Childhood & Early Life
Yanka Kupala was born to Daminik Anufryevich and Bianigna Ivanauna, on July 7 (O.S. June 25), 1882, in Viazynka, near Maladzyechna, in Belarus. The young child was christened Ivan Daminikavich Lutsevich, and registered as a member of the noble Lutsevich family.
Though belonging to the gentry, Ivan’s family were reduced to landless labourers. The family consisted of many children, and young Ivan was the eldest. In the 1870s, the family was displaced and had to move from one village to the other for sustenance.
As a schoolboy, Ivan was drawn by the charms of Belarusian folklore that was taught in the various schools he attended. In 1898, he completed his education from a public school in the district of Bialaruchi.
In 1902, his father passed away, and Ivan started working odd jobs like tutoring, helping at shops and keeping records.
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In 1903-04, Kupala used the pen name ‘K-a’ to write his first major Polish poem titled ‘Ziarno’.
During this time, the budding poet took a major decision to start writing in Belarusian. On July 15, 1904, he wrote his first Belarusian poem called ‘Мая доля’ (‘My Destiny’). The poem spoke about the common man and his journey through a life of oppression.
In 1905, another poem, ‘Мужык’ (‘Peasant’) was printed by ‘Severo-Zapadnyi Krai’, a Belarusian newspaper. This poem dealt with a village labourer who is faced with issues of confidence and self-respect.
From 1906-07, several other poems by Yanka, written in his native language, was published by the Belarusian weekly, ‘Nasha Niva’.
The poet settled down in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, Northern Europe, in 1908, and published a compilation of poems titled ‘Жалейка’ (‘The Little Flute’). The book was seized and Kupala was arrested on claims that his poetry was against the Czar and his government.
In 1909, even though the poet was released, another book by him was impounded. Yanka did not wish to put the newspaper ‘Nasha Niva’ into trouble, and stopped getting his literary works printed by them.
The same year, the brilliant poet travelled to Saint Petersburg in Russia, where several of his works were duly published. His poems, like ‘Адвечная песьня’ (‘Eternal Song’) and ‘Сон на кургане’ (‘Dream on a Barrow’), showed influences of Russian writer, Maxim Gorky’s literary style.
In 1913, he came back to Vilnius and began writing for the weekly ‘Nasha Niva’. During the next few years he regularly met with famous Russian and Polish writers like L. Gira and V. Briusov. The latter had a profound impact on Yanka's writings, and he also translated some of the Belarusian poems into Russian.s
In 1915, he moved to Moscow, and pursued courses in History and Philosophy at the city’s ‘Shanevski People's University’.
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The ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ took place, in October, 1917 and as a result, local soviets came into power after the defeat of the Russian provisional government. From then on, the talented Belarusian poet’s literary works were marked by a more optimistic tone.
Towards the end of 1918, Kupala became disillusioned with the ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ and wrote poems like ‘For My Native Land’, ‘The Song’, and ‘To My People’. Through these poems he urged the Belarusians to come together and fight for their rights.
Yanka translated the left-wing anthem, ‘The Internationale’, into his native tongue, in 1919-20, at the same time maintaining a nationalist point of view. During the same period, he started residing in Minsk, Belarus, where he was employed as a librarian at the ‘People's Commissariat of Education’ simultaneously writing for the magazine ‘Volny Stsiag’.
In the next decade, from 1921-30, he helped establish the ‘Belarusian State University’, the ‘National Theatre’, and the ‘Institute of Belarusian Culture’, which later came to be known as the ‘Belarusian Academy of Sciences’. During this time Kupala set up many publishing houses and printed his books of poetry, like 'Heritage' and 'The Unknown'.
For the next few years, a depressed Yanka did not produce many poems, owing to ideological differences between him and the ‘Belarus Communist Party’, which further led to emotional turmoil for the poet.
In 1941, the Nazis of Germany took over Belarus, and the exceptional poet had to move from Minsk to Moscow, and later to the Republic of Tatarstan, due to his failing health. Even while being away from his homeland, he wrote poems with the same nationalist fervour, supporting the cause of Belarusian freedom from the Nazis.
Personal Life & Legacy
In January 1916, Kupala got married to a woman named Uladzislava Frantsauna Stankevich.
The poet died in 1942, after slipping off the staircase at Hotel Moskva, in Moscow. Though the death was declared as an accident, there are speculations of him having been assassinated by informers of Stalin, the Soviet dictator.
Belarusian literature courses include a specialised area called ‘Kupalaznaustva’ which is a detailed study of the poet’s work. His poems and plays are also a part of the curricula in the country’s schools.
His works have been translated into several languages, including the poem ‘And, Say, Who Goes There?’ which has been rewritten in English, Arabic, Italian, Chinese, German, Hindi, and Japanese, amongst others.
The ‘Yanka Kupala State Literature Museum’, in Minsk, Belarus, is named after the accomplished poet.
He is the eponym for villages, farms, schools, and streets, not just in his homeland, but also in countries like Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia, Poland and Georgia.
The ‘Kupala Literary Prize’ and the ‘Kupala State Prize’, which are awarded to exceptional poets and dramatists, have been named in honour of the Belarusian writer Yanka.
In 1982, UNESCO celebrated the hundredth birth anniversary of this peerless poet, and twenty five years later, his birth anniversary was observed by Belarus, on a national level.