Episode 23 and all video recordings are available at:
Polish Cultural Institute New York YouTube
Encounters with Polish Literature is a video series for anyone interested in literature and the culture of books and reading. Each month, host David A. Goldfarb will present a new topic in conversation with an expert on that author or book or movement in Polish literature. More about the Encounters with Polish Literature series and the timeline.
Taras Shevchenko (1814-61), the major Ukrainian poet of the nineteenth century, was born a serf to the estate of Vasily Vasilyevich Engelhardt in the village of Morintsy in the Kyiv region. He took an interest in reading and writing from his youth, though he had a difficult childhood, his mother dying when he was nine years old, and his father dying when he was twelve, neglected by his uncle who was to have been his guardian. He was a talented painter and while traveling as a servant to Engelhardt was able to study at the Art Academy of Wilno and in Warsaw. In 1838, his friends and supporters held an auction to buy his freedom from Engelhardt, enabling him eventually to work as an artist and pursue his own interests. He wrote poetry in Ukrainian and prose works in Russian, and was persecuted by the Russian government, spending much of his life in prison and in exile for his subversive poetry in works such as the Kobzar (The Bard) and his historical epic, Haydamaki, that asserted the uniqueness of the Ukrainian language and the distinctiveness of the Ukrainian people.
In this episode we consider mainly four poems, translated by our guest, from different phases of Shevchenko’s brief career, and we think about the category of the “national poet” and why Slavic literatures like Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian have national poets, as opposed to other countries that may have national figures who are not poets or writers of any sort, or perhaps prose writers that embody the spirit of the nation, but are not poets. We also think about how we can read Shevchenko critically as scholars with the goal of finding more meaning in the work, at a time when Ukraine is in crisis.
Translations and Material on Shevchenko in English:
Grabowicz, George G. “National Poets and National Mystifications,” Literární mystifikace, etnické mýty a jejich úloha při formování národního vědomí, Sborník příspěvků z mezinárodní konference konané ve dnech 20.-21.10.2001. 21.10.2001, Uherské Hradiště (2001), pgs. 7-24. (Highly recommended, but not easy to obtain. Best found at a university library with a strong Slavic collection, through interlibrary loan, or possibly the Slavic Reference Service at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.)
Grabowicz, George G. The Poet as Mythmaker A Study of Symbolic Meaning in Taras Ševčenko. Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U Press, 1982.
Grabowicz, George G. “Taras Shevchenko: The Making of The National Poet.” Revue des études slaves. Vol. 85, No. 3, Taras Ševčenko (1814-1861) Création culturelle et conscience nationale (2014), pp. 421-439.
Shevchenko, Taras. The Complete Kobzar: The Poetry of Taras Shevchenko. Tr. Peter Fedynsky. London: Glagoslav Publications, 2013.
Shevchenko, Taras. The Poet of Ukraine: Selected Poems. Tr. and Intro. by Clarence A. Manning. Las Vegas, Nev.: Rusalka Books, 2020.
Zaitsev, Pavlo. Taras Shevchenko: A Life. Ed. and tr. by George S. N. Luckyj. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1988.
George G. Grabowicz is the Dmytro Čyževs’kyj Research Professor of Ukrainian Literature in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. He received his B.A. from Yale University (1965) and his PhD in comparative literature from Harvard (1975), where he was also Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows (1971-1974).
Professor Grabowicz has been Chairman of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard (1983-1988) and Director of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute (1989-1996). He was one of the founders and President (1991-1993) of the International Association for Ukrainian Studies and Chairman of the American Committee of Slavists (1983-1988). From 2012 to 2018 he was President of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the US and is currently a Vice-President there.
In 1997 he founded and since then has been editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian monthly Krytyka, a leading intellectual journal in Ukraine. Since 2000 the publishing house of Krytyka has produced some one hundred and fifty books, particularly academic books in the humanities, many of them published jointly with Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute, the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the US and the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the US.
Professor Grabowicz has written on Ukrainian, Polish and Russian literature and on literary theory. His first book on Shevchenko (The Poet as Mythmaker, 1982; Ukrainian editions: 1991 and 1997) has been voted the most influential academic book of the post-Soviet period in Ukraine. His most recent publication is the two volume Тарас Шевченко в критиці [Taras Shevchenko: The Critical Reception], Kyiv, Krytyka, 2013 and 2016. He currently heads an international team of scholars working on a history of Ukrainian literature that is due to appear in 2023. A full bibliography of his writings (up to 2015) is available online. In March, 2022 he was awarded the Shevchenko Prize, Ukraine’s highest award in the humanities and arts, for his series of articles on modernism and the poet Pavlo Tychyna.
Bartek Remisko, Executive Producer
David A. Goldfarb, Host & Producer
Natalia Iyudin, Producer