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22 August, 2011  ▪  Volodymyr Panchenko

The Clarinet And the Pipe

A history of genius who refused freedom.

The Ukrainian Week continues its series of articles about landmark figures in Ukrainian history and literature who were forced —under the pressure of the repressive communist government — to choose between protest and death. In this instalment Volodymyr Panchenko contemplates the life of Pavlo Tychyna.

“A painted pipe is all that is left of your clarinet.” Yevhen Malaniuk wrote these bitter and cruel words in reference to poet Pavlo Tychyna (1891-1967) in November 1924. What had to happen to make Malaniuk, former UNR army officer and student at Podebrady Agricultural Academy, so describe the works of the poet he admired? The answer is obvious: Tychyna, author of the famed collection Soniashni kliarnety (Sunny Clarinets, 1918), had to undergo a change.

But what happened in his life when he started writing poetry that looked like self-parody?


Tychyna started writing early: in 1907, he published the verse ‘Blakyt meni dushu obviyala’ (The blue has breathed into my soul) which offered a glimpse of a unique emerging poetic voice:

The blue has breathed into my soul,

My soul has dreamt up the sun,

My soul has partaken of the meekness of grass –

“Good morning!” I said to the world.

The brook in a meadow weaves like a ribbon,

The butterfly on a flower is like a candle.

Green fields are waving and blossoming –

“Good morning!” I said to my Ukraine.

Tychyna’s poetic language was filled with joy: his wide-opened eyes took in the overwhelming and fascinating world of life-giving nature in its perfection. His imagery strove for symbolism. This was, in fact, early Ukrainian symbolism in the making.

Then, in the spring of 1907, Pavlo Tychynin (his name in official documents) was completing his studies in Chernihiv Religious School and preparing to enter a seminary. The son of a sexton in the village of Pisky (Chernihiv region), he grew up in an atmosphere filled with Ukrainian fairytales, Christmas carols and songs. In addition to the riches of Ukrainian sung poetry and folklore, his eyes were opened to see the beauty of hymns, the polyphony of Ukrainian choir singing and the “gentle sorrow” of Dmytro Bortniansky’s music.

Tychyna spent 12 years in Chernihiv. His father wanted him to sing in the local church choir, which he did. His descant was appreciated and he soon became the soloist of the famous choir in the local Trinity Monastery. The decisive influences on his life emerged from his acquaintance and interaction with cultural figures including painter Mykhailo Zhuk, prose writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, seminary students Vasyl Ellansky (later known as poet Vasyl Blakytny) and future composer Hryhorii Veriovka. Chernihiv’s cultural milieu shaped the young Tychyna’s aesthetic tastes and his worldview. It was here that he identified himself as Ukrainian, as evidenced by the last line in the above poem.

Tychyna did not include his early poetry in later collections, even though they had been praised. At one Saturday meeting, Kotsiubynsky read his poem ‘Rozkazhy, rozkazhy meni, pole’ (Oh Tell Me, Field, Tell It to Me, 1910) to the present audience and could not hide his admiration. The young poet made his debut in 1912 when his poems were published for the first time. Some of them are still classic, such as “Vy znaiete, iak lypa shelestyt?” (Do You Know How the Linden Rustles?), a pearl of romantic poetry.


In 1913, Tychyna, 22, came to Kyiv to enroll in a commercial institute. His reasoning was simple: “We seminary graduates were accepted without exams.” However, the First World War broke out soon and the institute was moved to Saratov, so the students studied by correspondence. During this period, Tychyna closely cooperated with Ukrainian periodicals in Kyiv. And of course, he wrote poetry. His first published collection could have been Panakhydni Spivy (Lamentations for the Dead, 1915) prompted by a tragic love story. This was his farewell to a girl who died at a young age. These poems vividly portray the ringing of bells, the funeral service, the lamentations and the “silvery sound” of Bortniansky’s “Vskuyu pryskorbna yesy, dushe moya” (Wherefore Art Thou Sad, My Soul).

