Bohdan Lepky

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Bohdan Lepky, (Ukrainian: Богдан Лепкий, November 9, 1872, Krehulets, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austro-Hungary – July 21, 1941, Cracow, General Government, Nazi Germany) was a prominent Ukrainian writer, poet, scholar, public figure, artist and patriot.

It seems symbolic today that the future writer was born on November 9, 1872, in the picturesque village of Zhukiv, in the same house where the famous Polish insurgent Bogdan Jarocki, hero of the national liberation struggle, once lived.

Education and studies[edit]

At the age of six Bohdan was sent to a "normal school" in Berezhany. The boy went right into the second grade because he had uncommon aptitudes even at this early age. Later, still in Berezhany, Lepky attended a grammar school. Although the grammar school in Berezhany was far away from the main cultural centers (even inspectors from Lviv would come just once every few years to scrutinize the "teaching process"), the young Lepky had good memories of it, not in the least because most of the young Ukrainians and Polish students were noted for their ethnic tolerance, mutual respect, and openness. Especially venerated in the grammar school were the names of Taras Shevchenko and Adam Mickiewicz: there were annual recitals in honor of the two great poets, as well as regular concerts by Ukrainian and Polish choirs. Stage productions and concerts with both Polish and Ukrainian repertories were usually attended by young Ukrainian and Polish audiences.

After completing grammar school in 1891, Lepky was admitted to the Academy of Arts in Vienna, but he soon realized that literature was his true vocation. He then studied at Lviv University, from where he graduated in 1895 and returned to "his" grammar school in Berezhany as a teacher of the Ukrainian and German languages and literature.

Years in Cracow[edit]

The writer's "Polish period" as such began in 1899, when Cracow's Jagiellonian University launched a series of lectures on Ukrainian language and literature and offered a chair to Lepky. At the time he did not know that Cracow was destined to become his second homeland for many decades until his death in July 1941. This was the city where he not only worked but also found lifetime friends among Polish and, naturally, Ukrainian intellectuals.

At the turn of the twentieth century Cracow was a city seething with artistic, literary, and intellectual life, both Polish and Ukrainian. For Cracow's Ukrainian community Lepky's house at 28 Zelena St. was a kind of "cultural headquarters", where one could encounter Kyrylo Studynsky, Vasyl Stefanyk, Viacheslav Lypynsky, Mykhailo Zhuk, Mykhailo Boychuk, and other prominent figures of Ukrainian scholarship and culture. As for the Polish artists with whom Lepky maintained close creative cooperation for many years, at least three should be named: Kazimierz Tetmajer (1865–1940), an outstanding poet and prose writer, and author of the historical novel Legend of the Tatra Mountains Stanisław Wyspiański, a talented playwright; and Władysław Orkan, a gifted poet and a wonderful human being (Lepky left behind some interesting reminiscences of him, with extracts cited below).

Among the things that aroused the deep respect for Lepky on the part of Cracow's Polish and Ukrainian intelligentsia was his authorship of a brilliant Polish translation of The Lay of Ihor's Host (1905) and the famous poem "Cranes" (1910) known to Ukrainians throughout the world as the song ("You see, my brother, my friend, a gray string of cranes soaring high into the sky..."). The history of this poem is very interesting. The poet said that a performance of a Stanisław Wyspiański play prompted him to write this poem: "In the fall of 1910, in Cracow, I was walking home after viewing a theatrical production of Wyspianski's drama Noc Listopadowa. The withered leaves rustled beneath my feet, and the departing cranes were trumpeting high above me. The poem seemed to be coming out by itself, without my knowledge or effort. My brother Lev Lepky set it to music."

Bohdan Lepky died on July 21, 1941, in Cracow and was buried in the local Rakowicki Cemetery. Meanwhile, every autumn cranes fly over the old Polish city that he loved so much.

Literary works by Bohdan Lepky[edit]

Title - year - number of pages

  • Cranes (You see, my brother - Ukr.: Видиш, брате мій) - 1910 - famous poem known to Ukrainians throughout the world as the song ("You see, my brother, my friend, a gray string of cranes soaring high into the sky...").
  • Song lead (Ukr.: Заспів)
  • Mazepa (Ukr.: Мазепа) - about Ivan Mazepa, Ukrainian hetman
  • Away from life, small grief (Ukr.: Набік життя журбо дрібна)
  • I’ve Lost Contact with You (prose poem) - 1906 - 2
  • Nastya (Ukr.: Настя) - 1897 - 12
  • In the Forest (Ukr.: В лісі)- 1896 - 9
  • Revenge (Ukr.: Месть) - 1901
  • Three Portraits - a book of memoirs in which he relates his encounters and creative relationships with Ivan Franko and Vasyl Stefanyk and reminiscences extensively about Władysław Orkan.