The Testament

Dig my grave and raise my barrow
By the Dnieper-side
In Ukraina, my own land,
A fair land and wide.
I will lie and watch the cornfields,
Listen through the years
To the river voices roaring,
Roaring in my ears.

When I hear the call
Of the racing flood,
Loud with hated blood,
I will leave them all,
Fields and hills; and force my way
Right up to the Throne
Where God sits alone;
Clasp His feet and pray...
But till that day
What is God to me?

Bury me, be done with me,
Rise and break your chain,
Water your new liberty
With blood for rain.
Then, in the mighty family
Of all men that are free,
May be sometimes, very softly
You will speak of me?


My Testament

When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes ... then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields --
I'll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I'll pray .... But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.


It Makes No Difference To Me

It makes no difference to me,
If I shall live or not in Ukraine
Or whether any one shall think
Of me 'mid foreign snow and rain.
It makes no difference to me.

In slavery I grew 'mid strangers,
Unwept by any kin of mine;
In slavery I now will die
And vanish without any sign.
I shall not leave the slightest trace
Upon our glorious Ukraine,
Our land, but not as ours known.
No father will remind his son
Or say to him, "Repeat one prayer,
One prayer for him; for our Ukraine
They tortured him in their foul lair."

It makes no difference to me,
If that son says a prayer or not.
It makes great difference to me
That evil folk and wicked men
Attack our Ukraine, once so free,
And rob and plunder it at will.
That makes great difference to me.


I Was Thirteen

I was thirteen. I herded lambs
Beyond the village on the lea.
The magic of the sun, perhaps,
Or what was it affected me?
I felt with joy all overcome,
As though with God....
The time for lunch had long passed by,
And still among the weeds I lay
And prayed to God.... I know not why
It was so pleasant then to pray
For me, an orphan peasant boy,
Or why such bliss so filled me there?
The sky seemed bright, the village fair,
The very lambs seemed to rejoice!
The sun's rays warmed but did not sear!
But not for long the sun stayed kind,
Not long in bliss I prayed....
It turned into a ball of fire
And set the world ablaze.
As though just wakened up, I gaze:
The hamlet's drab and poor,
And God's blue heavens -- even they
Are glorious no more.
I look upon the lambs I tend --
Those lambs are not my own!
I eye the hut wherein I dwell --
I do not have a home!
God gave me nothing, naught at all....
I bowed my head and wept
Such bitter tears.... And then a lass*
Who had been sorting hemp
Not far from there, down by the path,
Heard my lament and came
Across the field to comfort me;
She spoke a soothing phrase
And gently dried my weeping eyes
And kissed my tear-wet face....
It was as though the sun had smiled,
As though all things on earth were mine,
My own.... the orchards, fields and groves!...
And, laughing merrily the while,
The master's lambs to drink we drove.

Oh, how disgusting!... Yet, when I
Recall those days, my heart is sore
That there my brief life's span the Lord
Did not grant me to live and die.
There, plowing, I'd have passed away,
With ignorance my life-long lot,
I'd not an outcast be today,
I'd not be cursing Man and God! ...


The Mighty Dnieper

The mighty Dnieper roars and bellows,
The wind in anger howls and raves,
Down to the ground it bends the willows,
And mountain-high lifts up the waves.

The pale-faced moon picked out this moment
To peek out from behind a cloud,
Like a canoe upon the ocean
It first tips up, and then dips down.

The cocks don't crow to wake the morning,
There's not as yet a sound of man,
The owls in glades call out their warnings,
And ash trees creak and creak again.


My Thoughts

My thorny thoughts, my thorny thoughts,
You bring me only woe!
Why do you on the paper stand
So sadly row on row? ...
Why did the winds not scatter you
Like dust across the steppes?
Why did ill-luck not cradle you
To sleep upon its breast? ...

My thoughts, my melancholy thoughts,
My children, tender shoots!
I nursed you, brought you up -- and now
What shall I do with you? ...
Go to Ukraine, my homeless waifs!
Your way make to Ukraine
Along back roads like vagabonds,
But I'm doomed here to stay.

There you will find a heart that's true
And words of welcome kind,
There honesty, unvarnished truth
And, maybe, fame you'll find ...
So welcome them, my Motherland,
Ukraine, into your home!
Accept my guileless, simple brood
And take them for your own!

Taras Shevchenko
St. Petersburg, 1839.
Translated by John Weir Toronto

Don't Wed

Don't wed a wealthy woman, friend,
She'll drive you from the house.
Don't wed a poor one either, friend,
Dull care will be your spouse.
Get hitched to carefree Cossack life
And share a Cossack fate:
If it be rags, let it be rags --
What comes, that's what you take.
Then you'll have nobody to nag
Or try to cheer you up,
To fuss and fret and question you
What ails you and what's up.
When two misfortune share, they say,
It's easier to weep.
Not so: it's easier to cry
When no-one's there to see.

Taras Shevchenko
Mirhorod, October 4th, 1845.
Translated by John Weir, Toronto

Don't Envy

Don't envy, friend, a wealthy man:
A rich man's life is spent
Without a friend or faithful love --
Those things he has to rent.
Don't envy, friend, a man of rank,
His power's based on force.
Don't envy, too, a famous man:
The man of note well knows
The crowd's acclaim is not for him,
But for that thorny fame
He wrought with labour and with tears
So they'd be entertained.
But then, when young folk gather 'round,
So fine they are and fair
You'd think it's heaven, -- ah, but look:
See evil stirring there ...

Don't envy anyone my friend,
For if you look you'll find
That there's no heaven on the earth,
No more than in the sky.

Taras Shevchenko
Mirhorod, October 4th, 1845.
Translated by John Weir, Toronto