Petro Hulak

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Petro Hulak-Artemovsky (1790-1865)


Petro Hulak-Artemovsky (1790-1865) Born into a priest’s family in the region of Cherkassy, Hulak-Artemovsky received a thorough academic education which he completed at the Kiev Academy. For eight years he lectured at the Kharkiv College, where he professed Slavic history and geography, and then became its rector, which post he held till 1849. After a brief spurt of literary activity under Kotliarevsky’s influence, in the thirties his enthusiasm for Ukrainian letters suddenly ceased. Hulak-Artemovsky’s meagre output is characterized by two styles – parodic and romantic. As a romanticist he, as often as not, imitated and even paraphrased contemporary poets of other countries. (“The Fisherman,” for example, he derived from Goethe through Mickiewicz.) These borrowings, particularly the ballads, however, were redeemed to originality by his ability to render them replete with Ukrainian folklorist elements. Like Kotliarevsky, though to a lesser degree, Hulak-Artemovsky transformed his foreign subjects by means of the national garb, local colour, and unmistakable Ukrainian individuality. His greatest work is “The Lord and His Dog,” a realistic, didactic, psychological, satirical fable in which the dog Riabko (our Spotty) is portrayed in a vividly plastic-characterization. The satire is a powerful indictment of the harshness to which the serfs, whose composite and long-suffering representative Riabko is, were subjected by their lawless and often capricious landlords. This protest against the wrongs perpetrated on the landless peasant masses bereft of all freedom created a strong impression upon the minds of the budding social reformers and gave a powerful impetus to the humanitarian movement that was then beginning to raise its sill small voice. Despite his comic vein, Hulak-Artemovsky was by nature a skeptic, as is evidenced in his “Ode to Parkhom” (a travesty of Horace’s famous “Ode to Delius”), and in the gloomy depths of his carpe diem mentality he lost all sense of proportion, reducing everything to a “graveyard” philosophy in which the worm is the end of all, both good and evil. Hence – what’s the use! Hulak-Artemovsky was lost to Ukrainian literature when he lapsed into an adulating panegyrist of the powers that then held sway, thus consciously or unconsciously assuming the role of his own Riabko, but in a manner much more servile.

THE FISHERMAN The water murmurs! . . . the water flies! A youthful fisherman sits a-sprawl, Looks at the floating bob and cries: “Bite, you fish, bite, both big and small!” Each nibble he feels makes his bosom throb With a wild foreboding of something strange. Rides grief, fear, love, on the plunging bob? In apprehension his musings range.

3 Immersed in sadness, he hears the sea Give an ominous roar as its waves recede And a maiden emerges quite suddenly; She combs her hair and she winks indeed! . . . She winks and sings with a pleading look: “Young fisherman, cease from your cruel lure Of the pike and eel to your treacherous hook! . . . Would you make my dear kinfolk grow fewer and fewer? “If you only knew what joy you’d keep To live with us in the sea apart, You would plunge to us in the gentle deep And give to our care your lonely heart. “Can you not see – this you’ll not deny – How the golden sun and the silver moon Will splash to us from the radiant sky And rise refreshed to the surface soon? “Have you not seen on a darksome night The little stars dance on our rippling waves? Abandon your rod, to our arms take flight, I’ll snuggle you close in our ocean caves! “Cast but a glance! Is this water’s charm? Nay, ‘tis a mirror to show you your face! . . . Surely I came not to cause you harm, Or stir you to acts that are rash or base!” The water murmurs, the water flows . . . And up to the ankles it covers his feet! . . . Farther and farther the fisherman goes, Deeper and deeper the maid to meet! . . . And she keeps on winking and sings her song . . . Then the spray flies up where the lad had been! . . . While she dives in his wake with a fin-stroke strong And never again is the fisherman seen.

