7 months ago


a large sum of money.

a large sum of money. This money had been raised by his friends in a very special way. Professor Bryullov of St. Petersburg Academy of Arts had made a portrait of the distinguished Russian poet Zhukovsky. The canvas had then been raffled off. The proceeds - 2,500 rubles - had been handed over to the baron. As a free man, Shevchenko didn't break contact with the toiling masses. Until his dying day he was a true son of the Ukrainian people and, at the same time, a sincere friend of the working people of all nations and nationalities. On his travels in the Ukraine, Shevchenko more than once witnessed the horrible scenes of landlords' arbitrariness and hotly protested against this evil, both with his pen and word of mouth. Wherever and whenever he could, Shevehenko had an audience of people around him - at the bazaar, in a tavern, near the church or, if the workday was over, at someone's home. Each time, his impassioned words cleared and stirred the befogged minds of the masses, directed them along the road of struggle for liberation. He took each such opportunity to read his revolutionary poems, tell salty antiserfdom anecdotes and parables, recollect the country's heroic past, the people's struggle against the Polish magnates. "The forces of the people are uncountable," said the poet-revolutionary. "They must be consolidated and then used at once to fight czarist autocracy and serfdom. Only thus can we win freedom and build a new, happy life." "Artist Shevchenko, for writing revolting and extremely insolent poems.... shall be sent as a private to the Detached Orenburg Corps (Middle Asia - Ed.) .... authorities shall be notified to exercise the strictest possible control over him, least he should find a way of sending forth his revolting and pasquil writings," read the draft resolution of the chief, of the Gendarmerie Corps, submitted for approval to the czar. Obviously not fully satisfied by the text, Nicholas I added in his own hand, "To be placed under strictest surveillance; forbidden to write and to paint." And so Shevchenko was made a private of the Imperial Army. The term of service was not specified, which actually made it a life sentence. The place of service was a desert in a wild outlying province of the Russian Empire. But worst of all, a man born to create was forbidden to do so! Being a soldier at that period was much worse than prison. Nowhere else was an individual oppressed and humiliated as hard as in the barracks; nowhere else human torture flourished as much as in that army. The poet's spirit, however, proved insuperable. Despite the royal forbiddance, Shevchenko wrote inimitable verse in the harsh years of exile and army drilling. It was filled with great revolutionary strength and undying courage. He wrote under inquest, locked in a damp barracks, behind the fortified walls of Orsk, in the sun scorched Middle Asian steppe, on a deserted shore of the Caspian Sea, in the remote fortress of Novopetrovsk. The Kobzar wrote his moving verse in a small notebook which he had made himself and kept in the leg of his boot.

His friends spent a long time soliciting in high places, trying to save the poet. Eventually, the government allowed Shevchenko to return from exile. Outwardly, the Ukrainian poet had changed quite conspicuously, looking much older than his age. But in his diary he wrote, "It seems to me that I'm exactly the same as I was ten years ago. Not a single feature in my inner countenance has changed." On the very day of his arrival in St. Petersburg, Shevchenko paid a visit to the family of Feodor Tolstoi, Vice President of the Academy of Arts. He wanted to thank these people who had done so much to set him free. There, he met and made friends with the prominent British dramatic actor Ira Aldridge, a black American by birth, who had come to the Russian capital on a theatrical tour. What made them close one to the other was their likeness in destiny and the deep-going interpretation of Shakespeare. Both loathed slavery and the whole system which divided people into the oppressors and the downtrodden. Both had suffered from the oppression that for centuries had been the lot of their people. Both had fearlessly embarked upon the thorny and winding road of life and had traveled long enough to reach their goals. Both were true masters of their vocations. Shevchenko understood Aldridge's stage personages better than anyone else and wouldn't miss any of his performances. Aldridge frequented Shevchenko's home and the poet made his portrait. It turned out one of his most attractive canvases. The painted image looked exactly like the living prototype - clever, readily changeable, with an amused and even playful air, as though about to start dancing this very instant. They sometimes met without the interpreter and found that they didn't need to speak, and when they spoke they understood each other. They read their favorite literary works in their mother tongues and sang their native songs. Then their souls met and embraced one another, their hearts beating in unison. No, exile hadn't changed Shevchenko's spirit. His heart remained tenderly responsive to the grief of others, to the suffering of the oppressed and humiliated. Unfortunately, his health was not the same. Under mined by soldiering and hard climatic conditions, it gave way tragically early. Still, the poet's physical death left untouched his literary life. Simple mortals are, in fact, remembered by two basic dates birth and death. Great personalities have only one date - birth. Shevchenko performed a Promethean feat, was meted out a Promethean punishment, and followed in the Titan's footsteps of immortality. The genius of Shevchenko is the greatest accomplishment of Ukrainian culture. The poet laid the foundation of a new Ukrainian literature and the national literary language. His creations acquired worldwide importance. His legacy is permeated with noble patriotism. His love for his Motherland showed, first of all, in his desire for a revolution to overthrow the feudal order, czarist autocracy, and to build a new life, based on the power of the people. Shevchenko's was the patriotism of a