Young gentlemen, if you but knew
Where people weep their whole life through
You'd not compose your rhapsodies
And God for nothing you'd not praise —
And mock our tears and twit the truth.
The tranquil cottage in the grove
You call a paradise, I know.
In such a cottage once I dwelt
And there my first hot tears were spilt,
My early tears! I know no vice,
No wrong or evil anywhere
That's not within that cottage fair ...
And yet they call it paradise!
I do not speak of that wee house
Beside the village, by the copse,
As though 'twere paradise on earth.
'Twas there my mother gave me birth
And, singing as her child she nursed,
She passed her pain to me ... 'Twas there,
In that wee house, that Eden fair,
That I saw hell ... There people slave
Without a let-up night and day,
Not even given time to pray.
In that same village to her grave
My gentle mother, young in years,
Was laid by toil and want and cares-
There father, weeping with his brood
(And we were tiny, tattered tots),
Could not withstand his bitter lot
And died at work in servitude! . . .
And we — we scattered where we could
Like little field mice. I to school —
To carry water for the class.
My brothers slaved on the estate
And then, conscripted, marched away!
And you, my sisters! Fortune has
Reserved for you the cruelest fate!
What is the purpose of your life?
Your youth in service slipped away,
Your locks in servitude turn grey,
In service, sisters, you will die!
Translated by John Weir
In 1831 the Engelhardts moved to St. Petersburg with all their servants.
Engelhardt noticed Shevchenko's artistic talent, and in Saint Petersburg he apprenticed him to the painter; V. Shiriaev for four years. Together, they participated in the painting of the Bolshoi Theatre as an apprentice draftsman.
In 1837 Shevchenko met and befriended the Ukrainian artist Ivan Soshenko. Here he met Karl Briullov, Vasily Zhukovsky, Vasyl Hryhorovych, Alexey Venetsianov, Apollon Mokritsky, — the people who would play the main role in his freedom.
As his artistic talent developed, Shevchenko made significant progress in painting. He became a fine portrait painter and a master of watercolor paintings; for academic excellence he received three silver medals from the Academy: in 1840 for his painting “The Beggar Boy Giving Bread to a Dog,” in 1841 for his painting “A Gypsy Fortune Teller.” The first painting for which Taras won a silver medal in 1839, had not reached them.
Unlike other students of the Academy, his work shows common people: serf girl, children, gypsy woman and others, trying to attract public attention to the oppressed people.
While Shevchenko was learning in the Academy of Arts, he became acquainted with the history and culture of his Motherland, Greece, Rome. He continued to move in the circles of the progressive intelligentsia from Russia, he read Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol. In another hand, he read Ukrainian authors also — Kotliarevsky, Kvitka-Osnovyanenko, and others.
He also got acquainted with outstanding works of Western literature and studied the French language — all this raised the political and cultural level of the poet.
In May of 1843 Taras Shevchenko with Yevhen Hrebinka went to Ukraine. He visited villages, towns and had drawn a number of sketches.
At the beginning of June he visited Kyiv and the Kyiv region. He’d met with students and intellectuals and learnt historical and cultural places. He had written national songs and legends, drawn landscapes and old buildings.
At the end of summer Taras journeyed to the South of Ukraine. In October, he stayed in Yahotyn at the house of the estate of Prince Nicholas Repnin.
At the end of 1844 Shevchenko went back to St. Petersburg where he continued his studies at the Academy of Arts.
In May 1846 Taras Shevchenko met Mykola Kostomarov, a famous historian and one of the founders of The Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius. Since December, Shevchenko started to attend meetings of this Brotherhood where he read his revolutionary poems to the members.
The members of this Brotherhood were students and teachers of the universities of Kyiv and Kharkiv. The main position in this Brotherhood were held (except Kostomarov and Shevchenko) by Georgi Andruzky, Vasyl Bilozersky, Mykola Gulak, Panteleimon Kulish.
On April 5, 1847 Shevchenko was arrested on a tip-off at the entrance to Kiev. The next day he was sent to St. Petersburg.
On May 30, 1847 tsar’s verdict about the exile of Shevchenko to the Separate Orenburg Corps as a soldier “with a strict supervision and a prohibition to write and draw” was announced to him. He had been serving in the fortress of Orsk.
Despite the strict supervision, Shevchenko had drawn a self-portrait and many poems, that he hid in the top of his boot.
In May of 1848 Taras was taken on an expedition of the Rear Admiral Alexey Butakov. The expedition’s goals were for the investigation and scientific description of The Aral Sea. In this expedition Shevchenko painted many landscapes and continued to work on literary works.
In November of 1849 after a difficult crossing of the desert steppes, Shevchenko arrived in Orenburg.
During his exile he’d taken part in a expedition to the Karatau Mountains, where he painted close to 100 pictures despite the prohibition. In 1852 Taras Shevchenko began to write prose in Russian. Later his living circumstances improved greatly because of his friendship with the new commandant of the stronghold.
In 1855 he began to correspond with the artist and Vice-President of the Academy of Arts — Fyodor Tolstoy — about a petition regarding rescue.
Taras Shevchenko spent the last years of his life working on new poetry, paintings, and engravings, as well as editing his older works. But after his difficult years in exile his final illness proved too much.
Shevchenko died in Saint Petersburg on March 10 (O.S. February 26), 1861. He was first buried at the Smolensk Cemetery in Saint Petersburg. However, fulfilling Shevchenko's wish, expressed in his poem “Testament” (“Zapovit”), his remains were transferred to Ukraine.
Shevchenko's remains were buried on May 10 on Chernecha Hill (Monk's Hill; now Taras Hill) by the Dnipro River near Kaniv.
The invaluable contribution of Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko into world culture, is appreciated not only in Ukraine, but also abroad. Twelve hundred monuments stand all over the world. Towns and villages, universities and schools are named after him. Many movies have been filmed and plays staged in his honor.
Shevchenko is an inherent part of Ukrainian history and culture. He will continue to be, for ages to come for the Ukrainian Nation.
We are grateful to you for visiting our interactive biography of Taras Shevchenko.
Our purpose is to create an exceptionally interesting and useful presentation of a world renowned poet’s life.
This is an ongoing project and we will continue our efforts on the road to perfection while amplifying it with a variety of new colors.
So, if you have any ideas about this website either if you found a mistake or inaccuracy — please, email us at Shevchenko@ukrlib.com.ua