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Taras Shevchenko

TARAS SHEVCHENKO (1814-1861) is the most important Ukrainian poet of the 19th century. Born a serf, he was orphaned early in life and grew up in great poverty. Shevchenko was freed in 1838 and studied painting at the St. Petersburg Academy of Art. His first collection, Kobzar ("The Bard" 1840), is generally acknowledged to be the most important event in Ukrainian literature. He was arrested in 1847 and punished with twenty five years of compulsory service in a military outpost in Central Asia for writing poems that satirized the Tsar. Forbidden to write or paint, he continued to do so clandestinely. Four of the poems in Yara's Dark Night, Bright Stars are from this period. He was released in the spring of 1858. That fall he met Ira Aldridge in St. Petersburg and drew his portrait. Shevchenko tried to visit his homeland the following summer, but was arrested and sent back to St. Petersburg. He died March 10, 1861, a day after his 47th birthday and seven days before the emancipation of serfs in Russia was announced.

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Dark Night, Bright Stars included the following poems by Taras Shevchenko,

“The Sky’s Unwashed…”

“A Cloud, Floating Behind the Sun…”

from “If Only You Knew” 

from “David’s Psalms” 

from “The Road to Ukraine”

 “I Am Well” 

from "Letter to My Countrymen” 

from “L” 

“It’s All the Same to Me” 

“We Sang Then Parted” 

lVirlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps have translated Shevchenko's poetry since 1989 and their translations have appeared in American literary journals and anthologies and were supported by the New York State Council on the Arts


    Yara’s Dark Night Bright Stars recreated the meeting of Taras Shevchenko, who was both a poet and painter, and Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), the African-American actor much honored in Europe. The two great artists, who rose up from serfdom and slavery, could not speak to each other directly but found a common language in art and song. Their meetings were documented in the diary of Count Tolstoy’s 15 year old daughter, Katya (Ekaterina Tolstoy Yunge), who sometimes acted as their translator.

    In the spring of 2014 we presented a developmental version of Dark Night Bright Stars at La MaMa. Afterwards, the US Embassy brought us to Ukraine to perform at the American Festival in Odesa and experimental theaters in Lviv and Kyiv. When we were in Kyiv, we visited the Shevchenko Museum and were able to see Shevchenko's original drawing of Aldridge.

    When we returned to New York we presented one performance at the Ukrainian Museum, surrounded by Shevchenko’s art. That fall Yara created a special event there that focused on Shevchenko’s portrait of Aldridge then on exhibit. The program was introduced by Broadway star André De Shields and included a lecture by professor Bernth Lindfors, the foremost scholar on Aldridge. In 2016 we expanded our production of “Dark Night Bright Stars for our shows at La MaMa See our website for credits, reviews and photos -- .Virlana Tkacz

Shevchenko's Poetry (translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps)
The Sky's Unwashed... (1848)

The sky's unwashed and the waves are sleepy,

And on the edges of the shore, way out there,

The rushes, as if drunk,

Sway without wind... Lord have mercy!

How long am I to languish here,

In this open prison,

On this useless sea?

No answer from

The grass that's yellowed in the steppe.

It's silent and bows as if alive.

It will not speak honestly...

And I've no one else to ask.

The Sky's Unwashed....

Kobzar - The Bard

A Cloud, Floating Behind the Sun... (1849)

A cloud, floating behind the sun,

Spreads its red skirts

And beckons the sun to sleep

In the blue sea; covering it

            With a rose blanket,

            As a mother would a child...

            Behold... for an hour,

            For a short hour

            The heart rests,

            And speaks to God...

            But then the fog, like an enemy,

            Rolls in over the sea

            Concealing the rose-colored cloud,


            Follows the gray fog,

            A dark silence

            Envelops the soul,

            Till you don't know, where to turn.

            So you long for it, for that next dawn,

            As a child longs for its mother.

A Cloud
Letter to My Countrymen
Dead, Alive and Not Yet Born (1845)

Whoever claims to love God,

yet hates his brother, is a liar. John 4:20



The sun rises, the sun sets

And the Lord’s Day passes

As the exhausted rest.

I alone am cursed to cry

On the crowded crossroads

Day and night.

No one knows,

No one knows or cares.

They’re deaf and don’t hear

How chains are forged,

How truth is sold,

How the Lord’s abused.

Our people are forced

Into hard labor.

They plow sorrow

And sow grief.

What will grow now?

What will the harvest bring?


Come to your senses,

You heartless idiots!

Look at this paradise,

Look at this Ukraine.

Love our ruined country

Honestly (with a pure heart).

Throw off your chains

And embrace each other.

Don’t leave for far off lands

Searching for what

Can’t even be found in heaven,

Much less in someone else’s backyard.

At home lies your own truth,

Your own power and freedom.

(the opening of a long poem)

It's All the Same to Me  (1847)

It’s all the same to me,

If I live in Ukraine or not,

If someone remembers me or

If I’m forgotten in the snows of a strange land,

It’s all the same to me.


I grew up in slavery, among strangers,

No one cried for me,

And I’ll die in slavery.

I’ll take it all with me,

Won’t leave the smallest trace of myself

In our dear Ukraine --

In our land that is not our land.

And no father

Will tell his son: “Pray,

Pray son, he died for Ukraine.”


It’s all the same to me,

If that son prays or not…

But it is not all the same to me,

If evil people put Ukraine to sleep

Till she is awakened robbed

And in flames.

Oh, that is not all the same to me.

All the Same
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