The poems of one who died early pass illegally from hand to hand / Vasyl Symonenko defended freedom of Ukraine and dispossessed peasants / Resistance to Russian chauvinism
“Loss of courage means loss of human dignity, which I put before everything. Before life itself. But how many people — clever and talented people — have saved their lives by being party to base deeds and through this have turned their lives into nothing but a completely senseless vegetating state. This is the worst thing of all.”
This note, entered into his diary on 6th July 1963, originates from the Ukrainian lyric poet, writer, and publicist Vasyl Symonenko. He died a few months after writing this avowal. On 13th December 1963 in the time-honoured city of Cherkasy on the Dnipro the young poet, only twenty-nine years old, succumbed to the most insidious disease of our progressive century — cancer. Symonenko had devoted his short life to fighting another terrible scourge: individual and national slavery.
About 15 months before he died, the poet made this note in his diary: “It sometimes happens that the mouth of a child can speak pearls of wisdom. I remember a walk with Oles’ last year along Kazbets Ring. Looking at the monument of the despot, he asked me, “Daddy, who’s that?” — “Stalin.” — He stared at it for a moment, then asked, as if in passing, “But why has he climbed up there?” A profound truth. Stalin had not mounted the pedestal himself, nor did people put him up there. Breach of faith and baseness were the things which raised Stalin onto that monument — bloodily and shamelessly was he able to raise himself, like all hangmen. Today this tiger would burst with rage if he knew what a precious booty his monuments represented for scrap-metal merchants. It is indeed terrible, how fame and deification, enjoyed in life, become ignominy in death. But this was in reality not fame, but a little game, for the pleasure of grown-up children. Of course, those who are poor in spirit and intellect cannot understand this ...”
And on 8th October 1962, the poet noted: “I am rising up against a new religion, against hypocrites who are trying — not without success — to transform Marxism into a new religion, into a strait jacket for learning, for art, and even for love. If Marxism cannot resist the mad onslaught of dogmatism, then it is damned to becoming a religion. And no teaching may dare to exercise a monopoly over the intellectual life of mankind.”
But it would be wrong to draw a final conclusion here, that in the case of Vasyl Symonenko we are concerned with one of the “angry young men” of the USSR who after Stalin’s death made the dead despot the goal of attack of their accusing, mocking, damning lines, and thereby assured themselves of the silent favour of the new lords of the Kremlin.
Yes, even Vasyl Symonenko was one of the “angries”. But he had a moral, uncompromising, and radical viewpoint. His charges did not stop at the wicked and the base, at the lies, at the terror and the exploitation of the people, which still form part of the day-to-day policy of the Bolshevist Party, even after Stalin’s death.
The Ukrainian Symonenko turned on two phenomena of Bolshevist practices with especial acerbity: on the villeinage of the despoiled peasantry, from which he stemmed himself, and on Russian imperialism and colonialism, which he had recognized early enough despite its Communist garb.
Where are they
The fat and grey, the loot-hunting
Demagogues and Liars,
Who have throttled the beliefs of their fathers
And now reign — and menace — in office and rank? Where?!
They alone belong behind the prison-bars.
Before the tribunal with them!
Into the jail with them!
For exploitation and sucking of blood.
What, there’s too little evidence? But there is evidence.
The ruins and rags of stolen faith,
Of stolen hopes —
Let these be our evidence!
These are the last few lines of the poem, entitled “The Criminal”, in which Symonenko made himself the defending counsel for the dispossessed peasantry. An old and hungry peasant from a collective farm is dragged before the village’s Communist court and accused of having stolen from the people’s property. The old man had gleaned a few ears of corn from the fields. Symonenko accuses the judge, and calls him the real thief of the people’s property. Before Symonenko no post-war poet of the USSR had dared to use such language against the Bolshevist agrarian system. It is also the system of perpetual horror, the system of legalized terror in a gigantic prison-city,
Where the warder jangles his keys, and the protecting gate creaks.
Executioners with bloody swords
in coats as black as the night play with oddly-shaped balls,
with heads guillotined from shoulders.
Blood flows beneath phlegmatic ramparts, the cry dies on the lips.
A century’s scorn and outrage cause the dead to turn in their graves.
Symonenko was sometimes compelled to camouflage his accusations against the foreign Russian overlordship of Ukraine, and to transfer the conflict between oppressor and oppressed, which draws everything under its spell, to another country. “To the Kurdish Brother” was the name Symonenko gave to one of his most passionate and linguistically mature poems of liberty.
O Kurd, use your cartridges sparingly / but don’t spare the murderer’s life! / Like a storm, with a bloody sword / swoop down on the terror’s brood! . .. She came to rob you of your name, of your language / and your children are to become like her. / With those, the serfs, one may not live / The oppressor desires to reign, and you pull his cart! / On the blood of tortured, debased peoples / our terrible foe fattens himself — chauvinism ... Don’t rock the powers of hate to sleep, not yet / Let gentleness and mildness be your motto / only when there has sunk into his grave / the last chauvinist on this earth.”
