"Connections Between 19th Century American and Contemporary Ukrainian Literature" by Sarah McEleney

Reading the Poetry of Oleh Lysheha and HUSI Day Trip to Walden Pond

During the month of July, HUSI students organized a weekend day trip to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, where Henry David Thoreau lived and worked. This coincided with a prior evening poetry talk given by Dr. Oleh Kotsyuba on the work of Oleh Lysheha, a modern Ukrainian poet who was deeply influenced by Thoreau’s writing, as well as works by Ezra Pound and D. H. Lawrence. Within the context of a discussion on the role of poetry in culture and society, Dr. Kotsyuba led participants through a discussion of Lysheha’s poems, such as “Собака” (“The Dog”) and “Пісня 551” (“Song 551”), a striking poem that uses the imagery of fish under a frozen lake to reflect on the human condition.

Walden Pond

In the Ukrainian for Reading Knowledge course, Dr. Dibrova spoke to students about the importance of Henry David Thoreau’s thought for Lysheha and his work, and how Lysheha found great personal significance in his own trip to Walden pond when he visited Harvard several years ago. Lysheha translated some of Thoreau’s work into Ukrainian, and had intended to translate Walden before his death in 2014. A recent collection of Lysheha’s essays, entitled Старе золото (Old Gold), published in 2015 by Піраміда in Lviv contains a section entitled “Генрі” (“Henry”) with an essay by Lysheha on Thoreau and a translation of excepts from Thoreau’s journal (which has also been published online). In an introduction to the dual language The Selected Poems of Oleh Lysheha (published by HURI), James Banfield writes that Lysheha’s affinity for Thoreau is linked to both writers’ concern regarding the definition as to what constitutes civilized life, and the role of the individual in society (p. xix-xx). 

For the trip, students took the train to Concord, and upon arriving at Walden Pond, went for a walk around its perimeter, as well as saw a recreation of Thoreau’s original cabin on the site. Then we made our way to the Concord Museum where we saw the actual writing desk on which Thoreau wrote Walden, as well as learned about the cultural history of Concord, Massachusetts—a town where Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott all lived and worked. 

The opportunity to visit Walden Pond while studying at HUSI gave students a chance to reflect on the dynamic interactions between different cultural and literary traditions, and to visit an important location in American cultural history, one from which the work produced has had great influence on literature on an international scale, and, as HUSI students found out, inspired one of the greatest contemporary Ukrainian poets. 

Sarah McEleneySarah McEleney is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Virginia. She is currently attending HUSI to learn Ukrainian, which will aid in her dissertation research. Her focus is the cultural representations of Crimea in 20th century literature and media.

Text Size