This 1897 poem is dedicated to Mykhailo Kryvyniuk, a Social Democrat, Lesia Ukrainka’s friend and would-be brother-in-law, who was imprisoned in 1896 for his political activism. As the translator Bohdan Pechenyak points out, the poem got a second life when it was put to music by the Lviv band Korolivski Zaytsi.
Dedicated to M. Kryvyniuk
Do you ever think of me while you’re imprisoned,
As I often think of you when sick?
Just as plants don’t thrive in muggy darkness,
So we both can’t thrive without space.
Oh, how often do I hear in my hardship
Such attempts at consolation from good friends:
‘It’s not nice to be complaining of such trifles,
Others suffer worse from their fates!’
But these words are useless and so boring,
Even given earnestly and free.
If these people only knew how dreary
Sunless days and moonless nights can be!
And much worse than pain or tight confinement
Is a single, murderously heavy thought,
An offhand remark, shameful and frightful:
‘Others suffer worse from their fates!’
That’s the pity, though – if we kept filling
Our cups without measure full of grief,
And drank the bitter swill without spilling —
Still we could not drain that depth of sea.
That’s the rub — if crowns we kept weaving
For the workers both of deeds and words,
Cutting all the thorny bushes freely —
Still we could not thin those murky woods.
19 January 1897
Image: Lesia Ukrainka in Ievpatoriia with her brother Mykhailo, c. 1891. Source: www.l-ukrainka.name