Weaving Gold

Mokosha, Anastasia Sophia, and Me, Natalia . . . while the books are written

Hoping against Hope

on March 2, 2016

Lesia Ukrainka, Ukrainian poet

Lesia Ukrainka is one of Ukraine’s best loved poets and playwrights. She achieved a broad education by self-tuition. She knew all of the major Western European languages as well as Greek and Latin and the Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, and others). She was equally familiar with world history and at 19 wrote a textbook for her sisters, published in 1918 as Ancient History of the Eastern Peoples. Lesia Ukrainka translated a great deal (eg, Nikolai Gogol, Adam Mickiewicz, Heinrich Heine, Victor Hugo, Homer). Suffering from tuberculosis, she traveled to Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Egypt, and, several times, the Caucasia in search of a cure. Travel exposed her to new enriching experiences and broadened her horizons. Lesia Ukrainka began writing poetry at a very early age.

In celebration of Lesia Ukrainka’s birthday on February 25, my contribution to Writer’s Quote Wednesday is one of her best-known poems poem, translated to English.

Contra spem spero (I hope against hope)

Abscond ruminations, you autumn clouds!
For  tis springtime, agleam with gold!
Shall 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,
Without hope, indeed keep on dreaming,
I want to live! Thoughts of grief, go 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 due.

And those hot tears shall loosen
All that mighty crust of ice away.
Maybe flowers shall sprout and herald
A happy springtime for me, some day.

Up the flinty steep and craggy mountain
A weighty ponderous boulder I shall raise,
And bearing this dread burden, a resounding
Song I’ll sing, a song of joyous praise.

In the long dark ever-viewless night-time
Not one instant shall I close my eyes,
I’ll seek ever for the star to guide me,
She that reigns bright mistress of dark skies.

Yes, I’ll smile, indeed, through tears and weeping
Sing my songs where evil holds its sway,
Hopeless, a steadfast hope forever keeping,
I shall live! You thoughts of grief, away!

Historical Information: Encyclopedia of Ukraine

Translation inspired by Vera Rich, modified by me

In the original Ukrainian, written May 2, 1890

Contra spem spero!

Гетьте, думи, ви хмари осінні!
То ж тепера весна золота!
Чи то так у жалю, в голосінні
Проминуть молодії літа?

Ні, я хочу крізь сльози сміятись,
Серед лиха співати пісні,
Без надії таки сподіватись,
Жити хочу! Геть, думи сумні! 

Я на вбогім сумнім перелозі
Буду сіять барвисті квітки,
Буду сіять квітки на морозі,
Буду лить на них сльози гіркі.

І від сліз тих гарячих розтане
Та кора льодовая, міцна,
Може, квіти зійдуть – і настане
Ще й для мене весела весна.

Я на гору круту крем’яную
Буду камінь важкий підіймать
І, несучи вагу ту страшную,
Буду пісню веселу співать.

В довгу, темную нічку невидну
Не стулю ні на хвильку очей –
Все шукатиму зірку провідну,
Ясну владарку темних ночей.

Так! я буду крізь сльози сміятись,
Серед лиха співати пісні,
Без надії таки сподіватись,
Буду жити! Геть, думи сумні! 

contribution to Writer’s Quote Wednesday by Silver Threading 022916_2254_wqwwriters1.png


8 responses to “Hoping against Hope

  1. Olga says:

    My heritage is Ukrainian, so I was very interested to see this post. When Lesia speaks of “evil”, I know from my mother’s stories that the population lost their abundant and harmonious lives, beginning with Lenin and then Stalin’s “evil” reign. Their farm was appropriated by the government under the communist ideology and they had to hide their potato crop so they could survive the winter. Many stories! Very sad! And then Hitler enters the scene.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Silver Threading says:

    I loved this Natalia… now the interesting part. I am German-Russian. In fact, when I was in the Air Force I was told I had family in the Ukraine. My family came from Dreispitz, Russia. One of my blogging buddies who spoke Russian actually found my family’s exit documents from Russia for me! So, I really loved hearing the words of a Ukrainian poet. You can really feel their burdens in this poem. Life must have been hard and cruel! I loved this very much! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • How interesting! I did not know where Dreispitz is, so I googled. Seems that it was a German colony in Russia. Is that correct? Lesia Ukrainka had tuberculosis and died young, so life was definitely hard for her.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Silver Threading says:

        Yes. That is true. Really interesting. The people were shunned by the Germans because they lived in Russia and the Russians said they weren’t Russian so they wanted nothing to do with them. My grandfather came to the U.S. in 1906 I believe. My mother was born on the boat coming to America. Cool stuff! I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like if my family had stayed there. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would like to have heard your grandmother tell it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Silver Threading says:

        I only just found most of this out since my Ukrainian blogger friend could fill in the blanks for me. My mother died when I was young so I had no information. My dad’s side settled in Kansas as wheat farmers until the depression. They off to Wisconsin they went for the jobs there.

        Liked by 1 person

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