TARAS SHEVCHENKO’S LIFE AND WORK
Taras Shevchenko as a member of Aral Sea Expedition (1848 - 1849)
The caravan was made up of 2,500 waggons and 3,500 camels. The sections of the schooner Konstantin were being transported on conveyances. The manpower consisted of some 200 infantry, 600 Bashkir horsemen, and a detachment of cavalry, all under the command of General Schreiber. In that conglomeration, Shevchenko was treated not as a common soldier, but as a member of the expedition, and as such enjoyed special privileges from the commanders; among other alleviations, he was not required to wear a uniform. The first day of the journey proved unbearable, and Shevchenko who could not endure the insufferable heat, and was in addition highly excited by the sudden change, experienced a fainting spell. The terrain through which they moved was a monotonous wilderness, a boundless plain wild with the steppe-grass but with no other growth or sign of life. On the way Shevchenko sketched a few landscape scenes, several Russian military forts, and burial mounds. Then followed seven days of tormenting journey across the horrible desert of Karakum with its extremes of temperature — cold, windy elevations and hot valleys full of black sand on which, as Shevchenko noted both in his Diary (Shchodennik) and in the novel The Twins (Bliznetsi) an egg could be fried in five minutes. The thirst suffered by man and beast was intense, and when finally they reached the desert wells the water in them was so bitter, salty, acid, and full of minute creatures that it was tolerable to drink only after it had been sieved and boiled. Shevchenko was fortunate in having a few lemons with which to flavour his tea and so subdue his thirst. However, the worst was yet to come. Their further journey lay across a pale roseate plain which was the bottom of a dried up lake and, in the intense sunlight, was so dazzling that one could proceed only with eyes closed. Shevchenko, hke his companions, was temporarily blinded by it. Finally, the shores of the Aral Sea were reached, and the air became fresher. But there still remained some fifty miles to the Rayim Fort, their destination іn the Syr-Daria River. This part of the journey was possible only by night, for the temperature during the day was almost a steady 115° F. On June 19, after thirty-nine days of forging ahead, they arrived at that Fort which stood solitary amid the utterly gloomy Kirghiz steppe-land.
The winter with its storms began early, on October 22, and in that snow-bound locality Shevchenko spent some four months during which he continued to draw and paint, but mostly to write, in order to obliterate as best he could the monotony and boredom. Vermin, however, with which all the members of the expedition were infested, became an insoluble problem. Mail reached that forlorn spot only twice a year, but Shevchenko failed to receive any communication whatever from the outside world. All seemed to have forgotten him, and this troubled him painfully. Scrofula attacked him, and his physical deterioration continued. It was not relieved even when, at the end of January 1849, he returned for a two-month's stay to the Rayim Fort where two physicians attended him. His appearance also changed. He had now a fully bearded face, his hair began to thin out visibly, and his former sturdy physique became lean. He was aging fast. At times, under the influence of rum, his melancholy would leave him, but a relapse would always follow and he would again grow reticent with his friends or vocal in cursing his evil fate. At least twice he took part in tiger hunts, and on one of them sketched a dead tiger. Occasionally, when the snow-storms subsided, he and others would visit the local Kirghiz beys. But all those diversions could not in the end alleviate his deep-rooted grief and mental torment.
Taras Shevchenko. "Fort Kara Butak."
The expedition completed its work by September 22. In two excursions, lasting about seven months, the Aral's surface was measured, its depths sounded, and its coast line mapped and studied. Shevchenko's contribution was over two hundred sketches and drawings which enhanced the immense research in both practical and artistic respects. However, it could not be publicly acknowledged, because it was only at Butakov's instance and on the Orenburg military officialdom's sufferance that he did that kind of work; the formal confirmation of his release from the interdict was still lacking. Personally, he profited from the research by often working with the naturalist Werner, thus acquiring considerable knowledge of botany and geology.
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Споріднені публікації, за тегами: Taras Shevchenko Biography
Taras Shevchenko. ««Stay with your mother, maid!» they told you...» (««Не кидай матері», – казали...» з циклу поезій «В казематі», 1847). Translated by Irina Zheleznova.
Taras Shevchenko's poem «To the Dead, the Living and the Unborn» («І мертвим, і живим, і ненарожденним землякам моїм в Украйні і не в Украйні моє дружнєє посланіє»). English translation by Irina Zheleznova.
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Taras Shevchenko's poem "Sorrowful nights" ("Дівичії ночі") — translated into English by Irina Zheleznova