Image - Ivan Velychkovsky: a page from the collection Zegar.

Poetry (from Greek poiesis, meaning creativity). In its original sense the term ‘poetry’ is synonymous with creative artistic literature. In a stricter and more conventional sense ‘poetry’ refers to that genre of literature which is written in verse as opposed to prose. Although poetry is a highly developed genre in classical and modern Ukrainian literature, it nonetheless shares general outlines of development with all Ukrainian literature, especially in the first two periods, the Kyivan and the Cossack.

The Kyivan period. Like all of the other literary genres poetry was at first imported in translations together with liturgical material. It consisted mainly of Byzantine and Old Bulgarian hymns as well as poetic introductions to the Gospels, such as ‘Pokhvala tsariu Symeonu’ in the Izbornik of Sviatoslav (1073), or the prologue to the didactic gospel of K. Preslavsky, the so-called ‘alphabet prayer.’ Those and other church-related poems (introductions, praises, alphabet poems—the latter often used to teach the Slavonic alphabet) as well as numerous Byzantine liturgical hymns played an important role in the formation of original Ukrainian poetry. Such hymns were compiled in menaia (see Menaion), triodia (see Triodion), octoechos, and psalters and had a profound influence on poetic perception. The translated corpus of hymns served as a source for the imagery, comparisons, and epithets in the literary monuments of the period. The first known original Ukrainian poem is the song of praise to Saints Borys and Hlib from the chronicle Povist’ vremennykh lit. The work, written by an anonymous author (some say Metropolitan Ioan I), is poetically similar to various Byzantine hymns of praise, and its verse elements are derived from a syntactical parallelism based on the repetition of the word ‘rejoice.’ Similar syntactic versification is found in another original work, ‘Slovo v novu nediliu po Pastsi’ (A Word on the First Sunday after Easter, ca 1170), by the noteworthy 12th-century sermonizer Bishop Cyril of Turiv. Many translated texts lost their graphic designation of verse and were written out in proselike lines, but there seems little doubt that the old Kyivan Rus’ scribes and translators were familiar with Greek poetics and the rules governing the structure of hymns. It is not surprising, therefore, that quite complicated poetic forms have been found, where lines of various syllables exist, and where no rhyme is present. The unifying poetic structure emanates from a contextual semantic line, syntactic parallelism, and various other poetic or rhetorical devices. Such free nonsyllabic verse is derived from Byzantine models, the original of which go back to biblical verse. A sample of such a semantically structured poem is found in Moleniie Danyla Zatochnyka (Supplication of Daniel the Exile, end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century), in the anonymous ‘Slovo pro pohybel’ rus’koï zemli’ (The Tale of Disintegration of the Rus’ Lands, ca 13th to 14th century), and in the anonymous ‘Slovo o Lazarevim voskresinni’ (Tale of Lazarus's Resurrection). In the multisyllabic line and the recitative nature of those poems there is much similarity to various samples of folk poetry.

Both the Byzantine and the native folk influence found their reflection in the most outstanding poetic work of the Kyivan period, the epic poem Slovo o polku Ihorevi (The Tale of Ihor's Campaign, ca 1187). Ivan Franko pointed out (1907) that the versificatory underpinnings of the epic and other ‘slovos’ were based on church hymns, and at the same time coincided with the syllabic and syntactic structures found in folk songs. His claim that there existed a ‘retinue-chivalrous’ (druzhynno-lytsars’ka) school of poetry to which all those and many nonextant works belong is unverifiable precisely owing to the paucity of existing examples. As with other genres there are no samples of poetry from the 14th and 15th centuries.

