Poetry Travels: Ukraine. TWO LYRICS OF LOVE AND MEMORY by Lina Kostenko, translated by Stephen Komarnyckyj

You told me I love you with your eyes
The soul passed its hard exam,
Like the soft sound of belling mountain stream
That which is not said unsaid will remain.

Life passed, that train platform passed
The station's speaker bellowed silences
So many words written by the pen
That which is not said unsaid will remain.

Nights turn to dawn days become dusk
Fate more than once trembled the scales
Words entered me like the sun.
That which is not said unsaid will remain.


Let it be light. The touch of a feather.
Let it be forever. Radiant memory.
This pale world is birch bark,
Whitened in these dark days from elsewhere.

Today it began to snow
Today autumn was brimming with smoke.
Let it be bitter. The memories of you.
Let it be light, memory wonderful.

Don't let the phone rouse your sorrow,
Your sadness move with the leaves.
Let it be light. This is only a dream
Barely brushing memory with its lips.

By Lina Kostenko

Translated by Stephen Komarnyckyj

Lina Kostenko was born into a family of teachers on 19 March 1930 in Rzhyshchiv, Ukraine. She wrote her first verse on the walls of a dug-out in World War 2 according to one of her own poems. It’s unlikely that this is poetic licence. Kostenko is a poet who is both highly literary, mixing references to Shakespeare and Gogol in her work, but also very honest and accessible. These two poems of love and memory speak to emotions that will transcend the war. Kostenko is one of a generation of writers known as the “Sixtiers” who challenged Soviet oppression of Ukrainian culture during the decade of the Beatles and Flower Power. She once took a bouquet into the trial of a dissident and flung it into the court during the proceedings: the officials and secret police dived for cover thinking it was a bomb. Her work reminds us that love, seemingly vulnerable, will persist and overcome fear.

Stephen Komarnyckyj‘s literary translations and poems have appeared in Index on Censorship, Modern Poetry in Translation and many other journals. He is the holder of two PEN awards and a highly regarded English language poet whose work has been described as articulating “what it means to be human” (Sean Street). His translations of popular and literary Ukrainian fiction and original poetry are published by Kalyna Language Press and other literary presses. He teaches poetry writing online using translations of Ukrainian poetry at The Poetry School, the UK’s main hub for online poetry teaching. However, he spends most of his life looking after four rescue dogs from Bosnia while persuading himself that adopting a fifth would be sheer folly.

Stephen Komarnyckyj’s translation of Kostenko’s novel The Notes Of A Ukrainian Madman will be published by Kalyna Language Press in 2022. His translation of Georgii Chornyi’s Who Are We Ukrainians?, a fascinating look at Ukraine’s history from the ice age onwards, was published in March 2022 by Kalyna Language Press. 

Follow Stephen on Twitter: @Komarnyckyj and Kalyna Press: @KalynaPress

Photo by Lisa Kalloo

Check out the Poetry Travels book list on bookshop.org.

Read previous poems from Poetry Travels:

CROW STUDY by Yuri Andrukhovych, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

UNTITLED POEM by Serhiy Zhadan, translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

UNTITLED POEM by Ludmila Khersonsky, translated by Maya Chhabra

UNTITLED POEM by Iryna Vikyrchak

From THE ANDROMEDA NEBULA by Anna Gréki, translated by Souheila Haïmiche and Cristina Viti

TEAPOT by Nurduran Duman, translated by Andrew Wessels

IT’S COMING AGAIN by Michael Strunge, translated by Paul Russell Garrett

REPORT FROM ANOTHER CITY by Marcin Niewirowicz, translated by the Author

INTERIOR by Ana Blandiana, translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea

THIS IS LOVE by Joanna Fligiel, translated by Anna Blasiak

REVELATION IN H&M by Menno Wigman, translated by David Colmer

*** (I WANT TO FOLD THIS DAY) by Inga Pizāne, translated by Jayde Will

THE SIEGE by Marcin Świetlicki, translated by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

FISH by Jana Putrle Srdić, translated by Barbara Jurša

THE WELL by Maarja Pärtna, translated by Jayde Will

THE SHADOW by Pentti Saarikoski, translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah

A FAREWELL TO MY DEAD CLASS by Irit Amiel, translated by Anna Blasiak and Marta Dziurosz

THE GIRLS IN BERGEN-BELSEN by Nora Gomringer, translated by Annie Rutherford

DECEMBER, by Jaume Subirana, translated by Christopher Whyte

ROSE RED, by Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated by Karen Leeder

*** (I D[R]IPPED MY PEN…) by Mario Martín Gijón, translated by Terence Dooley

WHAT COMES by Magda Cârneci, translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Mădălina Bănucu

TRANSLATION by Justyna Bargielska, translated by Maria Jastrzębska

*** (MY EYES, DENSE NIGHT…) by Gëzim Hajdari, translated by Ian Seed

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One comment

  1. Thank you for posting. Such beautiful poems.
    Alas, I think some of this translation is problematic.
    In the second poem “легко” means light, as in not heavy but can also be misconstrued as having to do with luminosity. “Lehko” can also simple/easy, as in an easy task. I think she means the latter. Also–in the final verse the word “листи” doesn’t mean leaves but letters (which makes more sense). Also “печаль” is deeper than sadness. A better translation might be “Let not phonecalls rouse your sorrow nor letters move you to anguish.

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