Kupala is the pen name of the outstanding Byelorussian poet, Ivan
Lulsevich. According to folk legends, the short July night of Ivan Kupala
(St. John the Baptist) - a very popular Slavic holiday -is when fern begins
to bloom in the thick of the forest. This herb is believed to possess some
magic power. He who finds it and tears away its flower shall forever be
The son of a landless Byelorussian peasant, Dominik Lutsevich, Ivan (or
simply Yanka) sought the legendary'flower of happiness not in the thick of
the forest but in the depths of human life. Not for himself, but for his
downtrodden people who for centuries had been destined to bear the
unbearable yoke of national and social oppression.
For the first time, the name of Yanka Kupala appeared on May 15, 1905, in
the newspaper Severo-Zapadny Krai (The North-Western Land), under his poem
A Muzhik. Both the period and the circumstances surrounding his poetic
debut seem unusual and significant, as tokens of the future ascend, above
the horizon of Byelorussian and world culture, of not simply another
literary star, but of a whole galaxy. Together with Kupala, or thanks to
him, such extraordinarily endowed personalities as Tsiotka, Maxim
Bogdanovich and Yakub Kolas emerged. However, Yanka Kupala was the first,
the founder of a new Byelorussian literature, its architect and
constructor. He was that trailblazer which is found in the culture of every
nation, as Pushkin was in Russian culture, Shevchenko in Ukrainian,
Mickiewicz in Polish, and so on.
The special place which Kupala occupies in Byelorussian literature may be
determined from the words of Yakub Kolas, his distinguished contemporary;
"Differences in genre notwithstanding, the creations of Yanka Kupala seem
to me as a single book, even as one song glorifying the work of the people.
"Half of this song is angry and sad -these are the works of the pre-October
period, when the poet used his inspired verse to place himself,
courageously and selflessly, in the camp of those fighting for the social
and national liberation of their people.
"The second half is cheerful, permeated with the enthusiasm of
creativeness. It belongs to the period when the Byelorussian people
achieved their statehood and, guided by cxoerienced leaders, embarked upon
the road leading to socialism and, further, to communism."
Kupala launched Byelorussian literature to high world-embracing orbits,
treeing it from the triteness of unimaginativeness, stylishness and
bookishness. His civic determination and ardent enthusiasm of an innovatr
gave birth to new ideas and, more importantly, to new poetic forms, genres,
rhythms andones, ll marked by finesse and stylistic flair. [pic]
However, Kupala's major contribution to literature in the period before
19l7 was his voice of social protest. In his poem The Song of a Free Man,
he openly calls on the people wage a struggle. Czarist censors qualified it
as "antiState," since, reading it, "one cannot but notice an open
encouragement of obviously rebellious actions."
His humane verse, his "love of the sun" ("I bow to the Earth and the Sun, /
I'm a son of the Earth, a free son of the Sun.") brought him close to his
great contemporaries like Maxim Gorky, Ivan Franko and Lesya Ukrainka.
After the October Revolution, the poet envisioned his nation liberated,
free from its social and national shackles. In place of zhaleika folk songs
of grief, the poet, with trumpet in hand, urges his kin toward building a
Living for twenty years under Soviet rule proved an important landmark on
the poet's road toward creative accomplishment. This period dictated new
poetic themes, ideas and images.
One by one, his collections of verse were published, having their effect on
extensive reading circles. His works were translated into other languages
-particularly into Russian which made Yanka Kupala known internationally.
In his verse after the Revolution, his lyrical hero seems to merge with the
masses, reaching that supreme unity of which Pavlo Tychyna, a celebrated
Soviet Ukrainian poet, once said, "I'm the people." At the same time, Yanka
Kupala paid much attention to the individuality of his characters, thus
asserting the impetuous progress of the personality and the richness of the
soul of the people, as revealed in the new social epoch.
The bard of rejuvenated Byelorussia, Kupala was amongst the first to lay
golden bridges between his and other nations. In 1921, he translated into
Byelorussian The Internationale and The Lay of the Host oflgor. He was an
internationalist poet. As an admirer of Pushkin, Shevcheriko, Mickiewicz
and Slowacki, as a keen interpreter of the Indian epic Mahabharata and the
Armenian David Sasunski. the Byelorussian poet glorified brotherhood of
nations and literatures in The Ukraine, Georgia, To Djambul, To Shining
Shota Rustaveli, On the Memory of Suleiman Stalski.
When the Soviet country was invaded by the Nazi hordes, the poet raised his
wrathful voice at the All-Slavic Assembly in Moscow. Together with
outstanding Ukrainian cultural figures Maxym Rylsky and Olexander
Dovzhenko, he signed The Appeal to Brother Slavs.
Yanka Kupala was bound to the Ukraine and her literature by ties of
unbreakable, fraternal affection. Ukrainian themes, national coloration and
Ukrainian folk images are found in such works as Am I a Cossack?, I Saw It.
Shevehenko's Kobzar was one of the books Kupala read in his youth. Later,
the Byelorussian poet admitted that this book became that stimulus which
stirred him to creative awakening, to becoming aware of himself as a son of
an oppressed nation.