The Cossack period. Although there are some poems from the beginning of the 16th century (eg, Pavlo Rusyn's songs from 1509), most of the poetry begins in the second half of the century, since it is closely tied to the establishment of brotherhood schools. As the numerous extant copies of poetics attest, versification was a compulsory subject in the schools, and all pupils were taught poetic models based first and foremost on Polish syllabic verse and even on ancient Greek and Latin models (eg, Meletii Smotrytsky's Gramatiki ...). The other major influence on early Ukrainian poetry was the poetic structure inherent in folk songs—a syllabic versification with determined ictuses, and thereby readily congenial to both the syllabic verse imported from Poland and the individual modulations which later became the basis for the emergence of the tonic principle of versification. The ‘school poetry,’ as the vast production of the period is called, although often imitative and stilted, varies in the language used (Latin, Polish, Old Ukrainian, or Church Slavonic) and can be roughly divided into three groups: (1) strict school-type poems, written in accordance with poetic rules, often in Latin, Polish, or Church Slavonic, as well as various trick-poems, acrostics, and the like; (2) poems that took their cue from folk poetry and even became part of the folk repertoire (some poems by Hryhorii Skovoroda and Semen Klymovsky's ‘Ïkhav kozak za Dunai’ [The Cossack Rode beyond the Danube], which was made eternal by Ludvig van Beethoven's variations on the song); and (3) humorous and satiric poems and travesties. Into the first group fall the Latin hexameters of Klymovych, S. Pekalid, and H. Vyshnevsky as well as the Old Ukrainian, Polish, and Church Slavonic syllabic verses of Lazar Baranovych, Smotrytsky, O. Mytura, Kasiian Sakovych, and Sofronii Pochasky. Interesting are Atanasii Kalnofoisky, the author of Teraturhima (1638), for his epitaphs written in Polish, Ioan Maksymovych for his 25,000-line hymn to the Virgin Mary (Bohorodytse Divo [Virgin Mother of God, 1707]), and Teofan Prokopovych for the sheer variety of his creativity.

The poets belonging to the second group are more stimulating in that they pushed the confines of school poetics to the limits and thus paved the way for the poetry which was to follow in the 19th century. Hryhorii Skovoroda is the best known and most gifted of the group. Interesting verses with a syllabic structure approaching folk styles are found among the poems of Ivan Velychkovsky, Ivan Pashkovsky, Z. Dziubarevych, and, especially, Kyrylo Stavrovetsky-Tranquillon (Perlo mnohotsinnoie [A Priceless Pearl, 1646]), who uses lines of irregular syllables close to those of a folk duma. Pamva Berynda's use of poetic dialogue in 1611 is expanded further by S. Divovych in ‘Razhovor Velikorossii s Malorossiei’(The Conversation of Great Russia with Little Russia, 1762). The most notable works of the third group are, for their sheer number (369), the opinionated poems of Klymentii, Zynovii's son, written sometime at the beginning of the 18th century; the Polish verses of Danylo Bratkovsky; the satiric poems of the monk Yakiv; and the facile and loquacious verses of Ivan Nekrashevych.

Although no major poet emerged, and few of the poets have any consistency in their writings, many wrote poetry which could fit all three of the aforementioned categories. Poetry was more an adjunct of an educated man than a creative art; hence, it was used for various purposes—religious, polemical, humorous, and as a means of expressing gratitude (the numerous panegyrics, heraldic poems, and epigrams). Few works were published, and many remained in manuscript form; they are unknown except to specialists in the period. A notable place is occupied by the folk dumas composed during the period; their influence on later Romantic poets was profound.

The vernacular period. Classicism with its strict dicta on use of language, together with the nascent tonic versification in Russia, contributed to the birth and the nature of vernacular Ukrainian poetry. Ivan Kotliarevsky wrote a travesty of Virgil's Aeneid in the contemporary spoken Ukrainian language and composed the Eneïda in a 10-line strophe of four-foot iambs, thereby giving a start to syllabo-tonic metrics in Ukrainian literature. Two poets who still wrote within the classicist dicta were Petro Hulak-Artemovsky, with his translations and travesties, and Yevhen Hrebinka, who wrote versified fables (Malorossiiskie prikazki [Little Russian Proverbs, 1834]). Other poets of the first half of the 19th century were already under the influence of romanticism, the tenets of which were highly propitious to the development of literature in the vernacular and to an intensification of the influence of folk poetry. Members of the Kharkiv Romantic School, most notably Levko Borovykovsky, with his ballads, and Amvrosii Metlynsky, full of nostalgia for the heroic past of the Cossacks and pessimism for the future, were soon followed by a more ideological group in Kyiv, the Cyril and Methodius Brotherhood.

