Mykola Zerov

Mykola Zerov was a Ukrainian poet, translator, classical and literary scholar and critic. He is
considered to be one of the leading figures of Executed Renaissance. Mykola Zerov was born in 26 April
1890 in Zinkiv, Poltava gubernia,. He studied philology at Kyiv University. From 1917 to 1920 he edited the
bibliographical journal Knyhar. He was a professor of Ukrainian literature at the Kyiv Architectural Institute
(1918–1920), the Kyiv Co-operative Tekhnikum (1923–1925), and the Kyiv Institute of People's Education
(1923–1935). He also taught the theory of translation at the Ukrainian Institute of Linguistic Education
Zerov's literary activity, both as a poet and as a translator, was in complete harmony with his ideals
and theoretical postulates. An avowed classicist and Parnassian, he became the leader of the Neoclassicists.
He concentrated on the sonnet and Alexandrine verse and produced excellent examples of both forms. He
translated numerous works of Latin poetry. He also devoted attention to sonnets in other literatures and
translated the works of J.-M. de Heredia, P. de Ronsard, J. du Bellay, Adam Mickiewicz, Ivan Bunin, and
others. He wrote literary criticism on contemporary Soviet Ukrainian literary works, articles on literary
translation, and introductions to editions of Ukrainian classics, edited anthologies, and took part in the
Literary Discussion. His published translations include Antolohiia ryms’koï poeziï (An Anthology of Roman
Poetry, 1920), Kamena (1924; 2nd edition 1943), and Juliusz Słowacki's Mazepa (1925). Among his poetic
works edited and published posthumously abroad by his brother Mykhailo Orest are Sonnetarium (1948),
Catalepton (1952), and Corollarium (1958). His literary histories include Nove ukraïns’ke pys’menstvo
(New Ukrainian Writings, vol 1, 1924), Do dzherel (To the Sources, 1926; 2nd edn 1943), Vid Kulisha do
Vynnychenka (From Kulish to Vynnychenko, 1928), and Lektsiï z istoriï ukraïns’koï literatury (Lessons on
the History of Ukrainian Literature, 1977). He was arrested by the NKVD in April 1935 and sentenced to 10
years imprisonment in the Solovets Islands. On 9 October 1937 he was resentenced, to death by firing squad
and perished during the mass executions of political and other prisoners.
In 1958 Zerov was formally rehabilitated, and Vybrane (Selections) of his poetry was published in
1966, but a full rehabilitation was blocked by hostility from official critics, such as Leonid Novychenko and
Mykola Shamota. In the late 1980s, on the initiative of Hryhorii Kochur, Zerov's works began to be collected
seriously for publication. The fullest edition of his works was published in 1990 in two volumes. Zerov's
collected works of literary criticism and scholarship appeared under the title Ukraïns’ke pys’menstvo
(Ukrainian Literature) in 2003.
Mykola Kostyovych Zerov played an important place in the overall development of the Translation
Studies in the 20th century with a number of articles and reviews devoted to the vital questions of translation
and translation practice of Ukraine in the 1920-30s. Zerov's theoretical views on the translation were formed
under the influence of his own translation work and through the analysis of works by other masters of artistic
Zerov considered criticism as an art of interpretation, as well as well as a way to improve the quality
of translated literature. The most reviews were written during the period of M. Zerov's activities as the editor
of the almanac "Knyhar". A critic marked the significance of a literary work in literature and culture of the
original and emphasized by the careful selection of texts for translation.
In the 1920s, a variety of debates on the current problems of Ukrainian writing were widespread.
Such discussion helped to generalize the vision of literary reality, to present new phenomena in the literary
process, and also theoretically formulate the contemporary trends of literature and literary studies. One of
such debates "Ways of Modern Literature Development"( Shlyakhy rozvytku suchasnoyi literatury) was held
on May 24, 1925 in Kyiv. In his speech, M. Zerov defended three fundamental positions of Ukrainian
contemporary writing:
1) a review of his own literary heritage
2)the development of a European tradition
3) healthy competition.
The study of these positions led to the understanding of the literary process as the unity of the
original and translation, as well as the influence of Ukrainian cultural development on the Ukrainian
The“Executed Renaissance” of Ukrainian literature in the 1920s raised the following question: what
from the previous epoch may suit contemporary demands? This stimulated the development of translation
history that deepened the understanding of the essence of the “national literature” and widened the limits of
this notion. It is in the work of M. K. Zerov, "New Ukrainian Writing"( Нове українське письменство), that
the translation for the first time was systematically considered as an important component of national
literature. This concept was interwoven with the ideas of I. Franko about the importance of translations for
national culture.
In Modern Ukrainian Literature and more specifically in the development of the Ukrainian poetic
style, M. K. Zerov tried to distinguish three periods:
1) travesty,
2) translation-travesty,
3) translation.
