top of page

Ukrainian Poetry: Just Taking a Glimpse

Poetry from Ukraine, and even poets inspired by Ukraine, house important historical lessons that are relevant today more than ever. Ukraine has been invaded more than ten times, check out the list here.

If there's one thing we kn0w, is that conflict breeds art, opinions, and literature. When learning about Ukrainian poetry, I saw again and again that the best known poet from Ukraine is the 19th century Taras Shevchenko. Fun fact: He was also a folklorist! Like so many poets from Ukraine (and honestly the Slavic area), Shevchenko was heavily involved in politics. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that he was born a serf (read: slave) and was highly nationalistic in a time of strife in his country.

Two poems I found interesting included "A Dream" and "Zapovit." "Zapovit" is pretty small, so I'll share it here, but click the link to check out the (much) longer "A Dream." These both show a comradery with his country and fellows, and showcases how Ukraine and many of its citizens have wanted to be left alone as their own country within a potential federation of Slavic countries (there's tons of history there, highly recommend checking it out). Zapovit When I am dead, bury me

In my beloved Ukraine, My tomb upon a grave mound high Amid the spreading plain, So that the fields, the boundless steppes, he Dnieper's plunging shore My eyes could see, my ears could hear The mighty river roar. When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears Into the deep blue sea The blood of foes ... then will I leave These hills and fertile fields — I'll leave them all and fly away To the abode of God, And then I'll pray .... But till that day I nothing know of God. Oh bury me, then rise ye up And break your heavy chains And water with the tyrants' blood The freedom you have gained. And in the great new family, The family of the free, With softly spoken, kindly word Remember also me.

Translated by John Weir

A few more modern Ukrainian poets can be found here, on The Calvert Journal's site.

I quite like "[Do not kiss me on the forehead like a corpse]" from their selection by Yulia Musakovska.

[Do not kiss me on the forehead like a corpse]

Do not kiss me on the forehead like a corpse

say, almost twice withered, the glasses and eyes themselves.

Mixed medicines with sweets, the pages of the book as yellow as his skin.

He pours a few of his precious stories into the empty space.

I see all the protagonists as old acquaintances. KGB officers squatting on the same hospital bed, in shiny Hungarian shoes — for these he could kill. The look is mocking.

He said, these Beatles, this foreign languages department, would not do you any good.

All this is for the chosen ones, not for orphans, poor relatives.

And he hid like cheese in butter, quietly like a mouse.

We caught people like you in the alleys, cut the roots.

Respectable people liked it, this was respected.

It would be for his son. For a fighting pear, for live warm meat.

I also see that woman, her crooked, bright mouth. Her

spider legs, dotted porcelain, metal tools.

A musty apartment with ceilings that are too high.

But I see him the clearest of all — strong, with a guitar.

With eyes wide open and his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans.

With thousands of book pages stored in memory.

With a face open to the world. To the dark and deep water.

Not for a girl, not for a dispute -

for the free range of arms,

for a high wave, albeit not on the shoulder. Written by Yulia Musakovska and translated by Yury Zavadsky

In the past I have talked about Osip Mandelstam, however he is a Russian and Soviet poet. That said, I do feel like the following poem is always relevant, so I'm going to share it anyway. Through Kiev, through the streets of the monster

Through Kiev, through the streets of the monster

some wife's trying to find her husband.

One time we knew that wife,

the wax cheeks, dry eyes.

Gypsies won’t tell fortunes for beauties.

Here the concert hall has forgotten the instruments.

Dead horses along the main street.

The morgue smells in the nice part of town.

The Red Army trundled its wounded

out of town on the last street car,

one blood-stained overcoat calling,

“Don't worry, we’ll be back!”

Voronezh. May 1937

Translated from the Russian by Clarence Brown and W S. Merwin

I'm quite fond of the observational style found in these works. The idea of being able to look around during a moment and distill the objects into metaphors and meaning is enviable. It's writing worth aspiring to, even if the moments we might capture feel normal or less important in some way.

Maybe I'll focus on writing in this way for the next few days, see what I can turn objects into. Until then, stay safe and keep writing! Best, Mea Andrews My links:

To check out what I'm writing on WebNovel:

Where Nightmares Roam:

To support the author (me!):

My Patreon:

To see a list of my publications: Here:


bottom of page