For some reason Spivy remained unpublished. Tychyna believed the collection was eventually lost. However, it was found in the early 1990s in Zhuk’s archive in Odesa. Zhuk’s decorative panel White and Black can be conceived of as a kind of illustration to it: a young man resembling a young Tychyna and dressed in ancient clothes is playing a pipe. But who is the girl with the wings of a swan, arms folded on her chest listening to his charming music? There is a riddle that is unlikely to ever be solved.

In general, Tychyna was going to live the life of Hryhorii Skovoroda and Taras Shevchenko, which meant having no family and completely immersing himself in writing. However, it was not to be. In 1916, he moved into a two-storied building on 107 Kuznechna Str. where the Paparuk family lived. The daughter of the family (whom the poet called “my librarian” for a long time) became his wife 24 years after their first acquaintance.

In 1917, Tychyna was elated at the Ukrainian revolution. He wrote the symbolic poem ‘Golden Murmur.’ In it, he portrays Ukraine’s resurrection as a miracle. Andrew the First-Called himself ascends the hills overlooking the Dnipro to bless Kyiv and Ukraine. Powerful joyous chords are ringing; “golden boats” come sailing from days of old; ancestors rise from their graves and join the majestic event of the birth of a great young nation whose voice crescendos in a finale imbued with vital energy. However, with his absolute pitch Tychyna perceives a dissonance in this grandiose music: a “black bird” suddenly appears among doves (symbols of prayer) as a harbinger of fratricide and bloodshed. Mind you, this was only the summer of 1917.


Sunny Clarinets, Tychyna’s first collection, comprised of poems written in 1914-18, came out in 1918. It overwhelmed contemporaries – primarily with the melodic quality, surprising rhythms and striking symbols. Fittingly, Tychyna was fond of Skriabin’s and Čiurlionis’ artistic experiments: these two magicians seemed to be able to combine color and sound in one symbol. The poet also embraced the path of daring experiments. Coming from his pen, language showed wonders of poetic expression.

Another striking feature of Sunny Clarinets was the spirit of pantheism. Nature is presented as a divine element. The deeply religious views of the author collided with ecclesiastic routine and found expression in poeticized nature. Remarkable in this respect is the poem ‘U sobor’ (To the Cathedral). There was an entire cluster of romantic masterpieces in Tychyna’s first book: ‘Des nadkhodyla vesna’ (Spring Was Coming Somewhere), ‘Tsvit u moiemu sertsi…’ (Blossom in My Heart…), ‘Ne dyvys tak pryvitno…’ (Don’t Look at Me So Friendly…), ‘Podyvylas yasno…’ (You Looked at Me So Serenely…), ‘Z kokhannia plakav ya…’ (I Cried for Love…), ‘O panni Inno…’ (Oh Miss Inna…).

Poems dated 1918 exuded a different – dramatic – intonation. Ominous mystic forebodings filled the stanzas. “There will never be a paradise / In this bloody land,” Tychyna wrote in ‘Skorbna maty’ (The Mournful Mother) which revived the ancient plot about the ordeals of Mary, mother of Jesus. Tragic visions came alive in the miniature ‘Odchyniaite dveri…’ (Open the Door…). The painful waiting for the Bride (revolution?) suddenly ends in horror: “The door has opened – All roads are in blood!”

This made sense in light of the rough beginning of 1918 for Ukraine. Bolshevik occupation, the tragic Battle of Kruty, Muravev’s capture of Kyiv, etc. On March 21, the newspaper Nova Rada published Tychyna’s poetic requiem ‘Pamiati trydtsiaty’ (In Memory of the Thirty) written in agony over the death of Ukrainian youth near Kruty.


