Versification [віршування; virshuvannia]. Excluding folk poetry and recently discovered examples dating back to Kyivan Rus’, the first documentary evidence of versification in Ukraine dates from the late 16th century. It includes the poems in the Ostrih Bible (1581) and Andrii Rymsha’s Khronolohiia (Chronology). In the early 17th century, verse began to develop rapidly. Initially, Ukrainian poetry consisted of syllabic verse, usually with 11, 12, or 13 syllables, with a caesura after the 6th or 7th. The rhyme scheme was predominantly contiguous and based on verbal endings. That pattern persisted until the late 18th century.
In the late 18th century (Ivan Kotliarevsky’s period), syllabo-tonic verse appeared; it has been the dominant form in Ukrainian poetry since then. Iambic dimeter and tetrameter are the most common forms (Kotliarevsky wrote in the latter measure, as did Taras Shevchenko in some works). Iambic unrhymed pentameter was also used (in Lesia Ukrainka’s dramatic poems). The Neoclassicists used Alexandrine iambic hexameter. Although less common, trisyllabic meter (dactyls, amphibrachs, anapests) is also used in Ukrainian poetry—dactylic hexameter with trochees, for example. Mykola Zerov used the last-named form, as well as combinations of pentameter and hexameter.
Polymetric forms with no set number of syllables in feet, or feet per line, have come to dominate modern Ukrainian poetry; they are known as vers libre or free verse. Such forms combine feet of varying lengths and often border on rhythmic prose (the early works of Pavlo Tychyna provide an example). Dolnyks (fixed stress lines—usually three) are also used. The stress remains constant per line of verse by singling out individual words regardless of the number of their constituent syllables (eg, in Oleksa Vlyzko’s works).
The use of strophes in Ukrainian poetry is rich and varied, although odd-numbered strophes are avoided because they are asymmetrical. Two-line strophes are very rare in modern poetry, as are three-line strophes, which are more often used in chain rhymes (aba, bcb, etc) and in tercets of iambic pentameter (Ivan Franko, Yurii Klen, Mykhailo Orest). The most widely used strophe is the quatrain, which is the dominant form in folk songs. The most common rhyme schemes are the abab or abcb patterns (the latter is typical of folk songs and of some of Taras Shevchenko’s poetry). The five-line strophe occurs rarely but is used by Franko, Lesia Ukrainka, and most often, Pavlo Tychyna. More common is the iambic pentameter or hexameter six-line strophe. Seven-line strophes are also rare but occur in Lesia Ukrainka’s poetry. The eight-line strophe, or octave, occurs widely; in its canonic form it bears an abababcc rhyme scheme. That pattern appears in the work of Panteleimon Kulish, Volodymyr Samiilenko, Franko, the Neoclassicists, Teodosii Osmachka, and others. Nine-line and 10-line strophes occur rarely, although Ivan Kotliarevsky’s Eneïda (Aeneid) is written in a 10-line form (ababccdeed). The 20th century has seen the appearance of heterometric strophes, such as those in Tychyna’s works. More infrequent are complex strophic (logaoedic) forms derived from ancient classical poetry, such as Alcaic, Asclepiadean, and Sapphic, which appear in the work of Mykola Zerov and Orest.
Poetic forms that appeared in medieval Romance poetry, such as the sonnet, triolet, rondelle, rondo, and sestina, were not represented in Ukrainian verse until much later. The first sonnets in Ukrainian poetry were written in the mid-19th century, and the form was subsequently developed by Ivan Franko, Mykola Cherniavsky, and succeeding generations of writers. In the 20th century the sonnet became common and was brought to a high level of sophistication by Mykola Zerov and Maksym Rylsky. Sonnetoids (sonnets with departures from the standard metrical arrangement and rhyme scheme) have also been written in Ukrainian (most recently by Emma Andiievska). Sonnet cycles have been written by Mykhailo Zhuk, Vasyl Bobynsky, Ostap Tarnavsky, and Ihor Kalynets. Triolets have been written by Mykhailo Drai-Khmara, Pavlo Tychyna, Mykola Vorony, and Dmytro Zahul; sestinas, by M. Zhuk and Leonid Mosendz.
In the early 1930s, versification went into decline as a result of pressures exerted on Ukrainian literature and culture in general by the Soviet regime. The efflorescence of poetic devices during the 1920s was denounced as a feature of formalism and suppressed in favor of the primitivistic mimicry of folk poetry as practiced by a younger generation of Soviet Ukrainian writers representing the ‘artistic method’ of socialist realism.
Iakubs'kyi, B. Nauka ukraïns'koho virshuvannia (Kyiv 1922)
Zahul, D. Poetyka (Kyiv 1923)
Chaplia, V. Sonet v ukraïns'kii poeziï (Kharkiv 1930)
Hordyns'kyi, S. Ukraïns'kyi virsh (Munich 1947)
Koshelivets', I. Narysy z teoriï literatury (Munich 1954)
Kachurovs'kyi, I. Strofika (Munich 1967)
———. Narys komparatyvnoï metryky (Munich 1985)
Ivan Koshelivets, Danylo Husar Struk
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]