Lesia Ukrainka (1871-1913)

Larisa Kosach (pen name Lesia Ukrainka) was born in Novgorod-Volynsky on February 25, 1871 which is now in Zhytomir Region. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was a Ukrainian writer (pen-name Olena Pchilka). When Lesia was nine, her parents moved to the town of Lutsk and settled at an estate near Kovel. Because of weak health and the absence of school with instruction in the Ukrainian language, Lesia received education at home. She had a remarkable aptitude for the humanities.

Lesia’s close ties with distinguished public and cultural figures of her time played a positive role in her formation as a poet. Apart from Dragomanov and Franko, the Kosaches’ friends included the composer M. Lysenko, the poet, playwright and one of founders of the Ukrainian professional theatre N. Starytsky, M. Kostomarov, and the poet V. Samiylenko. Such a milieu made Lesia try her hand at writing poetry early.

At the age of nine she wrote her first verses, and at 13 her first poem

was published in the Lviv magazine “Zoria”. From then her poetry appeared regularly in the Ukrainian publications.

Unfortunately, the outset of her literary career coincided with the first symptoms of what was then an incurable disease – tuberculosis of the bones. Her poor health made her travel from one warm country to another – Vienna, Crimea, Italy, Georgia, and Egypt. In 1893 her book of verse, “On Wings of Songs”, was published. It was favourably received both by the readers and critics. Then followed her books of verse “Thoughts and Dreams”, “Responses”, which earned her, alongside I. Franko, a leading place in Ukrainian literature. Just then she turned to playwriting.

Her first works of drama were based on subjects from the Bible. Among her best plays are “The Forest Song” and “The Stone Host”. Beginning with 1894 Lesia lived in Kyiv. Here she started learning foreign languages. Later on she read and spoke English as well as Ukrainian. With a full command of German, French, Italian and English she could write not

only prose, but also poetry in all these languages. L. Ukrainka died on August 1, 1913 in Georgia, and was buried in Kyiv.

For many readers her works reveal the dominant feature of her talent – the ability to grasp and express in vivid images, the idea and tendencies of her time.

“CJontra Spem Spcro” (airillflci)

For now springtime comes, agleam with gold! Shall thus in grief and wailing for ill fortune All the tale of my young years be told? No, I want to smile through tears and weeping, Sing my songs where evil holds its sway, Hopeless, a steadfast hope forever keeping, I want to live! You, thoughts of grief, away! On poor, sad, fallow land, unused to tilling, I’ll sow blossoms, brilliant in hue, I’ll sow blossoms where the frost lies, chilling, I’ll pour bitter tears on them as dew. And those burning tears shall melt, dissolving All that mighty crust of ice away, Maybe bLossomswill come up, unfolding Singing springtime for me, too, some day.

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Lesia Ukrainka (1871-1913)