The nineteenth century not only saw a movement towards the advancement of romanticism, but nationalism as well. As Russia increased its land mass, it subsequently enveloped different nations and peoples under its vast umbrella making it one of the largest and most diverse empires in the world. It was during this time that certain nations, particularly those in the Ukraine and Poland areas desired to become their own nations. One particular Ukrainian poet and artist, Taras Shevchenko wrote heatedly on the subject for the sake of his own countrymen and while they lacked the more direct way of advocating the rights that are found in the American Declaration of Independence, his poems still called for his people to rise up and claim their rights as Ukrainians.
Shevchenko’s first major point (which is found in “My Friendly Epistle”) wherein he advocates the rights of his people is calling them to gain knowledge, “Gain knowledge, brothers! Think and read,/And to your neighbours’ gifts pay heed, –/Yet do not thus neglect your own”. Here he reasons with them to read and learn about their own rights and their heritage as Ukrainians. In reading they will learn the tyrannies of the tsar and so stir themselves up to become emancipated. As the poet of the nation, in fact a voice of the nation, it is his job to use dramatic poetic language to stir his audience up. His emotions are the highest and brightest and by boasting in them he calls his countrymen to rise up. He states that, “Day dawns, then comes the twilight grey,/The limit of the live-long day;/For weary people sleep seems best/And all God’s creatures go to rest./I, only, grieve like one accursed,/Through all the hours both last and first,” or basically he cannot rest because his homeland is bound by tyranny. Therefore his people are deprived of true rest because they are not free. He also calls upon his people to remember their ancestors and how they rose up to fight for freedom (third stanza). In this same poem he states that because of the glory of their nation, they have a right to be free,
Such is our glory, sad and plain,
The glory of our own Ukraine!
I would advise you so to read
That you may see, in very deed,
No dream but all the wrongs of old
That burial mounds might here unfold
Before your eyes in martyred hosts,
That you might ask those grisly ghosts:
Who were the tortured ones, in fact,
And why, and when, were they so racked?…
Last of all, he entreats them by the beautiful landmarks of his nation to rise up that they may not be lost to the tyrant (“My Testament”). They deserve freedom just as their fathers did and thoughts of their beautiful homeland make them seek to spill the blood of foes to regain their land.
Nationalism was a major force in the nineteenth century as it struggled against the imperial powers which ruled nearly every nation. Whether it was the British Empire or the Russian Empire, countries still sought to make their own way in the world and it wasn’t until much later that they eventually succeeded.