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“A Cherry Orchard by the House”

By David Elley

"Sadok vyshnevyi kolo khaty", Taras Shevchenko 1847

A cherry orchard by the house.

Above the cherries beetles hum.

The plowmen plow the fertile ground

And girls sing songs as they pass by.

It’s evening—mother calls them home.

A family sups by the house.

A star shines in the evening chill.

A daughter serves the evening meal.

Time to give lessons—mother tries, but can’t.

She blames the nightingale.

It’s getting dark, and by the house,

A mother lays her young to sleep;

Beside them she too fell asleep.

All now went still, and just the girls

And nightingale their vigil keep.

I was leaving Kyiv last week by train again, for the second time, and cataloguing some children’s art I had just received. I had noticed that one or two pictures once again contained cherries. My teacher friend in Kyiv had referred to some song about cherries and sang a few bars to me. But he could not name the song or tell me why.

So, I decided to “phone a friend” on this one, well two friends, one in France and one in Lviv, who might do better than my teacher friend. It was not long before I had a wealth of information to explore.

All roads led to Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), revered here as Ukraine’s first and most significant cultural influence, first as a painter and then as a poet. Shevchenko gave up a comfortable, hard- won life, and chose to suffer for his dedication to telling the stories of Ukraine in the 19th Century. I leave you to seek out Shevchenko’s life story, it is very moving, and when you understand his childhood, this poem of the cherry orchard is even more remarkable.

One of my friends sent me this, cherries and the cherry tree in the garden are a motif in this relationship between a mother and a daughter, and also a remembrance. I am seeking an honest translation of this lovely song, because there is more complexity and melancholy in this song that is suggested in Google's translation: “Mama’s Cherry Tree in the Garden”

This version is older, but contains the lyrics in Ukrainian if you like to read for yourself. Раїса Кириченко - Мамина вишня в саду. (Raisa Kirichenko).

I dreamed of childhood again,

Warm as a beautiful spring.

Cherry dressed in a necklace,

Mom is happy and sad.....

Then, I was given a handful of song links, I so chose two here, but old, new, religious, popular, cherries appear again ( "Садок вишневий коло хати" Народний дівочий хор "Ліра" ) and again ( Элина Иващенко (Украина) - Ой, у вишневому саду ).

Cherries are deeply embedded in Ukrainian thoughts of home, of mothers, of safety, and of plenty. Ukrainian children are taught Shevchenko’s poems in school from an early age and the poem of the cherry orchard is one you can imagine is one of the first they learn.

And what of the children, so many of each group of children, in Lviv or Kyiv, who come from all over Ukraine, have drawn cherries in their pictures?  I have not yet seen the pictures of the children in the Ukrainian Association school in Nice in France, but I expect at least one picture of cherries. Well, it turns out that one group of kids here in Lviv, who were all refugees from occupied Melitopol, that group had drawn the most pictures of cherries of any group. What is one of the things Melitopol is best known for? Cherries.

The next time you take a mulled cherry wine on Rynok (as I do every Saturday and Sunday), or you see a vyshyvanka embroidered with cherries, or as I have encountered in many children’s pictures of cherries these past five weeks. Or wherever you are, and you see or eat a cherry. The next time, remember what cherries mean to the children of Ukraine: the hope for plenty, a home, and for their mother to be there, to hold them close and to keep them safe forever.




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