When Ukrainians hear the word “Kobzar,” they don’t think of the original meaning, but rather think of a blind wandering minstrel, a certain particular individual. Perhaps in the darkest times of Ukrainian history, it was this same individual who said “Ukraine lives and will continue to live.”. He is, of course, Taras Shevchenko.
The brilliant poet and artist who was the embodiment of the Ukrainian spirit and philosophy, was born on March 9, 1814 in the heart of Ukraine, in the Cherkasy region‘s village of Moryntsi.
Perhaps God and fate led Shevchenko to fame during his lifetime. The artist’s talent manifested itself at an early age and played an important role in his life and in the formation of his patriotic beliefs. His friendship and communication in St. Petersburg with Karl Bryullov and Vasily Zhukovsky, who were enraptured by his incredible talent, offered him a way out of serfdom.
Drawing portraits of wealthy, noble people who had the honor of welcoming yesterday’s serf into their luxurious estates allowed Shevchenko to feel financially independent and develop a sense of dignity. It is also worth noting Count Fyodor Petrovich Tolstoy, to whom Shevchenko himself owed his liberation from exile.
In 1840, an event occured which affected not only the further development of Ukrainian literature, but also Ukrainian identity: Shevchenko’s collection of poetry was published under the eloquent title “Kobzar.”
Shevchenko yearned for the freedom and dignity of all people, especially his countrymen, and he wrote aphoristic, deep poems in their native Ukrainian language. These poems urged Ukrainians to fight for freedom. He and his friends founded the liberal Cyril and Methodius fraternity. His participation in this organization resulted in Shevchenko being exiled for years in the wild Transcaspian desert.
The Tsar’s government accused Shevchenko of writing poems in the “Little Russian language,” which his gendarmes claimed could “plant seeds that would lead to the taking root of thoughts of fictitious blissful Cossak times, and the possibility of Ukraine existing as a separate state.” Yes, even back in those times, Shevchenko had dreamed of an independent Ukraine.
After the death of Emperor Nicholas I, the time came for Shevchenko’s triumphant return to St. Petersburg, and the Academy of Arts, where he studied and subsequently became an academic. The death of the poet in his workshop on March 10, 1861 meant only the end of this prophet’s earthly life , as he would have eternal glory in his after life. It would be wonderful if people knew Taras Shevchenko not only by his often exploited typical image, but as an incredibly interesting and talented man who just wished to be happy.
Mykola Kostomarov’s memories of Shevchenko come to mind: “I can say that I know him as a perfectly honest person, who deeply loves his people and his language, and who does not have any hostility towards others.”
Taras Shevchenko rests in peace, on the Chernecha Mountain near Kaniv, right at at the dear heart of Ukraine. More than a thousand monuments have been dedicated to the Kobzar in 32 countries around the world.
A brief explanation to the meaning of “kobzar:”
They were Ukrainian folk singers who were called “kobzars.” They traveled from town to town, from village to village, and sang to kobza music – a string instrument that resembles a lute.
Kobzar performers appealed to a particular audience, which enhaled every word, every melody and every tale. They are historically considered to be collectors, minstrels and keepers of historical songs, doom, folk tales and legends, and they diffused information about Ukraine’s history. Similarly, Skaldy singers from Scandinavia, Klifaredy from Greece, and troubadours, from medieval Europe, were all wandering minstrels, who first discovered the news, witnessed important events, and then shared what they saw and heard to everyone else. That is why for centuries certain religious and secular power elite sought to limit their influence on people. In 1930, the regime of Joseph Stalin terminated most harpers in Ukraine.
The first edition from Taras Schevchenko’s collection, “Kobzar,” was published in St. Petersburg in 1840. The book had a very elegant look and was decorated with images of Basil Shtenberha – a blind Kobzar aided by a boy-guide. Obviously, it determined the title of the book. Taras Shevchenko had a huge influence on historical themes, he spent all of his life searching for the truth His poems and his image was that of a Kobzar, and the entire Ukrainian nation.
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