By far the greatest poet of that group and the greatest poet in Ukrainian literature, Taras Shevchenko, led Ukrainian poetry firmly out of travesty and burlesque and established its canons by skillfully blending the popular kolomyika syllabic structure (two lines of 4 + 4 + 6 syllables, variously rhymed) and other folk syllabic structures with a tonic system of various metric feet. Overshadowed by Shevchenko but more conscious of his poetic role was Panteleimon Kulish, who experimented with language (the conscious introduction of Church Slavonic into the vernacular) and with structure (the attempt to domesticate various ancient and canonical strophes). Another prominent member of the Kyiv group was the historian Mykola Kostomarov, who wrote historical ballads under the pseudonym Ieremiia Halka.

The symbiotic relationship between folk poetry and literary creation is seen in the works of several poets whose poems have entered the folk-song repertoire: Stepan Pysarevsky (‘De ty brodysh moia dole?’ [Where Do You Wander, My Fate?]), Mykhailo Petrenko (‘Dyvlius’ ia na nebo’ [I Gaze at the Sky]), Kostiantyn Dumytrashko (‘Chorniï brovy, kariï ochi’ [Black Eyebrows, Hazel Eyes]), and Petro Nishchynsky (‘Zakuvala ta syva zozulia’ [The Gray Cuckoo Has Called]), to name just the most famous. Poetry played a key role in spreading the vernacular to other parts of Ukraine. The Ruthenian Triad of Ivan Vahylevych, Yakiv Holovatsky, and Markiian Shaskevych (the most gifted poet of the three) introduced the vernacular to Galicia in their Rusalka Dnistrovaia (Dniester Nymph, 1837). Yurii Fedkovych's ballads and soldier poems did the same for Bukovyna (first collection in 1862), and Oleksander Dukhnovych's poems for Transcarpathia. Other poets of note in the first half of the 19th century were the Galician Antin Mohylnytsky, Sydir Vorobkevych, Vasyl Mova, the sensitive lyricist Leonid Hlibov, and Stepan Rudansky, known chiefly for his collection of verse based on folk humor and wisdom, Spivomovky.

The second half of the century saw a decline in poetry, partly because of the overwhelming weight of Shevchenko's influence, which encouraged a proliferation of epigones, but mainly because of the dominance of realism and naturalism, the esthetic programs of which lent themselves to prose. No small part in the decline of the quality of poetry and of literary activity in general was played by the tsarist prohibitions of Ukrainian letters, the Valuev circular and the Ems Ukase. What poetry appeared was mainly directed to the advancement of the struggle of the downtrodden—the peasant, the artisan, the worker, or the Ukrainian people in general. A major part of the poetic output by such populist writers as Yakiv Shchoholiv, Borys Hrinchenko, Pavlo Hrabovsky, and Ivan Manzhura consisted of rather standard quatrains with regular meters and rhymes, devoted thematically to ‘realistic’ depiction of the difficult conditions, and of exhortations to persevere and to struggle for a better future. Somewhat more lyrical were the poems of Vasyl Shchurat, Sylvestr Yarychevsky, M. Kichura, and the feminist Uliana Kravchenko.

The unfavorable climate for poetry was overcome by Ivan Franko and Lesia Ukrainka. Franko's mastery of form and wealth of themes (from revolutionary hymns such as ‘Ne pora ...’ [It Is Not Time Now ...] to the exquisite personal lyricism in Ziv'iale lystia [Withered Leaves, 1896]) greatly advanced the development of Ukrainian poetry. Similarly, Lesia Ukrainka enhanced the Ukrainian poetic tradition by her poetic dramas, in which she skillfully domesticated world themes and revealed a masterful command of iambic pentameter.

