Taras Shevchenko

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Taras Shevchenko 1814-1861

(Also transliterated as Ševčenko) Ukrainian poet.

Considered the national poet of Ukraine, Shevchenko virtually created a Ukrainian literary language by resisting Russian political and cultural impositions. His first collection of poetry, Kobzar (The Minstrel, 1840), earned him the nickname "the Ukrainian Pushkin." Active in the Ukrainian nationalist movement for independence from tsarist Russia, Shevchenko remained a symbol of resistance for Ukrainian nationalists even after his death. In addition to his importance for Ukrainian literature, he also influenced Russian literature through contemporary translations of his poetry into Russian. In 1964, during the sesquicentennial of his birth, Shevchenko was honored both by anti-communist Ukrainian nationalists, for his resistance to Russian dominance, and by the Soviet government, for his political resistance to the tsar.

Biographical Information

Born a serf in a province of Kiev and orphaned at a very young age, Shevchenko endured a childhood of deprivation and abuse. After an apprenticeship as an icon-maker, he was taken into the service of a landowner named Engelhardt to work as an interior decorator. In 1832 he was sold to a painting contractor in St. Petersburg as an indentured servant. Six years later, his freedom was purchased by the painter Bryullov and the poet Zhukovsky, who recognized Shevchenko's poetic and artistic talents. He entered the Academy of Art in St. Petersburg, where he studied painting with great success and also began writing the poems that would appear in his first published collection two years later. He returned to the Ukraine in 1843, painting an album of life in that area. After completing his studies at the Academy in St. Petersburg, he again went to the Ukraine as the commissioned artist of an archeological team studying Ukrainian relics. Shevchenko voiced his protests against Russian oppression in strongly nationalist poems, which he circulated in manuscript form. In 1847, when he was about to be appointed to Kiev University, he was arrested for his unpublished anti-tsarist poetry and for membership in the secret "Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius," an outlawed society that advocated Slavic union based on independence from Russia. Shevchenko was exiled to penal army service in central Asia and prohibited from...

(The entire section is 711 words.)