The translator notes for the Taras Shevchenko poem Tribute to Shternberg in The Complete Kobzar mentioned that the authorship of the poem was in dispute until the 2003 discovery of a "rare early copy of Kobzar". What were the details of this discovery, and why did it confirm that Taras Shevchenko indeed wrote the poem?


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Tribute to Shternberg is a short poem of just four lines:

You’ll travel far
You’ll see a lot;
You’ll look around, you will be sad
Remember me, my brother!

that was apparently created off the cuff, around July 1840, on the occasion of Vasyl Shternberg’s departure to study in Italy. Shternberg and Shevchenko were friends, and in 1840 they shared an apartment in St Petersburg. Indeed Shternberg was the artist who drew the frontispiece for the first edition of Kobzar.

As recounted in the Ukrainian newspaper The Government Courier in March 2018 by Aleksandr Boron, the story goes that Shevchenko wrote the poem on a copy of the book that he gave to his friend. After Shternberg's death the inscribed book was bought by the bookseller Mikhail Levchenk, from which it then passed to the scientist and book-collector Stepan Ponomaryev. It was he who first brought the poem to the literary world's attention, publishing it in a small note in the February 1902 issue of the magazine Kievskaya starina. Unfortunately Ponomaryev’s copy of Kobzar was lost when his book-collection was broken up; some books were donated to various institutions, some were sold for waste paper, and some were simply lost. In the absence of physical evidence the poem had to be categorised as “Dubia” (“doubtful/dubious)”.

There matters rested until 2005 (rather than 2003, the date given in The Complete Kobzar). In February two young men apparently brought an original copy of Kobzar to the Taras Shevchenko museum, and showed it to one of the workers there, Lyudmila Zinchuk. She wrote an article in May 2010 describing the experience for the journal "Слово і Час" (Word and Time), published by the Shevchenko Institute of Literature. They did not permit her to keep the book, photograph it, or even to touch it, but she claims to have seen the Tribute to Shternberg written on the front page. In her words:

I was notified that two visitors had come to the museum... they asked me to confirm the authenticity of a sample of Shevchenko’s handwriting. I offered to go to the stores where several specialists would be able to examine the sample and issue a certificate, but they categorically refused to go anywhere or call anyone. One of the men took out a copy of the Kobzar of 1840. He did not allow me to take the book in my hands, but carefully flipped through the pages himself… On the front page I saw a familiar inscription neatly drawn in Shevchenko’s handwriting: Tribute to Shternerg. “This is Shevchenko!” I exclaimed. “Whose book is it? We have been searching for this Kobzar. The museum will buy it. Let’s go and photograph the inscription”

The book appeared not to have been stolen, and the men said that the unknown owner would contact the museum later to discuss the terms of sale. No such contact seems to have occurred however. If it is true that Ponomaryev's copy of Kobzar had been found, it would indeed confirm the authorship of the poem. At the moment, this depends solely on the currently unconfirmed testimony of Zinchuk.

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