FATHER AND SON “Work, Teddy! Learn! This is no time for play!” A father scolded thus his offspring slack. “Be diligent, or with a rod some day I’ll print the alphabet upon your back!” But Teddy did not work, and as a sequel His back the birch-rod torment entertains; Again he idled and in strife unequal He boldly smashed his father’s windowpanes; And not to feel again his father’s rod, He threw it on the fire and in a corner

4 He hid himself away – from whence rough-shod His father seized his hair and dragged the scorner; Then, since the rod was missing, with a bludgeon He dusted off the culprit thoroughly; And Teddy, through his tears and in some dudgeon, Made to his angry sire this plaintive plea: “If I had known that bludgeons hurt so much Then, woe is me, with different desire, I would have saved the birch-rod for your clutch And thrown your oaken cudgel on the fire!”

THE LORD AND HIS DOG The night is spread abroad. No sound is heard, Except, at times, a dreaming chirp of bird. Pitch darkness reigns, to straining eyes forbidden. The moon has settled down, the stars are hidden, Only a tiny one, from cloud-banks thin, Peeps like a mouse behind a granary-bin. All is at rest, and all concealed from sight Behind the dusky apron of the night. “Spotty” alone, alone, is not asleep And for his master faithful watch must keep; Our Spotty scorned to feed on unearned bread: He ate for five, but earned it, every shred. All night he sleeps not in his master’s yard And all the village knows he stands on guard. Even a wayward wick his eye can number; Men are asleep, and snore in noisy slumber. The priest, kept late by a baptismal party, Saunters to church to sing his matins hearty; But poor old Spotty did not dream of sleeping, But bustled round, in every corner peeping, Now in the hencoop, now in pig-stye stares, To guard lest one should wander unawares; At turkeys, goslings, ducks and chicks he’d peep And then he rushes straight to check the sheep; Then to the barn, the granary, the stable, Then breathless back, as fast as he is able, To watch lest soldiers, quartered in the village, Should seek the storehouse with intent to pillage. Spotty barks threateningly, most wide awake, So loudly that our smitten eardrums ache. His only thought is how to please his lord And with no greedy eye to a reward. He barked and barked all night until the dawn; Then fell asleep, in kennel-depths withdrawn. Why should he not? What torment should he rue? He sank to sleep as all good people do, Who righteous guard the welfare of their master.

5 Then in the yard woke tumult of disaster: “Here, Spotty, come!” The roar rose devilish. “Why here I am, my friends! What do you wish?” Spotty jumps up and down, and wags his tail As if it were a duster or a flail, And bares his foolish teeth in half a grin, And licks his chops to hear the sudden din. “Why, to be sure,” he thought, “no hint of scorning Has brought these folk, so early in the morning, Into the yard to treat me handsomely. Perhaps the Lord himself will offer me The dinner scraps, my appetite to bless And recompense me for my wakefulness And barking loud to keep the thieves away.” “I’ve got you, Spotty!” came one villain’s bray. They seized the startled watchdog by the ears. Then the fierce Master on the scene appears. “Flay him!” he cried. “Lash Spotty! Here’s the whip!” “What for?” asked Spotty. Quoth his mastership: “Flay him! Flay Spotty!” Said the dog, “Ki-yi” – “Pay no attention to his silly cry!” – “What have I done? Why punish me so sore?” “Don’t listen,” shouts the lord. “Lay on some more!” The dog was lashed so hard that feathers flew, The noise brought all the servants round to view: “Why? What? How? Wherefore this?” – But no one knew. “Let me go!” Spotty cries, “For I’ll be damned If I can suffer more to be so lammed!” He begged in vain. Instead of well-earned thanks, Yavtukh lets lashings rain on Spotty’s flanks. “Now let him go!” arose the Master’s shout, And from the house the poor dog darted out. “Let Spotty go!” they cried. “The dog is quitted.” – “Good people all, what crime have I committed? Why am I scorned?” the hurt beast made reply. “Why am I thus tormented? Why? Oh why!” As on his flanks he felt the stripes of woe, He let his bitter tears in torrents flow. “This,” said a hireling, “has served you right Because you kept your lords awake all night; And furthermore . . . but let us elsewhere pace. One can’t speak openly in such a place, Let’s leave the yard.” They left. ‘“Twas not for naught,” Continued Yavtukh, “that such blows you caught So roundly on the rump. It served you right – My lord and lady did not sleep all night.” – “Am I to blame for that? You must be mad!” – “Nay,” answered Yavtukh, “it is you, bedad! You are to blame for barking all night through. For yesterday at cards, you surely knew,

