Cover Image for Woman Possessed

Woman Possessed

trans. by Britta Ellwanger and Lessia Jarboe
Issue Two

Lesia Ukrainka wrote Woman Possessed at the very turn of the twentieth century and at the bedside of her dying friend, Serhiy Merzhynskyi. An emphatically modernist text, it marks a rupture with nineteenth-century literary traditions not only for Lesia Ukrainka but for Ukrainian literature in general. It explores the turn-of-the century themes of Liebestod (love-death) and spiritual rebellion. In this first of her poetic dramas, Lesia Ukrainka shifts the focus of the founding narrative of Christianity from Messiah to his impassioned disciple, the New Testament’s Miriam. As the translators Britta Ellwanger and Lessia Jarboe point out, the ‘provocative and enraged woman’s voice, boiling over the page, remains shocking and profound, even for a reader situated a century later in a far more secular environment’.



There he is, he continues to sit so still
just as the rocks that encircle round him.
Above him — it seems to me that I see this —
thoughts hanging over as like a heavy cloud
out from which very soon will strike bright lightning
emblazoning the world. Oh, when already,
when will the lightning tear apart the dark cloud?
If only I could die struck by this lightning
I yearn, yearn, for it to blaze across the sky,
so his mind could clear, if just for a moment.
He gave food to the throng, both bodies and souls,
to all he gave peace, yet he alone in the wild
tends as a shepherd to his flock of countless thoughts.
Incessant thoughts with no end, and He no rest…
How lonely He is, O good God almighty!
Can it be? Is He not allowed some help?
Can it be? Must He remain always alone?
‘The Messiah comes in glory to be earth’s judge’, —
that was the written prophecy, nothing more.
For the world all righteousness and charity
and for the Messiah what? Only glory?
‘War and discord, death, disease will pass away,
peace on earth and good cheer among humankind…’
And the Messiah? — more ‘glory in the highest’?
And only glory? Oh, what a punishment
to be the Messiah who redeems the world!
To all give happiness, and to be unhappy,
for endless solitude is sure misery.
Who would be able to redeem him
from loneliness, from this terrible glory?

(The woebegone suddenly exhausted, sits under the  rock, leaning against the stone).

18 January 1901


Read in Ukrainian.


Image: Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy, 1611 or 1613-1620, Private collection. Wiki Commons.

Cover Image for Ukrainian Cassandras

Ukrainian Cassandras

Issue Two

Thirty-one years since Ukraine regained its independence, and six months to the day since Russia escalated its eight-year long war to engulf the entire country, it is high time to hear and believe ‘Ukrainian Cassandras’.

Olesya Khromeychuk and Sasha Dovzhyk
Cover Image for Cassandra


Issue Two

The winner of the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize run by the Ukrainian Institute London in 2021 is Nina Murray’s excerpt from Lesia Ukrainka’s poetic drama Cassandra (written in 1907). In this play, the author chooses to tell one of the keystone myths of western culture, the story of the siege of Troy, from the point of view of a woman, the Trojan princess and prophet Cassandra. For the translator, Lesia Ukrainka’s exploration of the credibility of a woman as a producer of knowledge remains ‘highly relevant and compelling’.

trans. by Nina Murray