Translated by John Weir
"Oh, the winds are mute, the tides do not carry
Good tidings to us from Ukraine!
Do the Cossacks meet, the Turk plan to harry?
For news we are waiting in vain.
Blow, ye north wind, blow across the blue water
From Luh, from the fields of Ukraine, *2
Dry our bitter tears and drown our chains' clatter,
And ease the poor prisoners' pain.
Roll, oh roll, ye sea, as hither you're bearing
The bold Cossacks' boats from Ukraine,
When they sail to save their unhappy brethren
Who languish in Turkey in chains.
Even, О God, if they come not to free us,
Still send them across from Ukraine;
Word of their exploits will reach us in prison
And light our last days with their fame."
'Twas thus in Skutari that Cossacks were singing,
Unfortunate captives, their tears running free,
The tears of the Cossacks, their woe overbrimming.
The Bosphorus shook, for it never before
Had heard Cossacks weeping; the grey bull in anguish
The hide on his back 'gan to shake with a roar
And sent the blue waves down his ribs with the message
Of Cossack misfortune full-speed to the sea.
The sea heard the tidings which Bosphorus bellowed
And passed the sore plaint on to Liman, which trembled
And told it in ripples to Dnieper's deep stream.
With foam upon his hoary whiskers,
Our might grand-dad thunder-roared:
"Hey, brother Luh, Khortitsya sister!
D'ye hear? What are you waiting for!"
"We hear, we hear!" they promptly answered.
The Dnieper soon with boats was thronged,
And Cossack voices rose in song:
"Ho, the Turk's across the water
Where the surf is pounding.
Hey, hey! Pound, ye waves,
Wear the rocks all away!
Visitors are coming.
"Ho, the Turk has roomy pockets
Full of gold and silver.
Not for pelf do we sail,
But the foe to assail,
Brethren to deliver.
"Ho, the Turkish janissaries,
Pasha, too, are snoring.
Ha, ho! Tremble, foe!
We'll not temper the blow!
Liberty and glory!"
So, singing free, they set asea;
Oh the sea's unruly.
In the lead boat Hamaliya
Steers his vessel truly.
Hamaliya, the heart falters:
The sea's gone a-rocker!
They don't take fright!—
Soon they're hidden
By the surging water.
In luxury pillowed, Byzantium drowses *3
At ease in his harem, Skutar's at his side.
The Bosphorus clamours, intent on arousing
The Turk from his slumber, to thwart the surprise.
The sea roared in fury: "I swear that I'll bury
You, Bosphorus Strait, beneath mountains of sand
Unless you are silent!... D'ye see whom I'm bearing
To visit the sultan?... Be still, I command!"
The Bosphorus quaked at the sea's angry thunder
(The sea loved those resolute, long-whiskered Slavs)
And stopped its commotion. And so the Turks slumbered.
At ease in his harem the sultan relaxed.
Only in Skutari the captives weren't sleeping
In their dreadful dungeon. For what do they wait?
God's help in their trouble they are beseeching,
While waves on the outside keep pounding away.
"Do not permit, God of Ukraine,
That freedom-loving Cossacks perish
In foreign prisons, clad in chains!
A blot today, 'twill be black shame
If we, who liberty so cherish,
Will rise up from a foreign grave
On that, the final Judgement Day,
And face the hosts in shameful shackles...."
Then from behind the walls a cry
Rang through the night, "On, on to battle!
The Moslem pagans smite and slay!"
Oh, the very blood is blazing.
Skutari goes crazy.
"Kill them! Slay them!" Hamaliya
The fortress is razing.
The cannon of Skutari thundered,
And yet the Turks could not survive
The daring of the Cossack drive—
The janissary guards went under.
Hamaliya through Skutari—
Through Hades—is racing;
First into the prison breaking,
He knocks off the bracelets.
"Fly free, birds of falcon feather,
Join the merry-making!"
The grey falcons aroused themselves,
For long had they waited
To hear good Christian speech again.
The night, too, awakened;
Dear old mother, she had never
Seen how Cossacks settle
Accounts with foes. Have no terror,
Watch the Cossack revel.
Why should Cossacks feast in darkness
At a celebration! —
They're not robbers that in the night
They should eat raw bacon
Without a fire. "Let us have light!"
Soon the clouds were scorching—
Skutari burned and the galleys
Were turned into torches.
Byzantium at last awoke
And beheld the slaughter,
Gnashing his teeth, to the rescue
He swam 'cross the water.
Byzantium in frenzy rages
And clutches madly at the shore,
Takes hold, rears up—then laved with gore,
Sinks down beneath the Cossack sabres.
Like hell-fire all Skutari blazes;
The Bosphorus is filled with blood
Which gushes from the market-places.
Like blackbirds flitting through a wood
The Cossacks comb the raging Hades
To see that none escape the sword!
Fire holds no terror for this brood.
They raze the fortress; then they carry
The gold and silver in their caps
Back to their boats. And now the task
Is done. There is no need to tarry.
The lads assembled at the shore.
Their pipes with burning brands they started,
Boarded their boats, took to the oars—
The crimson waves before them parted.
More like coming from an outing
Than from war returning,
With rousing songs, Cossack fashion
'Cross the sea they journey:
"Our ataman Hamaliya
Is a chieftain daring,
His good crew he took acruising
Asea for an airing;
Asea for an airing,
Fame and fortune sharing,
Freeing brothers from the prison
Where they were despairing.
To Skutari Hamaliya
Boldly went afaring.
There our Cossack lads in irons
Sat for death preparing.
'Brothers!' called out Hamaliya,
The lads liberating,
'Life awaits you, celebrating,
Our Cossack camps with tapestries
And silks decorating!'
Swiftly came the Cossacks flying
The harvest to gather;
Stoutly reaping, corpses heaping,
They sang all together:
'Glory to you, Hamaliya,
O'er Ukraine's wide spaces,
O'er Ukraine's wide spaces
Your name will be cherished
That you didn't let the Cossacks
In slavery perish!'”
So sail the Cossacks home with song;
Behind, the doughty Hamaliya
Keeps watch—the eagle guards his young;
From Dardanelles the wind blows freely,
Yet not a sign of Turk flotilla;
The Turk's afraid the Monk again *4
May build a bonfire at Galata,
Or that a new Pidkova wrathful *5
Will call to battle on the main.
Soon the morning sun, arising,
Crimson tints the dancing waves;
Stretching out to the horizon
Friendly seas embrace the brave.
Hamaliya, feel the breezes....
Our home seas are pounding!...
Then the Cossack boats are hidden
By billows like mountains.
1842, St. Petersburg
*1 Hamaliya is fictional, although the events described in the poem are based on historical fact. Zaporozhian Cossacks crossed the Black Sea in boats and attacked Istambul and razed its suburbs a number of times.
*2 Veliky Luh (The Great Meadow) was the land near the mouth of the Dnieper River, where the Zaporozhian Cossacks fished, hunted and pastured their herds of horses. Khortitsya is the island in the Dnieper where the Zaporozhian Sich was located.
*3 Byzantium was the general name of the Greek empire that was
conquered by the Turks in the fifteenth century, but Shevchenko here means the capital of that empire, Constantinople, which was renamed Istambul by the Turks. Among ancient Slavs the city was also called Tsargrad or Tsarhorod (the emperor's city).
*4 Hetman Petro Konashevich-Sahaidachny became famous for his campaigns against the Turks. Sahaidachny was not a monk. He died in 1622 of wounds received in battle.
*5 Ivan Pidkova led Cossack campaigns against the Turks in the second half of the sixteenth century.