In 1909, Yanka Kupala wrote two poems The Memory of Shevchenko (February
25. 1909) and Shevchenko's Memory - which started the Byelorussian
Shevchenkiana poetic series. In the first of these impassioned creative
tributes, the Byelorussian bard acknowledges the truly boundless influence
of the Kobzar's revolutionary Muse on vast social strata and expresses
heartfelt admiration of this impact as a son of the Byelorussian people:
In the north, in the south, in the east, In the west, where the sun sets, The Kobzar plucks the strings of human souls. In a cabin, a palace, a prison cell, a tavern, He stirs hearts as a warden does with his bells.
"His verse reaches us every time, We listen happily to our neighbor, We add our flowers to his garland.
Brother, dear, Byelorussians salute you"
This motif is stressed even more in the second poem. Kupala refers to the
Kobzar as the father of not only Ukrainians but also Byelorussians.
Shevchenko's image prompted Kupala to write the epic poem The Fate ofTaras.
It turned out as a kind of life story of the great Ukrainian bard, full of
charming lyricism, a soft poetic narration.
The meter of The Fate of Taras is characteristic of Shevchenko's kolomiyka
- a lively Western Ukrainian folk song or dance. Maxim Gorky, the great
Russian author, noted at one time that he knew of no other poet, except
Yanka Kupala, who had so completely and profoundly utilized the Kobzar's
Early in his poetic career, Yanka Kupala translated A Thought, To Gogol and
other work5 of Shevchenko. In the post-October period, Kupala edited his
earlier translations of Shevchenko and began to work on others with great
enthusiasm. His pen lent new splendor to such poems as A Dream. My
Testament, The Caucasus, Kalerina. The Night of Taras and Ivan Pidkova, In
fact, most of Kupala's translations of Shevchenko served as the basis of
the first complete Byelorussian version of Kobzar which he edited.
In 1939, Byelorussia celebrated Shevchenko's 125th birth anniversary,
together with the rest of the country. Yanka Kupala appeared with a number
of speeches and articles, dedicated to the occasion.
In the 1930's and 1940's, Kupala often visited the Ukraine. He readily
admitted, "I love Ukrainian literature - perhaps, more than any other.
Needless to say, Shevchenko remains my number one Ukrainian poet. Of modem
poets, Pavlo Tychyna takes first place.....". His personal contacts with
Ukrainian literati contributed fruitfully to the enhancement of unity
between Byelorussian and Ukrainian literature. One of the first
Byelorussian academicians, Kupala was voted a member of the Academy of
Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. To this end, one is reminded of Maxym Rylsky
who said, "I don't exaggerate when I say that, to Yanka Kupala, the Ukraine
was like a second homeland."
Beginning in the 1900's, his name appeared in the, Ukrainian reading
circles. A prominent Ukrainian Slavist, Ilarion Sventsitsky, included
Kupala's Why Do You Sleep? and There, in the language of the original, into
his book The Renaissance of Byelorussian Literature (1908). He kept in
touch with the poet who supplied him with his books and manuscripts. Much
was also done to popularize Yanka Kupala by Tsiotka (lit.. Auntie, pen name
of Aloiza Pashkevich, a prominent Byelorussian revolutionary poetess) who
spent some time in Lviv.
Maxim Gorky sent Mikhailo Kotsyubynsky his translation of Kupala's And Who
Goes There together with the notes, pointing out that "this Byelorussian
hymn" had excited him tremendously. In 1916, this poem was recited, in
Byelorussian, at a poetry evening in Poltava. According to those present,
it made a great impression.
Many of Kupala's books were printed dozens of times in the Ukraine. A
number of leading Ukrainian men of letters contributed their translations
of the poet and dedicated to him their own verse. The unforgettable Maxym
Rylsky perhaps most eloquently presented the image of his Byelorussian
counterpart. He wrote a poetic triptych, entitled To Yanka Kupala, For
Yanka Kupata and Yanka Kupala. The last of the three has the following
... Those in acquaintance with him
Shall never forget
The human warmth in his eyes;
He was the knight of a lofty dream And fought what was false and sly. He
cut a precious stone
of the Byelorussian tongue, Working on it with so much loving care. He was
a wonder himself. Held in esteem by the nations of kin, Just like
Shevchenko was held. He taught us to respect A pair of able hands the best.
Down in history our Yanka went, As ever alive as the image, with wings, Of
his Byelorussian land."
The first rays of the hot July sun illuminate a sizable spot of land not
far from a log house in the village of Vyazintsi where a child, christened
Yanka, was bom almost one hundred years ago. It is here that the
traditional Kupala festivals of poetry are held, attracting people from
neighboring towns and villages and from the Byelorussian capital. Yanka
Kupala created an imposing poetic image of his people, revealing for all to
see the wealth of their soul in his verse , epic, publicistic and epistle
writings and plays.
By tradition, the General Assemblies of the UN are attended by celebrated
Byelorussian men of letters as members of delegations of the Byelorussian
SSR. All of these have, at one time or another, been able to visit Arrow
Park to place flowers at the foot of the monument to their famous
countryman which proudly stands beside the monuments to Taras Shevchenko,
Alexander Pushkin and Walt Whitman. The song of the Byelorussian lyre is
heard amidst the swishing of the ocean surf, the rustling of copper-red
maples. In the poet's staring eyes, one can discern the glimmering
reflection of an ever-flaming torch. That torch gives the eerie light of
the Kupala night, the light recaptured from the sinister darkness of the
night. That torch is being raised high over the bearer's head, so it can be
seen by all who are determined to be "called human."