“Shevchenko, Shot in the Head” by Matthew King

Matthew King


When soldiers shot Shevchenko in the head
you’d like to think they meant something by it.
You’d like to ask: what poem had they read
that moved them so? You’d like to know why it
inspired this (you suppose) symbolic act
of violence. If, to them, this man meant more
than all the other things that they’d attacked
then you’d have something to forgive them for.
You hate to think they didn’t even mean
to do it, that his broken bust got caught
in crossfire, one more face hit sight unseen.
Your own bowed, breaking head can’t bear the thought
the soldiers might’ve shot him just for fun,
the same as they might’ve shot anyone.

from Poets Respond
April 12, 2022


Matthew King: “The bust of 19th-century Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko being shot in Borodianka is of course an insignificant event relative to everything that has happened in the Ukraine war. And yet the image of it is so striking and seemingly symbolic of an attack on Ukrainian culture. You’d like to think it was symbolic—you’d like to think the bust meant something to the soldiers who shot it, that they meant something by shooting it—you’d like to think there was something there to make sense of, amid so much senselessness. You wish that this was a war of ideas.” (web)

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