"The dream" (A comedy) poem of Taras Shevchenko (Translated from Ukrainian by Vera Rich)

Taras Shevchenko 



"Son" (Komedija) / "U vsiakoho svoia dolia"

The spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive,
because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him...
John xiv. 17.

To every man his destiny,
His path before him lies,
One man builds, one pulls to ruins, 
One, with greedy eyes,
Looks far out, past the horizon, 
Whether there remains 
Some country he can seize and bear 
With him to his grave;
That one his own kinsman robs 
By card-play in his home,
One, crouching in the corner, whets 
His knife against his own 
Brother, and that one, quiet and sober, 
Pious and God-fearing,
Would creep up like a kitten, wait 
Until the time you’re having 
Some trouble, and then drive his claws 
Deep into your liver —
Useless to implore—for neither 
Wife nor babes will move him.
One, generous and opulent,
Builds churches everywhere,
And so much loves "the Fatherland", 
So deeply for it cares,
And with such skill he draws away 
The poor thing’s blood like water!
And the brethren, looking on,
Their eyes wide with wonder,
Like lambs: "Let it be so!" they say, 
"Perhaps it should be thus!"
It should be thus! For there is no 
Lord in heaven above!
And you fall beneath the yoke, 
Wishing still for some 
Paradise in the hereafter...
There is none, is none!
Useless labour! Stop and think :
All on this earth,—no matter 
Be they tsars’ or beggars’ children —
Are the sons of Adam!
And that one, too... And that...
And I?
This is what I must be,
Good people : Sundays and weekdays I 
Amuse myself and feast:
And you are bored and envy me...
I swear I do not hear you!
You needn’t even shout! I drink 
My blood, not other people’s.


So, late one night, clutching the fence,
Drunk from a banquet I went home,
So thinking as I went along,
Till to the house I dragged my steps.
At home the children do not cry —
No wife is nagging,
It’s quiet as heaven,
And all around God’s blessings lie,
In home and in heart.
I lay down—and once fast 
Asleep, a drunkard, I declare,
Even if guns rolled past,
Would not twitch a hair.

And then a dream, a dream amazing 
Сame into my slumbers:
The sob’rest man would be a drunkard,
A Jewish miser’d not mind paying,
To see such marvels with his eyes.
Not on your life!
I see: it seems as if there flies 
An owl above the rivers, fields and thickets, 
Above the deep ravines and valleys,
Above the steppe-land’s broad expanses, 
Above the gulleys;
And after, after it I fly,
And bid the earth a last goodbye.

"Farewell, world! And farewell, earth,
Farewell, land unkind!
All my grief and torment I 
In the cloud shall hide.
As for you, my dear Ukraine,
Widow without fortune!
I shall fly to you, to speak 
With you from the clouds, and 
Seek your counsel, speaking sadly,
Quietly with you,
I shall fall on you at midnight 
Like the abundant dew.
Then together we’ll take counsel,
Grieving for our woe,
Till the sun rise, till your babes 
Rise up against the foe.
Farewell, then, my dearest mother 
Widow poor and grieving!
Feed your children : with the Lord 
Of Heaven truth yet is living!"

We fly... I look : the dawn is glimmering, 
The skyline is ablaze,
In a dark grove a nightingale 
Greets the sun with praise.
A gentle breeze blows quietly,
The steppes, the cornfields glimmer,
Among ravines, by lakes there gleams 
The green blush of the willows;
Orchards bow down, richly laden,
Poplars, standing straight 
Like sentinels, in the open land 
Are speaking with the plain.
And all around me, the whole country, 
Mantled round in beauty,
Shimmers green and bathes herself 
In the morning dew,
From the dawn of time, she bathes 
Herself and greets the sun,
There is nowhere a beginning,
Ending there is none.
No one has power to add to it,
No one may destroy it,
And all around... My soul! My soul!
Why are you not joyful?
Why, my poor soul, are you sad ?
Why so vainly weeping?
What are you so sorry for? "But do you not see it?
Do you not hear how the people are weeping?
Look, then, and see! Meanwhile, I shall fly, speeding 
High, high above, through the blue-clouded heavens,
Where there are no rulers, where there is no vengeance, 
Where comes no sound of man’s laughter or tears.
See there—in that paradise you are now quitting,
They tear off the patched ragged coat of a cripple,
Tear it off with the skin, for they lack, it appears,
Shoes for young princelings. And there a poor widow 
For poll-tax is crucified, and her one dear 
Son, her one child, her one hope, must be seized, 
Handcuffed, and put in the army—he’s missing,
You see, from the total they need... And there, under 
The fence (while its serf-mother reaps for her master),
A child, starved and swollen, is dying of hunger.
And yonder—do you see—Eyes, eyes!
What are you good for? Why
Have you not shrivelled up from childhood,
All your tears run dry?
Here by the fence, a ruined girl 
Limps footsore with her bastard,
Father and mother both renounced her,
To strangers she’s an outcast,
Old beggars shun her... 
The young lord Knows naught; still under age,
Squanders away his serfs on drink 
With his twentieth flame."
Does God see from behind His cloud 
Our tears and suffering?
Maybe He does see it, too —
But the help He brings —
Like that of ancient mountains, watered 
With the blood of men!...
O my poor, unhappy soul,
How you cause me pain!
Let us drink poison, and lie down
In the ice to sleep,
Let us even unto God 
Send thought, and answer seek:
How long will hangmen in this world 
Their dominion keep?

