"Prelude" poem of Taras Shevchenko. ("Dumy moi, dumy moi / Lykho meni z vamy!") Ukrainian-to-English translation by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell

Prelude (1)

("Dumy moi, dumy moi / Lykho meni z vamy!")

My pensive, heavy-laden songs,
How dire you are today!
Why do you stand upon my page
In such a sad array?
Why has the wind not scattered you
Like dust across the plains?
Why has not Woe, your mother, lulled
To sleep your sombre strains?
Since Woe in scorn has brought you forth, my tears
Have laved you - and in them you should have drowned!
They should have borne you off from plain to sea,—
Then none would ask me whence my grief I found,
Nor why I curse my fate, weary of earth...
For people say of me in mockery:
“The man’s a loafer!”...
O my flower-children! (2)
Why have I tended you, why set you free?
Will not one heart in all the world feel grief
At my sad poems? This is my belief.
For it may be there will be found
A lass with hazel eyes
Who’ll weep to hear these, songs of mine —
That fortune I would prize...
A single tear from those bright eyes
Would set me above lords!
O lays of mine, O lays of mine,
My heart your burden hoards!
For hazel eyes of brightest hue
And for those beauteous brows
My spirit yearned, my heart beat glad
And poured out all its vows;
It sought to pour its passion forth,
It sang of starry nights,
Of cherry orchards dark and green,
Of kissing’s sweet delights.
Of grassy steppes and burial mounds
Within our own Ukraine
My spirit in an alien land
Refused to sing in pain.
It would not, mid these woods and snows
Call hither from their places
The leaders of the Cossack host
With bunchuks (3) and with maces...
Nay, rather over our Ukraine
Let Cossack spirits hover:
There space enough and boundless joy
The whole vast region cover...
There like the freedom that has passed
The mighty Dnieper flows —
The sea, the steppe, the rapids hoarse,
The mounds like hills that rose.
There once was born and long prevailed
The Cossack liberty;
With bones of Tartars and of
Poles It strewed the mighty lea.
It strewed the plain with corpses,
And wearied of its blows
Lay down to rest, and as it slept
A grassy mound arose.
Above it the Black Eagle (4) wheels
Like a dark sentinel;
About it too the minstrels sing
Where all good people dwell.
Blind wretches sing of long ago,
And how it came to pass;
They are well versed in it, while
I Can only weep, alas;
Instead of words for my Ukraine
Only my tears can fall...
As for her doom—enough of that!
’Tis keenly felt by all!
And most by him whose tender soul
The plight of man can see —
He lives a hell in this our life,
And in the next... like me.
I shall not pray for better days
If now I have them not...
Let misery as now prevail,
I'll hide its torment hot,
I'll hide the fiery serpent
Within my very heart,
So that no enemy may see
My smiling's but an art...
My black thought, like a raven,
May fly about and croak;
My spirit like a nightingale
That warbles in an oak,
Yet weeps unseen, will mask its grief
Avoiding human scorn, (5)
So let my tears no more be dried,
Still let them flow forlorn,
Still let my tears by day and night
Bedew this foreign strand,
Until the priests at death will cloak
My eyes with alien sand . . .
So let it be! For what's to do?
For worry will not help.
But may God smite the envious dog
Who at my grief would yelp!
My pensive, heavy-laden songs,
My precious blooms, I vow!
I've tended you, I've reared you up,—
Where shall I send you now?
Go to Ukraine, my children dear,
To our own dear Ukraine;
Wander like waifs by hedge and road,
For here I must remain.
There you will find a friendly word,
And there a mood sincere;
There you will meet an open heart,
Nay, hints of glory hear . . .
My dearest mother, sweet Ukraine,
Welcome, though still unknown,
My children inarticulate
And claim them as your own!

(1) This poem appeared at first in The Kobzar of 1840, and was without a title. In later editions, the publishers, or editors, placed it at the end, considering it as a summation o£ Shevchenko’s moods and attitudes expressed in the other poems comprising that collection.
(2) Shevchenko regarded his verses as being the children of his brain, born of his grief and sorrow. As yet he thought them to be inarticulate and immature and, fearing that they might not be well received in Ukraine, begged his countrymen to give them a fair welcome.
(3) Cossack commanders' insignia. It was a long pole topped by a ball or arrow to the base of which was attached the hair from a horsed mane or tail. It was of Mongolian origin.
(4) Russia’s heraldic double-headed eagle.
(5) Colloquial nickname for one who is garrulous, in this case a poet-minstrel whose role is to entertain the people with songs conforming to their moods, thus making them forget their misery. He himself, however, is miserable and full of sorrows, with not a soul to share them except God, with whom he communes in his solitary musings and contemplations.

Taras Shevchenko
"Думи мої, думи мої / Лихо мені з вами!"
("Dumy moi, dumy moi / Lykho meni z vamy!")
1840, S.- Petersburg, (C. - Петербург)

Translated by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell

Original publication: Taras Shevchenko. Zibrannia tvoriv: U 6 t. — K., 2003. — T. 1: Poeziia 1837-1847. — S. 124-126; S. 631-633

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. 54 - 57.

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