Taras Shevchenko (1814-61) was a Ukrainian artist and writer who is considered the greatest poet of Ukraine and the founder of modern Ukrainian literature. He was born into a family of serfs in the village of Morinsty in present-day Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. Orphaned at an early age, he studied painting with local icon painters. He was taught to read and write, and moved with his master to Vilnius and later to St. Petersburg, where he was allowed to study art. With the help of influential men who recognized his talent, he gained his freedom in 1838. He began to write poetry, and in 1840 published Kobzar, his first book of verse. The title refers to the ancient Ukrainian poets who traveled the countryside singing epic poems, often playing a stringed instrument, the kobza. The book achieved a special place in the spiritual heritage of the Ukrainian people, and Shevchenko himself came to be called “Kobzar.” Shown here is the unpretentious first edition of 1840, the rarest of the many editions and printings of Kobzar. An inserted leaf contains a drawing of a kobzar figure by V.I. Sternberg. The collection contains eight poems or ballads: “Dumy, moi Dumy” (Dedication), “Perebendya,” “Kateryna” (Katerina), “Topolya” (The poplar), “Dumka,” “Do Osnovyanenka” (To Osnovyanenko), “Ivan Pidkova,” and “Tarasova Nich” (The night of Taras).

Last updated: January 23, 2012