Fly then, my thought, my suffering so bitter!
And take away with you all evils, all troubles,
For they’re your companions! 
You grew up with them, 
Their heavy hands swaddled you, dearly they loved you, 
And you loved them dearly. Go, gather them, fly, 
And then scatter the horde across the great sky.
May it grow black, may it grow red,
Blow and fan the flames,
Once more may serpents be belched forth,
The earth be strewn with slain,
And without you, somewhere I 
Shall hide my heart,— and then 
I’ll seek some realm of paradise,
Far at the world’s end.

Once more above the earth I fly,
Once more to her I bid goodbye.
It is hard to leave a mother 
In a roofless shack,
But it is worse to look upon 
Her tears and tattered rags...

I fly, I fly, a cold wind blows,
Before me spread white drifts of snows;
Around me woods and swamplands stretch 
Mist, mist and emptiness...
No human sound,—here no trace can 
Be seen of the dread foot of man...

"Both enemies and friends—farewell,
Farewell! I shall not come
To be your guest. Feast! drink your fill!
I’ll hear no more, — Alone 
For endless ages I shall sleep 
The long night in the snow,
And, until you have discovered 
There’s a country left 
Still undrenched by tears and blood, 
I shall take my rest...
Take my rest..."

Yet hark, I hear
Fetters clank and rattle 
Beneath the earth. Let me see...
O wicked, wicked people!
Whence have you come? Why this toil? 
What, then, are you seeking
Beneath the earth? No! Maybe I’ll 
Hide no more, not even 
In heaven! Why this punishment?
Why am I tormented?
What harm have I done any man?
Whose harsh hands have fettered 
My soul fast in my body, fired 
My heart, and sent my thoughts 
Scattering around,
Like a flock of daws?
I’m punished, but I know not why, 
Punished bitterly!
When shall I expiate it? When?
When will the end be?
I neither know nor see.

The desert wilderness has stirred...
As from a coffin’s narrow girth 
For the last Judgment-day of doom,
The dead are rising for the truth.
These are not the dead, the slain,
They come not seeking Judgment-day: 
No! They are people, living people,
Put in irons, they draw 
Gold up out of holes, to pour it 
Down the Glutton’s maw,
The Imperial Gullet. These are convicts! 
And what for? The Almighty 
Knows the reason, or, maybe,
He’s not yet noticed either!
Yonder there a branded thief 
Drags his chains, and there 
A tortured robber grinds his teeth,
Longing to knife his friend,
Who, himself, could only just 
Escape from execution.
Among them, the old lags, in chains 
Is the King of freedom,
The King of all the world, the King 
Wearing a brand for crown.
In torment, in hard labour, he 
Pleads not, nor weeps, nor groans...
Once the heart is warmed by goodness,
Gold it will never grow.

Where, then, are your thoughts, your rosy-pink flowers? 
Well-cared-for and brave, those dear children of yours? 
To whom, then, to whom, my friend, did you give them? 
Or perhaps in your heart for all ages you hid them?
Do not hide them, my brother! But scatter them far! 
They will germinate, grow,— and go into the world.

Enough? Do torments yet remain?
Enough, enough, for it is cold,—
And frost stirs up the brain.

Once more I fly. The earth grows dark.
Brain drowses. Fear is in the heart.
I see : along the roadsides—houses —
Cities with a hundred churches,
And in the cities, set like storks,
Muscovite soldiers forming fours:
Well-fed, with leather 
Boots and fetters,
On parade. I look a bit 
Further: there, as in a pit,
The city gleams below me far 
Set on a gigantic marsh.
Above, black mist-clouds hover thickly.
I reach it.— Endless city.
Turkish? Or 
German for sure?
Or, maybe, even Muscovite!
Palaces and churches,
Pot-bellied worthies,
— Nowhere a simple house emerges!