The influences of Western symbolism, supported by similar developments in Russia and in Poland, gave rise toward the end of the century to a new esthetic perception. Mykola Vorony launched Ukrainian modernism by issuing a manifesto (1901) calling for ‘broader esthetic horizons’ and publishing an almanac, Z nad khmar i dolyn (From above the Clouds and from Valleys, 1903), which attempted, with little success, to publish only ‘modern’ works.

Neither Mykola Vorony's poetry nor that of other modernist poets was exceptional. Such poets as Petro Karmansky, Vasyl Pachovsky, Sydir Tverdokhlib, Ostap Lutsky, Stepan Charnetsky (all part of Moloda Muza in Lviv) and Khrystia Alchevska, M. Sribliansky, who contributed to the modernist journal Ukraïns’ka khata, pursued the idea of ‘art for art's sake,’ often embraced the fin-de-siécle despair in pessimistic outpourings, and, in general, greatly expanded the borders of the acceptable in Ukrainian poetry. Mykola Cherniavsky, a poet from an older generation, Volodymyr Samiilenko, with his satiric verse, and Ahatanhel Krymsky, with his exoticism, all contributed to the revival of lyrical poetry. Symbolism, especially Paul Verlaine's notion of ‘music above all else,’ found many adherents, especially Oleksander Oles, by far the most popular lyricist of the time, and Hrytsko Chuprynka. Poetry also expanded into prose in the miniatures of Mykhailo Yatskiv and in some works of poetic prose by Olha Kobylianska (‘Bytva’ [The Battle]), Vasyl Stefanyk (‘Moie slovo’ [My Word] and ‘Moia doroha’ [My Road]), and Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky (‘Intermezzo’).

The literary renaissance of the 1920s was all-embracing, but poetry was a dominant genre. Pavlo Tychyna's unique poetic expression, a revitalized, skillfully structured folk idiom imbued with contemporary symbols and tropes, placed Ukrainian poetry on the first truly new course since Taras Shevchenko. Out of the hundreds of poets who appeared, many were excellent, but none were as influential with respect to the development of Ukrainian poetry as Tychyna. The poetry of other symbolists, such as Yakiv Savchenko, Oleksa Slisarenko, Mykola Tereshchenko, Dmytro Zahul, and Volodymyr Svidzinsky, was close to Tychyna's. More unconventional poetry was written by the proponents of futurism Mykhailo Semenko, Geo Shkurupii, and Oleksa Vlyzko. Deriving from futurism but original and forceful was the poetry of Mykola Bazhan. French Parnassian poetry influenced several poets, including Mykola Zerov, Maksym Rylsky, Mykhailo Drai-Khmara, Pavlo Fylypovych, and Yurii Klen, who were unofficially united in the group of Neoclassicists. More traditional and without a specific ‘ism’ was the poetry of Vasyl Blakytny, Valeriian Polishchuk, Vasyl Chumak, Dmytro Falkivsky, Maik Yohansen, and Yevhen Pluzhnyk. Lyrical, prolific, and popular was the poet Volodymyr Sosiura. The mass phenomenon in the literature of the period did not bypass poetry, and there were multitudes of ‘poets’ who wrote contemporary verses singing the praises of the proletariat. Better examples of such poetry can be found in the works of Teren Masenko and Vasyl Mysyk. But the renaissance was short-lived. Few of the many poets and writers managed to survive the terror of the 1930s and the difficult years that followed until the death of Joseph Stalin. Some, such as Teodosii Osmachka, Ivan Bahriany, and Vasyl Barka, not only survived but managed to emigrate and thus provide a continuity between the poetry of the 1920s and that of later decades.