In the example of the " Eneida " by I. Kotliarevsky, the researcher identified the distinctive features
of travesty:
a) the absence of a specifically national element;
b) diametrically opposite tone and correspondingly selected poetic words;
c) ethnographic realism of Ukrainian life)
The transaltion-travesty is also called perespiv. The translation includes both a translation and a
travesty. The scientist defined the following characteristic features of the perespiv:
1) partial correspondence of the style of the original language;
2) partial correspondence of the versified form;
3) expansion of the volume of the work with the help of additional elements
4) consistent reproduction of elements of the plot and imagery;
5) partial domestication of elements of cultural and historical character.
At that time, perespiv as a genre of translated literature referred to attempts to reach a new level of
language use, in particular, to search a high style, which denies the use of Burlesque. Regarding the form, in
the interpretation of M. Zerov, perespiv is an attempt to reproduce an original sample of a form similar to
the style of a poem. M.Zerov noted the genre of perespiv in the work of M. Staritsky, who is considered to be
one of the key figures in the development of the Ukrainian tradition of translation:
The main features of the genre of the translation itself were to adhere to the corresponding style of
speech, the reproduction of the original rhythm, as well as the reflection of its basic motive.
Prominent representative of the period of translation itself was V. Samiylenko, whose translations
from Berange, in M. Zerov's opinion, were better than Russian. V. Samiilenko's managed to get closer to the
European originals and to reproduce the content and rhythm of the original texts.
Studying the works of Ukrainian writers, M. K. Zerov created portraits of translators, in which he
emphasized the individuality and style of writing. The researcher considered the personality of the translator
in the literary process according to the following scheme:
1) the general literary situation, the circumstances of the formation of the personality of the
2) the task of an interpreter, the choice of poems for translation.
3) translation techniques (rhythm, euphony, lexical selection); his influence on language. As for the
last section of the scheme, it is appropriate to refer here to the translation studies analysis and the concept of
the poetic translation of M. K. Zerov.
At that time there was a difference in the views of concepts of poetic translation. For example, the
Russian school drew more attention to the textual characteristics of the original texts and its translations.
Instead, Ukrainian scholars sought to look deeper, including in the discussion the reader.
The translation, according to Zerov, begins with elucidation/clarification of the "integrity of the
poetic work" and is a means of subjective interpretation of the original text. Emphasizing on the
understanding of the work, its historical and literary genesis and the image of the author as a key condition
for translation, M. Zerov drew the attention of the translator to five important requirements:
1) differentiate between high style and low style and to make appropriate lexical choice.
2) pay attention to tropes and figures and render them, but do not hinder the reader’s perception of the
translation with creating too unusual images;
3) preserve the metrical peculiarities(attention to the size of the original, to its rhythm);
4) pay attention to euphony(the reproduction of the bright sound images of the original, including
5) beauty of the mother tongue (including grammar).
M. Zerov considered translation as an important stimulus for development target language, which
thus mobilizes and enriches all its lexical and syntax resources. He considered important in the translation
process not only the original text, but also the target reader. " The language should correspond to the real
possibilities of the readers: the children's audience wants to read translated tales in the language of their
native folk tales. That is why language skill took an important place in the M. Zerov's vision of the
M. Zerov included some of his works in the course of lectures "Methodology and Methods of
Translation. It is in the notes of M. Zerov to his lectures that we found interesting material about his vision of
the system of translation studies. Here, the scholar defined the translation-process ("the transmission by
language means of a certain language the elements and functions of another language, presented in a certain
text of a particular form. The elements include morphologically-syntactic structure and phonetic (rhythm +
sound organization) language features) and translation-product ("considered as the result of a translation
process in which is distinguished stylistic and functional features).
M.Ya. Kalynovych and M.K. Zerov were the first to design a classification of Translation Studies
and introduce ‘the history of Translation Studies’ as a separate discipline in Ukrainian Translation Studies. In
their 1932/33 course, ‘Translation Methodology’, delivered at the Ukrainian Institute of Linguistic
Education, they mapped out an exact delineation between theoretical and practical Translation Studies.
M.Ya. Kalynovych and M.K. Zerov framed Theoretical Translation Studies (containing translation
methodology, history of translation, and history of Translation Studies)and Practical Translation Studies
(consisting of general methods of translating, partial methods of translating (from the native tongue into a
foreign language, and vice versa) and the studying of official-language clichés)
In his theoretical and didactic writings, Mykola Zerov for the first time substantiated the thesis that
translation and translated literature is an integral components of national literature and of national culture,
which in the case of Ukraine acquired a nation-shaping character.
Zerov's critical and theoretical works are extremely important for the Ukrainian tradition of
translation, since they formed the basis of modern Ukrainian translation.
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