The variations of this theme will appear more than once in the reflections of the hetman who is not at all indifferent to “the nation’s humanitarian aura.” The poetess has found in Khmelnytsky a like-minded individual and a spokesman. In this case, the hetman’s confession becomes a lyrical confession of the authoress herself.
Lina Kostenko is sometimes reproved for the fact that her Bohdan allegedly lacks an aristocratic gloss. But in reality, from all the episodes, reflections and mise-en-scenes, from Bohdan’s bitter confession – sometimes impulsive and nervous, sometimes calm and pensive, – emerges an uncommon individual, in whom we recognize a Chyhyryn sotnyk, a Polish Kingdom noblemen and royal subject, a jealous man in love, a Cossack leader in revolt, and, after all, a hetman fully aware of his mission.
And should one be surprised with the hero’s verbal description which holds a place not only for an exalted style but also for a burlesque element? This does not turn Bohdan into Aeneas: the “low” colloquial vocabulary, to which he resorts from time to time, is in some cases the cover of bitterness and in other cases it is a verbal “carnival” full of irony, cursing, good-natured smiles, and sarcasm. If Lina Kostenko had portrayed Khmelnytsky (can you imagine this?) in the straitjacket of a very wise, exquisite and totally “aristocratic” language, without any folksy phrases, he would have lost out a lot.
In general, the language of Berestechko is a special matter: it “smells” of the 17th century, hetman’s edicts, a gentle breeze of folk songs, daily routine and war, and bookish wisdom with its historical and biblical allusions; it easily hosts all kinds of intertwining styles and “parties.” The authoress aptly displays the wittiness, subtle varieties of meanings, and “smells” of words. A diligent language buff will find lexical gold mines in Berestechko; he is bound to notice rare and newly-coined words as well as the authoress’ love of inner consonance and will, naturally, smile inadvertently, encountering a charming poetry of Ukrainian toponyms and anthroponyms which Lina Kostenko seems to have “spilled” from the horn of plenty in front of the reader.
And there is also a rhythm, music and breath of this language. A change of rhythms shows a change of narrative plans, transitions from one recollection to another and from a recollection to reality, as well as emotion-switching. Berestechko makes one recall Taras Shevchenko’s emotional amplitudes: it took the poet a very short distance to pass, for example, from wrath to tenderness. The same applies to Lina Kostenko: her Khmelnytsky’s soul resembles a boiling volcano crater, where the “color” of feelings is extremely expressive in its modulations. From tragic intonations to quite lyricism, from cursing to sobbing, from anger to elegy, from sarcasm to almost a childish sound – all this is the river of Bohdan’s inner speech.
The novel has the main stream that determines its psychological plot: the difficult formation of a statesman in a individual who is fighting against himself and, eventually, overcomes the defeat in himself.
But when Kostenko is about to finish the story of Bohdan’s defeat and resurrection, she comes up with a veritable mystery play – the sorcery of a witch who has been with Bohdan for the past three years and is now “loitering” next to him in the Pavoloch fortress; invocation of the spirit of the Cossack Nebaba; t
he prediction of what will happen to Bohdan and Ukraine afterwards, in the future. Actually, the Spirit itself appeared in the image of the Cossack Nebaba to tell about the times Ukraine went through after Khmelnytsky and about Bohdan’s not-so-easy glory.
For it is up to the Spirit to know everything and not to hide the truth. Bohdan’s soul will know no peace.
The Spirit says that it will “carry the irremissible sin” in a “mute despair,” the one that the “hetman of the word,” Taras Shevchenko, would remind him. Pereiaslav. A rash oath of allegiance. And the horror of annexing Ukraine. For a long time, for several centuries.
Indeed, the real-life Khmelnytsky departed this life with a heavy heart. Dmytro Bantysh-Kamensky wrote quite aptly in A History of Little Russia (1822) that the cause of his death was not only old age (62!) and ailments but also “anguish of the soul.” The hetman was aware that he had got into a trap and his attempts to pursue an independent foreign policy were stirring up resentment in the tsar. Bantysh-Kamensky recalls that when Bohdan was already on his deathbed, he was visited by the Moscow monarch’s envoys who told him that the tsar was angry with the hetman for his independent policies towards the Prince of Transylvania and the King of Sweden.
The meeting in fact ended in a conflict and an explosion of Khmelnytsky’s “anguish of the soul.” “I will never break with the Swedish king, with whom I had maintained a friendship for six years before becoming a subject of His Tsarist Majesty,” Bohdan said. “The Swedes are righteous people: they know how to keep good attitudes and promises, while the grand sovereign bestowed his unmercifulness on me, the hetman, and the entire Zaporozhian Army by making peace with the Poles and wishing to return our homeland to them.”
Absolutely ignoring the interests of Ukraine, pursuing the policy of annexing the Cossack state, and treating the hetman like a submissive and silent vassal, the tsar could not but cause the “mute despair” mentioned in the novel Berestechko.
Lina Kostenko’s final mystery play ends in a miracle: the “green horse”– the embodiment of Fate itself – saves Bohdan. It is a horsewoman, Hanna Zolotarenko, who appears before Bohdan as a hope, a reward for his torments, and a blessing. “O woman, you are the life.” These “ancient” words sound at the end of the novel as high praise of the eternal power of procreation and the vital element of womanhood. Slowly and hard is Khmelnytsky riding out of his depression in order to muster an army and again lead a Ukraine that strives for freedom.
At the turn of the 13th century, the anonymous author of The Tale of Ihor’s Campaign finished his poem about a defeat with the triumph of Prince Ihor who returns to Kyiv from Polovtsian captivity.
Taras Shevchenko, too, would never leave his readers face to face with hopelessness. Hurling invectives and reproaches on his compatriots and appealing to the feeling of national shame, honor and elementary human dignity, he more than once finished “lamentations of Jeremiah” with calling for freedom, a vision of resurrection, and the miracle of an overcome defeat.
Berestechko (as well as the novel Marusia Churai which ends with a “serene resurrection” of the heroine and Poltava) is written in the same tradition of “strengthening the heart”: the hero goes through a catharsis by tragedy, the defeat has been overcome, and, although Lina Kostenko’s novel shows no triumph, it does show the light of a hope, without which there would be no sense in living. It is the light of a catharsis which has the power of revival.
By Volodymyr PANCHENKO
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