An View on the Poetry in Ukraine as Told to Others:

Ukraine FlagNo one, least of all me, really cares about the economics of what the EU was offering to Ukraine, beyond a vague uncertainty of how many Greeks rail against a two tiered Europe and want their drachma back, or the conviction that colonialism is never a particularly good deal for the colonized, and Ukraine has suffered brutal colonization by Russia.

But that’s ok because this really has nothing to do with money.

Poland was a sponsor of the EU Eastern Partnership and before her bad marriage to Russia Ukraine had a bad marriage to Poland. The other partner was Sweden, whose flag perhaps by no coincidence is the same rare colors as Ukraine’s. That is all about the Swedish invasion of Charles XII and Hetman Ivan Mazeppa, celebrated by Liszt, Rilke and Lord Byron, and vilified by Tchaikovsky.

Lithuania, where the deal was supposed to be signed, is more of a first, unblemished love of Ukraine, for in the days of the Commonwealth before Poland and before Russia, Ruthenian or old Ukrainian was the chancellory language of the large Lithuanian state, attesting to the felicitous place of Ukrainians within it.

And the secret deal that detonated the EU partnership of course was struck in Moscow.

Taras Shevchenko is so definingly the poet of Ukraine that he almost makes all other poets impossible.  His poetry  is not literary like Byron’s or robustly mystic like Rilke’s. It is an undefinable and therefore ever renewing emotional punch of three inseparable elements: language, poetry and rebellion.

By language I do not mean syntax, strophes and synonyms. I mean Ukrainian banned at the time by the Elms Ukaze though spoken by millions. It was a crime to publish anything but anthropological collections of folklore in Ukrainian.

But I have not even begun to discuss language when I am already discussing rebellion, and I have already abjured the attempt to define poetry in terms of linguistic techniques and categories.

So what  I left with?  A poet whose own impenetrable complexities if not contradictory elements make him so durable?  Or a definition of Ukraine.

There is something mystical, essential and of course poetic about the way it hits you.  Do you like Putin view the uproar in Ukraine as a pogrom. Know yourself then and your biases about Ukraine.  Or do you view it through the lens of Mazeppa and the impossibly indefatigable, seething stallion to which he was lashed naked under stampeding clouds?

Protests in Ukraine may accomplish nothing more than the ritual re-definition of the nation.  But that is no small thing.

Tidy, vital, mountainous, Ukrainian Galicia with its musicians, professors and Austrian past – the home of Leopold von Sacher Masoch – could almost be Slovenia, which is Tyrol with a Slavic accent.  It could be flamboyant Bohemia or sturdy if plodding Slovakia.

But it is Ukraine and the implausible and incorrigible Gogol who contributed most of any Ukrainian to world literature spoke Ukrainian as his first language but wrote all his best stuff in Russian.

Because it is Ukraine, Galicia is not like Prague and its German-language writers are Sacher Masochs.

There is no brutality in Russia that is not extreme brutality.  There is no piety that is not fanaticism. There is no sentimentality that is not Dostoevsky. Russians, Conrad said, are born to space and numbers.

There is no love that is not consuming and richly passionate, and as in the case of Don Juan, these turmoils of the blood never last. Infinities are by nature unresolved.

Mickiewicz, the great Polish Romantic poet who was Shevchenko’s contemporary, left Poland after the Russian invasion and lived to a ripe age in Paris, organizing political émigré soirées where Chopin died.

Much more like infinity, Pushkin the contemporaneous great Russian poet, died young in a dual over a lady’s honor.

And Shevchenko, choosing a middle ground that is no less extreme, lived to almost 50 writing banned subversive poetry interspersed with stints of penal servitude in the extremest Urals.

Ukraine is not Slovenia because in addition to the craggy, stalwart Carparthians, it is also the endless steppes.  Steppes that drunk with snow and moonlight, never sleep at night.

Economically and even politically the protests now firing the blood of Kiev may accomplish nothing or something. But poetically, which is to say essentially, they have already accomplished everything. They have made Ukrainians Ukrainian again.

7 thoughts on “An View on the Poetry in Ukraine as Told to Others:

  1. It’s odd not to know if I’m Ukrainian.
    Her picture is in my living room, my grandmother.
    She’s from Ukraine.
    But I don’t know if her family fled there from somewhere else.
    But that is where she was from.
    Helen

    1. Firefly:

      You probably are Ukrainian. You should try to find out more about your grandmother. Usually people who were from the Ukraine originated there.

  2. Matt et al.,
    Twice I’ve followed the videos through a beautiful city.
    First, a young and strong man walked for miles through the city at night.
    There was no violence, only excitement.
    Live singing, couples holding hands while vigorously walking, across town
    and up and down wide stone steps til we get to hugely tall doors of a meeting
    place and then nothing…..

    Then, for a chilling 9:55 minutes, I was part of a street where men in black
    jackets, helmets, masks and horrible sticks marched in and beat people.
    These beatings could kill you.
    Smashing skulls, ribs, curled up legs, and then the poor skull again.
    I hope the man with grey hair lives.
    People with crosses on tried to help him.

    THAT was terror.

    1. Firefly:

      Absolutely right – the way the cops or troops dress with the helmets and face guards and weild their clubs is open terror designed to intimidate the people and keep them from protesting.

  3. You are welcome to use any post from Foreign Notes. Refer to the author specfically as Levko, if you would.

  4. This is an extraordinarily insightful piece. Couple it with the fact that Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, the size of England, Germany and Hungary combined, and that it anchors the geographic center of Europe. It has been savaged for centuries by russia, and the EU “thing” is far more a matter of finally blending substance to nominal independence and escaping russia, than it ‘s a matter of money. Ukraine was pivotal to the formation, existence and then dissolution of the USSR. The cold war was “won”, if it was, because Ukraine quit the party. IF the US doesn’t at long last comprehend this and amend its policy toward “russia” then we will see the Beatles’ “Back to the USSR” redux, any reset be damned.

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