To the Seeker after Fame, a Warning
Together with your name and vile cunning
You’ll slip into obscurity and shame.
The Fame you crave forever will elude you—
Forsooth, she scorns her suitor’s earthly reign.
Vasyl’ Symonenko, 1935 – 1963, Ukrainian poet, journalist and dissident. He was a pioneer of the 1960s and 70s literary resistance movement (the Shestydesiatnyky) to a chauvinistic Soviet regime’s political and cultural oppression of Ukraine. His best and strongest poems were not published in his homeland, except as samvydav: single copies were typed and retyped by friends and colleagues and circulated beneath the censor’s radar. Often works of such writers were smuggled out of the country and published by the diaspora. After his untimely death, the crackdown on his samvydav poetry grew and later the suppression of his works became near total as they were deemed ‘incompatible’ with the party line. (Sadly, what did see the light of day often appeared in altered / sanitized form, as was customary: the Soviet media and publishing industry were strictly propaganda machines for the communist party.) (I cannot resist commenting here that Russia under Vladimir Putin—who seems obsessed with a messianic vision of himself as saviour of Russian civilization—is headed down this same chauvinistic path not only within its own borders, but beyond. “When will they ever learn? When will (we all) ever learn?”)
“To the Seeker of Fame, a Warning” appeared (in the Ukrainian language; I’ll provide a transliterated version in an update) in Bereh Chekan’ (The Shore of Expectations) published in New York in 1965, the poetry selected and annotated by Iwan Koszeliwec (Ivan Koshelivets).
Much of the above information comes from the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, accessible online.
The translation of the poem is my own, very free.
Here is the transliteration from the Ukrainian:
Odiyde v morok pidle i lukave,
Kholuystvo u mynuvshynu splyve,
I toy nikoly ne doskochyt’ slavy
Khto zadlia neyi na zemli zhyve.