Tychyna had a “multivector” nature. He was at home in Hryhorii Narbut’s “freemason” circle where the spirit of artistic independence and internal emigration was promoted. And this did not in the least prevent him from being the closest friend of a Ukrainian Bolshevik, Ellansky. Three years younger than Tychyna, Ellansky was much more experienced in political issues. So his assessment of events in Kyiv carried a lot of weight with the young poet. An interesting note has survived which Ellansky sent from his cell in the Lukianivska Prison where he was incarcerated for five months (January – May 1918) for his article in the newspaper Borotba against the Central Rada. The note was addressed to his mother: “I need underwear. Pavlo knows what other small things I need.” An experienced practical revolutionary, Ellansky dreamed of turning Tychyna into “the poet of the revolution” and exerted a lot of effort to this end by involving him in cooperation with Borotba. Tychyna’s textbook classics ‘Yak upav zhe vin z konia’ (As he Fell from the Horse) and ‘Na maidani’ (In the Square) were published there. Several generations of school students would later learn them by heart as praising the October Revolution, but in fact they were about 1918 events when Ukraine was not yet conquered by the Bolsheviks and Hetman Skoropadsky ruled.

What was Tychyna’s attitude to the hetman’s government? Sharply critical. He looked at the political cataclysms of 1918 most often from a universal humanistic standpoint. He was pained to see the sociopolitical dissonance, the bloody “human craziness” and the fact that “the human heart had become utterly empty.” At the same time, he, too, was taken in by the magic of great tribulations. His “clarinet” was ready to respond to new – Bolshevik – melodies. When the circle of symbolist poets launched the almanac Muzahet, Tychyna submitted ‘Pluh’ (The Plow) which showed signs of admiration for the revolutionary storm, the energy of “millions of muscular hands” and “the beauty of the new day.”


Muzahetwas published when the Directory had already been overthrown and the Bolsheviks again took control of Kyiv (February 1919). This was when the Tychyna who would later write ‘Partiia vede’ (The Party Is Leading, 1933) spoke up for the first time. He began to rhyme Bolshevik slogans. On June 19, 1919, he wrote ‘Revoliutsiinyi himn’ (The Revolutionary Anthem) and submitted it to a Bolshevik poetry competition. The same hand which had penned ‘Arfamy, arfamy’ (Harps, Harps) in 1914 and ‘Golden Murmur’ in 1917 was hardly recognizable:

We will conquer; we can do it all,

We will vanquish the cursed gloom!

Turn a slave into a brother

Thisisthe slogan of the proletariat!

To unfetter the enslaved world

Is our one and only testament!

The deafening drum-like rhythms, the triumph of the collective “we” which blocks individual voices, the aggressive tone… “We keep going, keep working and keep destroying the bourgeois world,” he wrote. And this line is so much like another fierce one: “We will hit them, hit them!” Ellansky’s dream was becoming a reality. But this “poet of the revolution” was strange. His self was split; his soul was being torn apart in a horrible fashion; his class hatred was unnatural and forced. He was coercing himself to be resolute (“Die, perish in pubs”; “hunger is the revolution’s tongue”), even though only very recently he shuddered at the sight of cruel terror and bloodshed. The language of sharp, brutal invectives was not coming forth easily, but he wanted to master it at any cost, because it was the language of the time, the language of the new government.

“Proletarians! Shout to each other as you fight for the Inter-Republic, the Republic is coming” he wrote to conclude the series V kosmichnomu orkestri (In the Cosmic Orchestra, 1921). But what about ‘Golden Murmur’? It was gone: what mattered to the multivector Tychyna was keeping abreast of the most relevant slogans of his time.

He appeared to be a one-man choir. The protagonist of Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky’s story “Tsvit yabluni” (Apple-Tree Blossom) once wondered: “Some voices are speaking inside me…” Tychyna was like that, speaking in different voices: one was the expression of his Ukrainian soul; another one responded to the atrocities of bloodshed; still another briskly lent poetic form to Bolshevik slogans. He ended the collection Zamist sonetiv i oktav (Instead of Sonnets and Octaves, 1920) with turmoil-filled “Antystrofa” (Antistrophe):

To play Skriabin to prison wardens

Is not yet a revolution.

Eagle, Trident, Hammer and Sickle…

Each claims to be our own.

Our guns have killed what we have ours.

It lies at the bottom of our souls.

Shall I myself kiss the Pope’s shoe?

Tychyna was well aware of how costly his choice was, and yet he committed violence against his own self. It was the exact opposite of what Anton Chekhov wrote: “All my life I have been squeezing, drop by drop, the slave’s blood out of myself.”