Western Ukraine in the interwar period produced one major poet, Bohdan Ihor Antonych. Whereas Pavlo Tychyna brought a fresh new sound to Ukrainian poetry, Antonych refurbished its imagery. During and immediately after the struggle for independence (1917–20), certain poets wrote poetry celebrating the movement and exploits of the Sich Riflemen. Much of it was written in the genre of folk songs, by Roman Kupchynsky, Lev Lepky, Yurii Shkrumeliak, and others. Other poets in Western Ukraine grouped themselves around various journals according to ideological or esthetic conviction. Antonych was the main poet of the Catholic journal Dzvony. The pro-Soviet Novi shliakhy and Vikna featured Avenir Kolomyiets and Vasyl Bobynsky. Bobynsky and Oles Babii also wrote for Mytusa, and Sviatoslav Hordynsky and Vadym Lesych contributed to Nazustrich, both of which journals espoused art above ideology. The majority of poets were in the nationalist camp and grouped themselves around the journal Vistnyk, whether in Lviv (eg, Bohdan Kravtsiv), Prague (eg, Yurii Darahan, Oksana Liaturynska, Leonid Mosendz, Oleksa Stefanovych, Oleh Olzhych, and Olena Teliha), or Warsaw (eg, Yurii Lypa, Nataliia Livytska-Kholodna, and Yevhen Malaniuk). Their poetry, often written in regular meters and strophes and employing heroic imagery, was aimed chiefly at furthering the struggle for national liberation. Somewhat apart geographically but not ideologically or in matters of form were the poets of Transcarpathian Ukraine, among whom the most noted were Vasyl Grendzha-Donsky, Ivan Irliavsky, and Andrii Harasevych.

Maksym Rylsky, Mykola Bazhan, and Pavlo Tychyna were the few great poets who survived the purges and continued writing through the artistically barren years of the 1940s and 1950s. They were joined by other, younger poets, such as Andrii Malyshko, Platon Voronko, Oleksander Pidsukha, Rostyslav Bratun, and Dmytro Pavlychko, whose talents could not always develop freely in the difficult political circumstances. Through the 1940s and 1950s they, like everyone else, wrote what was demanded and expected of them by the Party. Rarely did their verse have anything to do with poetry. Others, from both Soviet and Western Ukraine, such as Teodosii Osmachka, Ivan Bahriany, Vasyl Barka, Yurii Klen, Yevhen Malaniuk, Leonid Mosendz, Bohdan Kravtsiv, Vadym Lesych, Oksana Liaturynska, Sviatoslav Hordynsky, and Mykhailo Orest, emigrated and continued to write after the Second World War. Some new poets appeared during the literary heyday that took place after the war in the displaced persons' camps. Poets such as Yar Slavutych, Leonid Lyman, Petro Karpenko-Krynytsia, and Hanna Cherin remained true both thematically and stylistically to the nationalistic poetry of the preceding generation. Somewhat different were the symbolistic and hermetic poetry of Oleh Zuievsky, the philosophical sonnets of Ostap Tarnavsky, and the introspective lyricism of Borys Oleksandriv and Volodymyr Skorupsky. All continued to write after resettling outside of Europe, mostly in Canada (Slavutych, Zuievsky, Oleskandriv, Skorupsky, and others) or the United States (Tarnavsky, Cherin, Lyman, Hordynsky, and others). There are Ukrainian poets in every country to which Ukrainians emigrated. In Australia the best known were Z. Kohut, P. Vakulenko, and V. Onufriienko; in Great Britain, B. Bora, Halia Mazurenko, and A. Lehit; in France, Marta Kalytovska; in Germany, Emma Andiievska, Ihor Kachurovsky, and the more recent émigré from Ukraine, Moisei Fishbein; and in Belgium, Roman Baboval.

