In the spring of 1846, the poet lived for some time in Kiev, where he met the members of the Kyrylo-Methodius Society. The views of the poet had a great influence on the program of this secret society and on the philosophical outlook of many of his contemporaries.
In 1847, arrests began of the members of the Kyrylo-Methodius Society and Shevchenko was arrested on April 5, on a ferry crossing the Dnipro River near Kiev. The next day, the poet was sent to St. Petersburg. He arrived there on April 17, 1847, and was imprisoned. Here he wrote the cycle of poems In the Dungeon. Of all the members of the association who came under investigation, Shevchenko was punished most severely: he was exiled as a private with the Military Detachment at Orenburg. Russian Tsar Nicholas I, in confirming the sentence, wrote, "Under the strictest surveillance, with a ban on writing and painting."
On June 8, 1847, Shevchenko was established at Orenburg, and later he was sent to the fort at Orsk. From the very first days, Shevchenko violated the tsar's order. He transcribed the prison cycle into a small secret book he kept in his boot, and he wrote new poems into the book. In 1848, Shevchenko was included as an artist in the Aral Survey Expedition. In 1850,Shevchenko was arrested for violating the tsar's order. Warned by his friends, the poet was able to give them his notebooks and to destroy some letters. The poet was taken to Orsk, where he was questioned. Then he was sent to a remote fort in Novopetrovsk. Once again, strict discipline was imposed, and the poet was subjected to more rigorous surveillance. It was not until 1857 that Shevchenko finally returned from exile, thanks to the efforts of friends.
While awaiting permission to return, Shevchenko began a diary, an important documentation of his views. On August 2, 1857, having received permission to travel to St. Petersburg, Shevchenko left the fort at Novopetrovsk. In Nizhniy Novgorod, he learned that he was forbidden to go to Moscow or St. Petersburg, on pain of being returned to Orenburg.
A kind doctor attested to Shevchenko's illness, and the poet spent the entire winter in Nizhniy Novgorod. The winter of 1857-58 was very productive for Shevchenko. During that time he painted many portraits and other paintings. He also edited and transcribed into the Bilsha knyzhka (The Larger Book) his poems from the period of exile, and wrote new poetic works. After receiving permission to live in the capital, he went to St. Petersburg. After his exile, Shevchenko devoted his greatest attention as an artist to engraving, and in this field he became a true innovator.
In May, 1859, Shevchenko got permission to go to Ukraine. He intended to buy a plot of land not far from the village of Pekariv, to build a house there, and to settle in Ukraine. In July he was arrested on a charge of blasphemy, but was released and ordered to go to St. Petersburg without fail. The poet arrived there on September 7, 1859. Nevertheless, to the end of his life, the poet hoped to settle in Ukraine.
In spite of physical weakness as a result of his exile, Shevchenko's poetical strength was inexhaustible, and the last period of his work is the highest stage of his development. In a series of works, the poet embodied the dream of the people for a free and happy life. Shevchenko understood that the peasants would gain their freedom neither through the kindness of the tsar nor through reforms, but through struggle. He created a gallery of images - Champions of Sacred Freedom - of fighters against oppression and tyrarny. On September 2, 1860, the Council of the Academy of Arts granted Shevchenko the title, Academician of Engraving.
The poet began to feel increasingly ill, and complained in letters about the state of his health. Taras Shevchenko died in St. Petersburg at 5:30 a.m. on March 10, 1861. At the Academy of Arts, over the coffin of Shevchenko, speeches were delivered in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish. The poet was first buried at the Smolensk Cemetery in St. Petersburg. Shevchenko's friends immediately undertook to fulfil the poet's Zapovit (Testament), and bury him in Ukraine. The coffin with the body of Shevchenko was taken by train to Moscow, and then by horse-drawn wagon to Ukraine. Shevchenko's remains entered Kiev on the evening of May 6, and the next day they were transferred to the steamship Kremenchuh. On May 8 the steamship reached Kaniv, and Taras was buried on Chernecha Hill (now Taras Hill) by the Dnipro River. A tall mound was erected over his grave, and it has become a sacred site for the Ukrainian people.
(Biography prepared by Lari Prokop.)
When I am dead, then bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.
When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes... then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields --
I'll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I'll pray... But till that day
I nothing know of God.
Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
Pereyaslav, December 25, 1845.
Translated by John Weir.