In 1923, Tychyna moved to Kharkiv, then the capital of Ukraine. There he worked in the editorial office of the magazine Chervonyi shliakh. His new collection Viter z Ukrainy (The Wind from Ukraine, 1924) testified that he had been completely “initiated” as a Soviet poet. It was after its publication that Yevhen Malaniuk made his statement contrasting the clarinet and the pipe. However, despite his outwardly impeccable career Tychyna was constantly in anguish and doubt. His sensitive soul, no doubt, suffered when in the spring of 1923 the GPU arrested his younger brother Yevhen, choirmaster in Nova Basan. He was forced to guarantee in writing that his brother would not leave his place of residence without special permission.

In the poem ‘Do koho horovyt?’ (To Whom Shall I Speak?) he implores with Rabindranath Tagore to help him get rid of Dostoyevsky-style internal conflicts:

To whom shall I speak?

Blok is in the grave; Gorky is silent.

Oh dear Rabindranath!

From your distant Bengal

Come to me in Ukraine.

I’m suffocating, I’m dying.

Oh the things I’ll show you

Of in-class feud!

How false and moldy are

The party rulers.

The brotherly teeth, the friendly benefit –

The policies are pliant as wax.

If they were generals,

We’d know what to do.

But they are butchers

Of the same class…

Oh dear Rabindranath!

Where is the sickle, hammer and fields for us?

Oh dear Rabindranath!

Free me from my Dostoyevskian struggle!

To whom shall I speak?

Blok is in the grave; Gorky is silent.

Tychyna’s tragic doubts in the mid-1920s were about the very foundations of the new social order. The poet sensed and saw the falsity of socialist slogans and the atrocities of “in-class feud.” “The butchers of the same class” could exile him to the Solovetsky Islands for this kind of heresy. There is good reason why it was published only in 1989. Back then, in 1926, Tychyna had his first major trepidation. From the rostrum of a party plenum Vlas Chubar lambasted him for “injecting the nationalistic narcotic into literature” in the poem ‘Chystyla maty kartopliu’ (Mother Was Peeling Potatoes) published in VAPLITE’s almanac. In it, mother says these “heretical” words to her communist son:

Lenin the antichrist has come, my son, but all you do is talk about theaters.

You need to fight: the antichrist has come.

This is what ordinary Ukrainians believed in those times of imposed atheism and church destruction: Lenin was the antichrist. After receiving scathing criticism Tychyna was forced to draw conclusions. In 1929, he falsely testified in the SVU trial against defendants who were close to him.


Fear was the essence of his character. Since his early years, Tychyna had been terrified of death. Fear was his co-author and stole his inspiration when he forced his numerous later pro-Soviet poems. Fear dictated to him as he wrote the book Obraz I. V. Stalina v ukrainskii radianskii poezii (Stalin’s Image in Soviet Ukrainian Poetry, 1950).

The totalitarian regime quickly and successfully brought him to heel when he chose to renounce freedom. They tried to turn him into an official. He was the minister of education (1943-48) and even the Speaker of Ukraine’s Supreme Council (1953-59). He was the first to receive the Shevchenko Prize (1962). It was Tychyna whom the government commissioned with writing the anthem of the Ukrainian SSR.

Tychyna wanted to evade hard questions and reconcile himself to the realities. However, in some rare cases he rebelled. When Moscow recommended that Ukraine’s Supreme Council pass a law on education which promoted Russification, Tychyna stepped down from his office in protest.

In his last year, Tychyna and his wife spent a lot of time in their government-provided summer cottage in Koncha-Zaspa. He was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labor title several months before his death. Academician Oleksandr Biletsky once said, half-seriously, that the thing Tychyna feared the most was the Soviet regime. That seems to nail it.

Did Tychyna know about Malaniuk’s cruel verdict delivered in 1924? He did. They say that at one point, as a celebrated government-approved author of “Golden Murmur” and the ode ‘Partiia vede’ (The Party Is Leading), he himself brought up Malaniuk’s bitter description. “What he said about me is true,” the old poet said sadly and wept.

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