It was growing dark. Like fire,
It blazed up all about,
I even grew afraid... "Hourra!
Hourra!" they raised a shout.
"Hush, you fools! Сome to your senses! 
Why are you so gay?
That you’re on fire?"    "The bumpkin, lo!
He knows not the parade!
’Tis a parade! For He this day 
To take his revels deigns."
"But where is She, that marvel, then?"
"Seest there the palace, hey?"
I pushed on in, till, thank the Lord,
A fellow-countryman,
Tin-buttoned, recognized and spoke 
To me : “ Whence hast thou come?"
"From Ukraine." "How thus is it 
Thou knowest not to converse
The local parlance!" "Not at all!
I can speak," I observe,
"But I don’t want to."  "’Tis, indeed,
A curious fool! I know 
How everywhere to enter, being 
In service here; an so 
Thou wish, I’ll try within the palace 
To bring thee. Only do 
Not begrudge a tip,— we, friend,
Are enlightened!"  "Off with you,
Foul inkpot!"  And invisible 
Once more, I hid from sight,
So pushed my way into the palace.
God of endless might!
A paradise indeed! For here 
Even the very spongers 
Are all gold-smothered ! And, behold,
Tall and grimly sullen 
He strides out, and at his side 
The Tsarina comes, poor thing,
Like a dried-up mushroom, lanky,
And all bone and skin
And moreover, the poor creature,
Troubled with the Twitch.
So this is what the goddess is!
Gracious! You poor wretch!
And I, poor fool, not having seen 
You even once, you marvel, 
Was even ready to believe 
Your poetasters’ drivel!
What a fool! A dunderhead!
I trusted on my life 
A Muscovite! Go, read, and then 
Believe them if you like!

After the divinities
Gome the crowds of nobles
In gold and silver! Just like fattened
Boars, bigmugged and bloated!
They get quite sweaty, pushing, shoving, 
So that they can gain
A nearer place to Them : Maybe 
They’ll hit them, or else deign 
To cock a snook—even a small one,
Even a half-snook, if it’s only 
Straight at their own mug —
They’ve got themselves ranged in a row,
As if without a tongue,
Not a murmur!... the tsar jabbers,
And that tsarina-wonder,
Like a heron among birds,
Hops round, gathering courage.

For quite a while, like puffed-up owls,
The pair walked back and forth,
Discussing something in low voices 
One could not hear, far off)—
About "the Fatherland", it seemed,
And the new gorgets, and 
About the even newer drill-rules;
Then the tsarina sat 
Down silently upon a stool.
I look: the tsar comes up 
To the most senior in rank —
And swipes him round the mug!
With all his might! The poor chap licked 
His lips, then punched the belly
Of his subordinate till it echoed...
The latter a still lesser
Ace hit between the shoulders; he —
A lesser; and the lesser 
A smaller one, and he the petty;
And beyond the threshold 
The petty ran with all their might 
Through the streets, and knead 
The remnants of the orthodox,
Who start to yell and scream
And shout and roar: "He’s revelling!
Our Little Father, our dear Tsar,
Revels! Hourra! Hourra! Hourra-aa!"

I roared with laughter! Why, what else? 
And I, too, with the rest
Caught quite a bit. Before the dawn 
They all went off to rest.
Only in the corners, groaned 
Believers here and there,
And, groaning, for the Little Father 
Made to God a prayer.
Laughter and tears! And then to see 
The city I went out,
For night is there like day. I look :
Palaces all about,
Palaces over the quiet river,
And the bank is faced
All in stone. And like a half-wit
I am quite amazed:
How did it all come to pass,
That such a swamp was built 
Into this wonder? Here what floods 
Of human blood were spilt,
Even without a knife ! Across 
On the further bank
A fortress and a belfry, like 
A whetted awl,—it stands 
Strange to look at. The clock jingles.
I turn around — and lo!
The horse is charging, with its hooves 
It breaks the rock below.
And on the horse there rides bare-back,
In coat—but yet not coat,
Without a hat; some sort of leaves 
Bind his head about.
The horse is rearing! Wait, just wait,
It will jump the river.
And he stretches out his hand,
As, it would seem, he wishes
To seize the whole world. Well, who is it?
So I go and read
What is forged on to the rock :
This miracle, indeed,
"The Second to the First" erected.
Now at once I see:
It is that First who crucified 
Our poor Ukraina,
And the Second gave the death-stroke 
To the prostrate widow.
Executioners, cannibals!
They ate their fill, that pair!
Stole to their hearts’ content! And what
With them did they bear
To the next world? My heart grew heavy,
Heavy, as I were reading
The history of Ukraine. I stand there
Stock-still, without moving.
And meanwhile softly, very softly, 
Something unseen and grieving,
Invisible, was singing there:

"From the city, out from Hlukhiv,
Went the regiments,
With their spades to man the earthworks.
And I, too, was sent
To the capital as proxy
Hetman to command
The Cossack troops. O God of mercy!
O thou evil tsar!
Accursed tsar, insatiate,
Perfidious serpent, what
Have you done, then, with the Cossacks?
You have filled the swamps
With their noble bones! And then
Built the capital
On their tortured corpses, and
In a dark dungeon cell
You slew me, too, me, a free Hetman,
In chains, with hunger martyred!...
Tsar, O tsar! Not even God 
Himself can ever part us,
Me from you; with strongest fetters
You are chained for ever 
To me. But my heart is sad 
To hover above Neva!
Ukraina, far away.
Perhaps does not exist...
I would fly and gaze on her,
But God will not permit.
Maybe Moscow burned her down,
And drained away the Dnipro 
Into the blue sea, and dug 
The high mounds through to rob 
Our glory? God all-merciful!
Take pity on us, God!"
And it grew silent. Then I look:
And a snow-white cloud
Cloaks the grey sky: and in this cloud
— As if a wild beast howled
In a wood. It was no cloud,
But white birds that descended 
Down upon that brazen tsar,
And mournfully lamented:
"And we, too, are chained to you, 
Dragon, cannibal!
And upon the Judgment Day 
’Tis we that shall conceal 
God from your insatiate eyes.
You from Ukraina
Drove us, naked, starving, to
The snows of foreign regions,
Cut our throats, and from our skins
Sewed yourself a purple
Robe, with thread of toughened sinews;
Glad in this new mantle
Founded your capital! Behold!
Palaces and churches!
Rejoice, fierce executioner,
Accursed, O accursed!"


The birds flew away and scattered. 
The bright sun was rising;
And I stood there in amazement 
Till I grew quite frightened.
The poor already were astir, 
Hastening to their toil,
At the cross-roads—Moscow’s troops 
Already at their drill,
On the pavements drowsy girls 
Hastened, they did not come 
From home — but going back, for mother 
Sent them out from home
To labour through the live-long night,
And thus to earn their bread.
And as I stand hunched, pondering,
The thought comes to my head:
"How hard the means that folk must take
To earn their daily bread!"
There the Civil Service swarms  
To the Ministries,
To sign and scribble documents 
And, at the same time, fleece
Father and brother. My compatriots 
Too, may be observed,
Here and there; they carry on 
In Russian, laugh, and curse 
Their parents who’d not had them taught 
To jabber, while still children,
The German language, so that now 
They would not be ink-pickled... 
Leeches, leeches ! For, maybe,
Your father had to sell
His last cow to the Jews, till he 
Could teach you Russian well!...
Ukraina, Ukraina,
These are thy children, think !
These are thy own fair young flowers, 
Watered well by ink,
And by Muscovite henbane 
In German hothouse stifled!...
Weep, then, widow Ukraina,
Weep for thou art childless !

Should I, maybe, go and look 
In the tsar’s palaces
To see what’s happening there? I come — 
Pot-bellied officers
Stand in a wheezing, snorting row,
Puffing out their cheeks,
Like turkeys, and towards the doors
Furtively they peep
From the corners of their eyes.
Doors opened—from his cave,
It seemed, a bear came rambling out —
But hardly could he make
His legs move—puffed up, even blue,
And an accursed hangover 
Tortures him. Suddenly he shouts 
At the extra-rotund 
Pot-bellied ones—and one and all 
Pot-bellies disappear 
Into the earth — he made his eyes 
Pop out—all shook with fear
Who still remained. Like one possessed,
He rages at the lesser,
And they go underneath the earth,
He rages at the petty,
And they are gone. He moves near 
The household, — they are gone.
He nears the guard; — the little guardsmen 
Give a heavy groan
And go into the earth! Great wonders 
Came to pass! I stare
Wondering what will happen next,
What my little bear
Will do? But he just stands and stands 
And his head is hanging,
Poor creature. But then where has all his 
Bearish nature vanished?
Like a kitten—and so comic!
I laughed, as well I might!
He heard that, and at top blast 
He bellowed—I took fright At that ... and I awoke.
And such
Was my dream of wonder!
Strange indeed! For only a 
Madman or a drunkard
Dreams such a dream. And so, dear friends,
Be not astonished, for 
I have not told my own tale, but 
What in my dream I saw.

Taras Shevchenko's poem
"Son" (Komedija) / "U vsiakoho svoia dolia"
("Сон" (Комедія) / "У всякого своя доля")
1844, St.- Petersburg, (С.- Петербург)

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. 282; S. 708-709.

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. 26 - 39.

Here you can find Ukrainian text of the Taras Shevchenko's poem:
Original poem in Ukrainian

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