Poem of Taras Shevchenko, "The Сaucasus". Translated from Ukrainian by Vera Rich

Taras Shevchenko 


("Kavkaz" / ("Кавказ")


Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, 
that I might weep day and night for the slain . . .
Jeremiah ix. 1.

Mountains beyond mountains, crags in stormclouds cloaked, 
Wild heights sown with sorrow, soil that blood has soaked.

From the dawn of time, Prometheus 
Hangs, the eagle’s victim;
All God’s days, it pecks his ribs,
Tears the heart within him.
Tears, but cannot drink away 
The blood that throbs with life,
Still it lives and lives again, 
And still once more he smiles.
For our soul shall never perish,
Freedom knows no dying,
And the Glutton cannot harvest 
Fields where seas are lying;
Cannot bind the living spirit,
Nor the living word,
Cannot smirch the sacred glory 
Of almighty God.
Not for us to stand against Thee,
Not for us to judge Thy deed:
For us there is but weeping, weeping.
For us our daily bread to knead 
Well-mixed with blood and sweat and tears;
The hangman tortures, mocks and jeers,
Our drunken truth sleeps on—as dead!
When will she wake once more from slumber?
When, worn out with strife,
Lord, wilt Thou lie down to rest 
And grant us people life?
Truly in Thy might, Thy living 
Spirit we believe;
Liberty and right shall triumph,
And, O Lord, to Thee 
Every tongue on earth shall pray 
Through the length of days.
Meanwhile, rivers rise in flood,
Swollen streams of blood.
Mountains beyond mountains, crags in stormclouds cloaked, 
Wild heights sown with sorrow, soil that blood has soaked.
“And there, Our Majesty surprised
(Naked and starving though it be),
A poor, but natural liberty.
The hunt is on!...” Since then, the ground 
Is strewn with conscripts’ scattered bones.
And tears? And blood? Enough to drown 
All emperors with all their sons 
And grandsons eager for the throne 
In widows’ tears... And maidens’ tears 
Shed secretly the whole night long?
What of the fiery tears of mothers?
The blood-stained tears of aged fathers?
Not rivers now—a sea, full-flood,
A sea of fire... Glory! Glory!
Glory to wolf-hounds, trappers, hunters,
And to the tsars, our “little fathers”,
And glory to you, dark-blue mountains,
Frost and snow protect you;
And to you, great-hearted heroes,
God does not forget you.
Struggle on—and be triumphant!
God Himself will aid you;
At your side fight truth and glory,
Right and holy freedom.
“Bannock and croft are all your own;
They were not alms, were not a gift,—
No one will seize them for his own,
Clap you in chains and drag you off.
In our domain... We’re civilized,
We read the words of Holy Writ,
And from the dungeon’s lowest pit 
Up to the glory of the throne,
We’re all in gold—and naked too.
We’ll show you culture! You’ll be taught 
The price of bread, the price of salt...
We’re Christians. We have shrines and learning, 
And all that’s good. God likes us too!
Your croft alone still spoils our view;
Why does it stand upon your land 
Without our leave? Why can we not 
Throw you your bannocks as to dogs?
Why don’t you, when all’s said and done,
Pay excise duty on the sun?
That’s all we ask! For we’re not heathens,
We’re genuine, professing Christians.
We’re satisfied with little,— so 
If only you’d be friendly too,
There’d be so much to show to you.
A good slice of the world is ours;
Siberia, think! — too vast to cross!
Jails? People? Counting takes too long!
From the Moldavian to the Finn 
Silence is held in every tongue...
All quite content... In our domain 
The Bible is made plain to us,
The holy monks explain it thus :—
A king, who used to pasture swine,
Murdered a friend, and stole his wife,
— And thus he won eternal life!
Just see who’s in our Paradise!
You’re unenlightened, you don’t know 
The truths the Holy Cross can show!
So learn our rule! Fleece, fleece and give;
And when you’ve given —
Straight off to heaven,
And take the family if you like!
And as for us ! What don’t we know?
There’s stars to count and corn to sow,
We curse the French! And we can sell 
(They make fine stakes at cards as well),
People—not negroes, our own kind,
Just simple Christians, we don’t mind,
For we’re not Dagoes! God forbid 
That we should deal in stolen goods 
As Jew-boys do. We live ‘by law’!...” 
By the apostolic law?
Then you love your brethren?
Hypocrites, with vipers' tongues,
Rogues accursed by heaven!
Yes, you love your brother’s skin,
Never mind his soul!
Fleece him 'by law' when you need money: 
A daughter’s fine fur stole,
Or a dowry for your bastard,
Slippers for your wife,
And expenses you don’t mention 
In your family life!

Why, then wast Thou crucified,
Christ, Thou Son of God?
Was it just for us good people?
For the word of truth?
So that we would mock Thee, maybe?
That’s the way it was!

Shrines and chapels, candelabra,
Ikons, clouds of incense,
Deep prostrations, never tiring,
Honouring Thine Image;
— Grant them theft and war and murder,
So that they may kill a brother,
Behold, they offer gifts to Thee!
Loot from a fire, fine tapestry!...
"We are the enlightened ! Now 
We bring the radiant sun,
Reveal the blessed light of truth
To sightless little ones.
Come to us, and all you ought 
To know will be made plain:
Prison building will be taught,
How to forge your chains,
How to wear them, how the knout 
Is plaited—we’ll explain 
All our science. Only yield 
Your dark-blue mountains, please —
They alone defy us now,
We hold the plains and seas!”
And they drove you there, Yakiv, to die as a stranger,
My friend, my one friend! Not for our Ukraina,
But for her hangman they made you shed blood,
— Not black blood, but good; and you drank your reward 
From a Muscovite chalice of Muscovite poison.
My friend, my dear friend, in my thoughts unforgotten! 
Gome, living soul, come to dwell in Ukraine;
Fly across banks with the Cossacks, stand guard 
By the robbed mounds of heroes, and wait in the plain, 
Sharing the tears that the Cossacks are weeping,
Until I escape from this slavery and pain.

Meanwhile, I have seeds to scatter,
All my aching grief,
All my thoughts ; God grant they blossom,
Speaking in the wind.
Peaceful winds from Ukraina,
Bearing dew, will carry
All my thoughts to you, dear brother,
Greeting them with sorrow,
You will read them to the end,
Recalling quietly,
The heroes’ graves, the plains, the hills,
The land you loved—and me.

Taras Shevchenko's poem
1845, Pereyaslav, (Переяслав)

Translated by Vera Rich
Source of the original poem in Ukrainian: Taras Shevchenko. Zibrannia tvoriv: U 6 t. — K., 2003. — T. 1: Poeziia 1837-1847. — S. 343 - 347; S. 734 - 736. 
Source of English translation of the poem: Taras Shevchenko."Song out of Darkness". Selected poems translated from the Ukrainian by Vera Rich. London, 1961, p. 69 - 73.
 Here you can find Ukrainian text of the Taras Shevchenko's poem:
Original poem in Ukrainian

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«Poem of Taras Shevchenko, "The Сaucasus". Translated from Ukrainian by Vera Rich»:
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