Reading this poem it must have very rapidly become clear to every wideawake, politically interested citizen of the USSR — whether Russian or Ukrainian, Bolshevist or Nationalist — whose chauvinism Symonenko pilloried and condemned to death. The poem deals solely with the chauvinism of Communist Russia, whose goal it is to deprive all the non-Russian nations, peoples and tribes of their nationality, their names, and their languages. Russianization has always been the most terrible weapon of the Russian rulers; it extinguishes the national life of the conquered, annexed, non-Russian peoples, and even kills off the longing for these in the hearts of men. The destruction of the national dignity of all the colonial peoples of USSR precedes the extermination of human dignity. In this respect the year 1917 brought no essential change with it. But the young poet does not only accuse — accusation is not enough for him. Through the example of the brave Kurds he is indicating to his fellow-countrymen, to all non-Russians, the path which they must follow, in order to blot out from the face of the Earth “the brood of terror”, the “last of all chauvinists”; the way of resistance, the way of revolutionary rising. Quite intentionally the poet prefaces his poem with a well-known line from the Ukrainian bard Taras Shevchenko, as both admonition and instruction: “Fight, and you will triumph!”
In many of Symonenko’s other poems of liberty the poet’s love for his enslaved native land is openly expressed, as for example in “I look into your eyes”. These are the worried eyes of Ukraine, of “Mother”. But he sees not only worry and sadness in them, but also the glow of "blood-red lightning”, of “revolution, risings, and rebellions”.
Out of love for you do I sow pearls in man’s soul.
Out of love for you do I think and create,
America and Russia must be silent,
When I speak with you, Ukraine!
Ukraine, you are my prayer,
My eternal desperation.
May the clouds burst into flame,
Or the snakebite of insult threaten me —
I don’t care.
For your holy name I am ready To pour forth my last drop of blood.
Shortly before he died, the young poet expressed his optimism about the victory of the good cause, the cause of freedom and humanity, in these simple lines: “We’ve come into the world to inherit fame / deeds, thoughts, honest stripes / the great flaming glory of our fathers / who defended truth on the Earth / Never shall our hearts know peace / and our dreams shall catch up with time’s flow / But let our youth be such / that no one will envy her ..
The glory of our fathers — for Vasyl Symonenko, the 29-year-old poet from Soviet Ukraine, this glory is founded in the unforgettable deeds of those Ukrainian men and women, who in the course of the dramatic, thousand-year-long history of the first Christian people of Eastern Europe, fought and gave their lives for those high values and ideals upon which Europe and the West rests: Love of God, human dignity, freedom of the individual and of peoples.
Vasyl Symonenko was born in 1935 in a village in Central Ukraine near Poltava. After attending the secondary school, he studied at the University of Kyiv, his subject being Journalism, and afterwards worked on the editorial staff of various newspapers in Cherkasy. In 1962 his first little volume of poems appeared, “Tysha i hrim” (Silence and Thunder). His second volume, “Bereh chekanj” (The Shoke of Waiting), was never allowed by the Soviet censors to be printed. All the same Vasyl Symonenko became famous through this very book!
A miracle took place: Symonenko’s poems, copied by hand or typed, appeared all over Ukraine, and even in the places where Ukrainians are compelled to live in exile or as settlers — in Kazakhstan and in the Far East. Symonenko’s verses, accusing, warning, demanding resistance, spread in a manner undreamed of, above all amongst young people, students and secondary-school children, who started years ago on a process of fermentation highly dangerous to the regime, and who are capable of expressing their as yet unarticulated but passionate longing for individual and national freedom. Symonenko has grafted a clearly formulated goal onto their hate and their love. The young now have their fanfare — the words of a dead poet have become the inspiration of the young.
However Symonenko came to know often enough in his short life the bitterness of loneliness and solitude, of cowardice and pusillanimity. On 3rd September 1963, a few weeks before his death in fact, he wrote in his diary, “... My friends have become so remarkably quiet. There is not a word to be heard from them. On the other hand the literary periodicals have become even more arrogant and insolent: “Literaturna Ukraina” castrates my essays, “Ukraina” messes up my poems. Every lackey does whatever comes into his head. How is one to show gratefulness, if not to pray for those who have led us into this filth! In addition to this, my poems were taken out of “Zmina” in April and refused by “Zhovtenj”
... Ah, how splendid that all is! We are all in the power of the press. But that’s necessary — for progress.”
The popularity of the truly revolutionary poetry of Symonenko among the peoples oppressed and controlled by Moscow is proved by the fact that leaflets of his poems circulate among the young people of the satellite countries of Eastern Europe. A short time ago one of these leaflets, from which the poems and diary extracts printed in this article are taken, reached the West by hazardous paths.
“We are as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed.”
II Corinthians, VI.9
Source: Archive of OUN. - Library. - ABN-Correspondence. - 1965. - №3. – Junе-July. - P.1-4