6 Our lord lost heavily, at mighty cost. You can be sure that when a man has lost, He will be ready to raise up the devil Or stake and lose his father in the revel. Spotty, you knew he’d find it hard to sleep. Why did you then such noisy vigil keep? You should have let him growl, while you took care To rest on cornstalks, sleeping soundly there. The crotchets of your flogging you may gauge – He vented on your rump a prior rage At having lost so roundly yesterday; His lady, stung by thought-fleas, all night lay. He raves that if he’d slept the night before He would have played no cards and lost no score. You vexed him, Spotty, barking like – a dog. Therefore he gave command to beat and flog. This is the way his fury you supplied; And this the cause why he has tanned your hide. You see then, Spotty? Do not bark or bustle! Lie still, be dumb, and let your master hustle! Why should you bark? Our master all alone Is able, without dogs, to hold his own.” Spotty heard Yavtukh with attention free: “May bad luck take him! It’s all one to me. I never heard before of one who flogs The good intentions of his honest dogs. If all my efforts give no satisfaction, So much the better for my future action. If the old dame gets off the waggon full, The mare will have a lighter load to pull.” Concluding thus, poor Spotty, shaggy wight, Caught up on sleep, all day long and all night. The cornstalks tremble at his snores extreme; Not even in a nightmare does he dream That thieving soldiers bustle everywhere In yard and storehouse as if masters there, That ferrets grabbed the chicks, the wolf a lamb, And so on, till the dawn. Then, once more – wham! “Come, Spotty, come!” All rush out from their huts. “Come, Spotty, come!” cry out the startled scuts. Our Spotty does not deign to stir or leap; Unheeding, he pretends to be asleep. “My master has slept well,” averred the pup, “Because I gave no bark to wake him up. Now, to be sure, he’ll show me gratitude; He has no reason for a flogging rude. Let them keep calling! Not an inch I’ll hunch Until they bring me here my well-earned lunch; And even then, some manners they must boast Before I condescend to eat the roast.”

7 “Come, doggy, come!” Yavtukh to Spotty croaked. “Here, here!” he breathed, as though his throat were choked. “Come, Spotty!”– “What? Go where? Don’t be too hasty But bring me here yourself my luncheon tasty.” – “Come!” – “I will not!” – “You must, at Master’s beck!” With that, he slipped a noose around his neck And cried out, “Flog him!” Then a dozen men Lashed him a hundred times, and lashed again. “Flay Spotty!” roared the Master, mad with passion, And Spotty scarce survived in any fashion. Six times he swooned; six times cold water waked him; And once again a rain of lashings raked him. At last the torment ceased. And Spotty tried To ask the reason, but his tongue was tied, And senselessly, as if his speech were noosed, He gabbled like a turkey on a roost. “Don’t go away,” said Yavtukh, “and don’t worry. I’ll tell the whole truth to your senses sorry. With zeal you must your master’s storehouse guard, Awake all night, and sleep not in the yard, Must drive off thieves and bark at ugly brutes. You failed to bark last night. Our lord salutes Your error with his favour. Thus he chose To have us plaster you with countless blows.” – “The devil take your dad!” poor Spotty roared, “Your aunt, your uncle and your lousy lord! A favour is it? Let a pock-marked devil Serve the old fiend henceforth in fashion evil! A fool is he who serves the senseless gentry; A greater fool, who to their whims stands sentry! Spotty did all he could their thanks to earn, And what has he been given in return? For all his trouble he was fiercely whipped And stripes for service from his hide were ripped. For whether Spotty barks or sleeps at night, They always find some cause his rump to smite. All that I do is wrong – one way, too high; The other way too deep, is their reply. Turn to one side, the service is too hot; Turn to the other, it is cold, God wot! Were I to bring him thalers in a sack, The rogue would bang them all upon my back. No matter what you do, a knave in scorn Will make you sorry you were ever born.’