When the émigrés resettled in North America after the Second World War, they found a poetic tradition cultivated by the earlier émigrés, especially in Canada. Most of the poetry written in the first half of the 20th century consisted of folksy verses expressing longing for the homeland and the hardships of pioneer life. Such were the poems of Panteleimon Bozhyk, S. Palamariuk, Teodor Fedyk, and others. More imbued with interwar nationalism were the poems of Vasyl Kudryk, Michael Gowda, I. Novosad, T. Kroiter, and, later, Mykyta Mandryka. (For fuller lists see Canada.)

A major shift in Ukrainian poetry occurred in the late 1950s. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 and the ‘de-Stalinization’ speech by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Party Congress in February 1956, literature, expecially poetry, revived. The so-called shistdesiatnyky were able to overcome the destruction wrought by Stalinism for three decades and proceeded with the development of poetry where it had left off in the 1920s. A vitality and freshness permeates their lyricism. More than 60 new poets appeared; others, such as Dmytro Pavlychko, were able to show their real talent for the first time. The foremost poets of that generation were Lina Kostenko, Ivan Drach, Vitalii Korotych, Mykola Vinhranovsky, and Vasyl Symonenko. Although new repressions occurred in the 1970s, a second generation of poets managed to appear. Among them the most noted were Ihor Kalynets, Vasyl Stus, Vasyl Holoborodko, Hryhorii Chubai, and Iryna Zhylenko. Kalynets gave promise of moving Ukrainian poetry, as Pavlo Tychyna had done before him, onto a new plane, in his synthesis of elemental Ukrainian spirituality and modern versification, but the repressions of Leonid Brezhnev prevented his doing so. The almost-official poet of Ukraine of the 1980s was Borys Oliinyk, although Drach, Pavlychko, and Kostenko retained their prominence. Some younger poets who showed promise in the 1980s were Volodymyr Zatulyviter, Mykola Riabchuk, O. Slonovska, Svitlana Yovenko, N. Davydovska, Natalka Bilotserkivets, and M. Barandii.

Almost simultaneously with the appearance of the shistdesiatnyky a modernization occurred in Ukrainian poetry outside of Ukraine. The New York Group embraced younger poets who rejected the nationalist poetry of their predecessors and were searching for a new synthesis and expression capable of absorbing their peculiar situation as permanent émigrés. Their methods varied, from the surrealism of Emma Andiievska to the depoetizations of George Tarnawsky, the sensuality of Bohdan Boychuk, the exoticism of Vira Vovk, the intellectualism of Bohdan Rubchak, and the estrangement of P. Kylyna (Patricia Warren).

A decade later the Prague Spring also brought a revival in the poetry of Ukrainians living in Czechoslovakia, most notably that of Serhii Makara and Stepan Hostyniak. Of interest also is the poetry of P. Romaniuk in Romania.

Despite various political intrusions the writing of poetry continues to be the major Ukrainian literary activity. Among the émigrés there are many versifiers but few poets. There is some promise, however, in the youngest generation, namely, M. Revakovych, L. Gavur, and Dzhaveh [A. Wynnyckyi] in North America. In Ukraine in the late 1980s a most interesting phenomenon was the appearance of new poetic groupings, such as the avant-garde Bu-Ba-Bu, with the satiric, often parodic verses of Viktor Neborak, Yuri Andrukhovych, and Oleksandr Irvanets; LuHoSad, embracing the neofuturistic wordplay of Ivan Luchuk, Nazar Honchar, and R. Sadlovsky; and Propala Hramota, composed of the equally verbally daring and playful poets of Kyiv O. Semenchenko (pseud: Semen Lybon), Yu. Lysenko (pseud: Yurko Pozaiak), and V. Lapkin (pseud: Viktor Nedostup). Under the new conditions of literary freedom some poets of previous generations were finally published (eg, Mykola Vorobiov and Taras Melnychuk). Among the many younger poets of interest who appeared in the 1980s are Vasyl Herasymiuk, Ivan Malkovych, Ihor Rymaruk, Liudmyla Taran, Oleh Lysheha, and Oksana Zabuzhko.

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Danylo Husar Struk

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993). The bibliography has been updated.]

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