Bohdan Ihor Antonych

Bohdan Ihor Antonych

Bohdan Ihor Antonych (1909-1937), a notable Ukrainian poet and literary critic, lived for only 28 years. He was home-schooled for the first eleven years of his life until 1920, when he entered the Queen Sophia State Gymnasium in Syanok, which he completed eight years later. He was born in the mountainous Lemko region of Poland, where a version of Ukrainian is spoken. Antonych enrolled at Lviv University after that. Lviv is the cultural capital of Western Ukraine, which was a part of Poland during Antonych's lifetime. Antonych adopted Ukrainian as his literary language while studying Ukrainian philology at the university, and he became quite engaged in the literary and intellectual life of the multi-cultural city of Lviv, which he grew to adore.

Antonych functioned as a cultural link between Polish and Ukrainian literary communities, which did not interact much at the time. He died of pneumonia complications after a successful appendix operation in 1937, just a few months before his scheduled wedding to Olha Oliynyk. His death came at the peak of his creative abilities, when he had already established himself as a poet of exceptional maturity and intelligence. Antonych proved to be an unusually inventive poet and skilled writer in the short time he lived.

Antonych was significantly affected by Polish avant-garde poetry of the 1920s, as Lydia Stefanowska points out in her critical essays on the poet, and was one of the first literary reviewers to notice the brilliance of the then young future Nobel Prize laureate Czeslaw Milosz. Antonych's poetry was a breath of fresh air for Ukrainian poetry in the 1930s, and he, like a number of other great poets, was viewed by his audience in a variety of ways. Imagist, mystic, symbolist, and pantheist have all been used to define him. While these descriptors may apply to specific periods in his poetry, they do not encompass the entirety of his work.

For generations, his relatively limited corpus of published works has had a huge influence on a lot of Ukrainian poets, particularly during the turbulent 1960s and 1980s, when Ukrainian society was particularly afflicted by Soviet repression. Antonych's poetry spans a wide range of topics, from the everyday, such as finding joy in small things, to the profoundly metaphysical, such as nature and man's position in it, to urban themes, and a sense of impending doom, which, unfortunately, came true with the German invasion. Antonych's attitude was an art for the sake of art, with high-minded artistic standards, as opposed to the patriotic aspirations of a number of Western Ukrainian poets at the time. A Welcome to Life (1931), Three Rings (1934), The Book of the Lion (1936), The Green Gospel (1938), and Rotations (1938) are among his published collections.

The last two works were published after his death. The Great Harmony is a nuanced and supple analysis of the journey to personal faith, with all its revelatory verities and questioning, written in 1932 as a collection of poetry on religious subjects. It was outlawed during the Soviet era due of its religious elements. In 1967, it was published in its full for the first time in New York.

My English translation of The Grand Harmony first published in a bilingual edition with Litopys Publishers in 2007, which has now sold out. In my translation, The Essential Poems of Bohdan Ihor Antonych: Ecstasies and Elegies (Bucknell University Press, 2010), the poems Musica Noctis, De Morte I, Ars Poetica 1 and Liber Peregrinorum 3 were reproduced. Further literary interpretations of Antonych's selected poetry can be found in Bohdan Boychuk's edited collection A Square of Angels (Ann Arbor: Ardis Publishers, 1977), which includes translations of different well-known American poets.