have no kin
In all of Ukraine.
But still, the people aren’t the same
As in this foreign land!
I’d stroll along the Dnipro River
Through cheerful villages
And I’d sing my thoughts in songs,
Quiet ones, sad ones.
Let me live to that day, to glance,
Dear God,
At these green fields,
At these grave mounds.
If you don’t grant me this, then carry
My tears
To my land; for I, Lord,
I am dying for her!
Perhaps it will be easier
To lay myself down in this foreign land
If from time to time
They’ll remember me in Ukraine!
Carry my tears there, my Lord!
Or at least send hope
To my soul… for there is nothing
That I can do with my wretched head,
For my heart grows cold
When I think that perhaps
I’ll be buried
In a foreign land—and these thoughts
Will be buried with me.
And no one in Ukraine
Will remember me!

And perhaps quietly after the years
My thoughts embroidered by tears
Will reach Ukraine
Sometime… and fall,
Like dew, over the land,
They will quietly fall
Over a sincere young heart!
And this heart will bow its head
And will weep with me,
And, perhaps, Lord,
Will remember me in prayer!

Let be what will be.
Whether to flow on or wander,
At least I’ll be forced to crucify myself!
But I’ll quietly embroider
These white pages anyway.

Taras Shevchenko
“Lichu v nevoli dni i nochi” (First version)
("Лічу в неволі дні і ночі")
1850, Orenburg (Оренбург)

Translated by Michael M. Naydan

Original publication:
Taras Shevchenko, Tvory v 6 t. [Works in 6 v.], Kyiv: Naukova dumka, 1968

"Ukrainian Literature. A Journal of Translations" Volume 1.2004"
Shevchenko Scientific Society, New York, USA


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