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Заповіт Тараса Шевченка

May 30, 2022

The tenth translation of Testament by Taras Shevchenko

The New Yorker’s May 9th issue includes two factual reports from the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv; James Nachtwey’s photo portfolio, “A Harrowed Land” (click here), and Luke Mogelson’s “The Wound Dressers” (click here).

A shell-shocked widow retrieves a book of poetry from a box under the bed in her ruined home. Nina and Lyudmyla, sisters in their seventies, lie dead in a different house. Their shelves contain the same collection.

Mogelson writes:

Widely considered the progenitor of modern Ukrainian literature, Shevchenko had contributed as much as anyone to the development of modern Ukrainian identity, distinct from Russia’s. “My Testament”, one of the poems in the book, had become a kind of anthem for protestors during the Revolution of Dignity.”

There are at least ten English translations; eight here, a ninth here. But the latest, included in The Complete Kobzar, The Poetry of Taras Shevchenko by Peter Fedynsky (click here), is not on the internet. In contrast to the rhyming original, it’s in free verse. Fedensky claims to have followed only two rules, “strict adherence to the meaning of the original, and a constant rhythm, […] facilitated by the rich vocabulary of English.” Here it is.

Testament by Taras Shevchenko
When I die, then bury me
Atop a mound
Amid the steppe's expanse.
So I may see
The great broad fields
The Dnipro and the cliffs,
So I may hear the river roar.
When it carries hostile blood  
From Ukraine into the azure sea...
I’ll then forsake
The fields and hills -
I'll leave it all  
Taking wing to pray 
To God himself... till
Then, I know not God.
Bury me, rise up,
And break your chains
Then sprinkle liberty   
With hostile wicked blood.
And in a great new family, 
A family of the free,  
Forget not to remember me
With a kind and gentle word.
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