Kubek’s New Year’s Greeting at a Time of War

1917 Calendar
1917 GCU almanac.

On January 1, 1917, Carpatho-Rusyns throughout the United States rang in the New Year, and those who were members of the Greek Catholic Union received their annual almanacs. That year, the ceremonial New Year’s greeting was written by none other than Emil Kubek. But Kubek’s poem “Last Year’s Night” was not a typical cheery greeting full of hope and optimism for the coming year, for the First World War had left the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland in a state of uncertainty and destruction. As such, Kubek assumed the role of a national healer during a time of war on the pages of the GCU almanac, and, as a result, “Last Year’s Night” occupies a unique position within the long Carpatho-Rusyn literary tradition of the New Year’s greeting.

The Carpatho-Rusyn Almanac

Illustration to 1851 Almanac
Illustration to Dukhnovich’s almanac Greetings to the Rusyns (1851). The four lines beneath the illustration are taken from Dukhnovich’s most famous poem “Dedication” (Vruchanie), which first appeared in this almanac: “I saw my first light under the Beskids, / My first breath was Rusyn air, / I was nourished on Rusyn bread, / A Rusyn rocked me in my cradle.”

When Alexander Dukhnovich published his collection Greetings to the Rusyns (Pozdravlenie Rusynov) in 1850, he conceived of the almanac as a medium, as Elaine Rusinko argues, “to establish the foundation for a national tradition that was not separatist, but global in nature” (Rusinko 2003, 133). Indeed, the text begins by enumerating “the years since the creation of the world according to the calculation of the Eastern church (7358).” While Dukhnovich only published four almanacs in his literary career (1850, 1851, 1854, 1857), the medium was subsequently adopted at home and abroad as one of the most popular for the transmission of Rusyn literature. In the United States, organizations such as the Greek Catholic Union, Russian Brotherhood Organization, or the Falcons published yearly almanacs, which often included the poetry and prose of Rusyn-American writers as well as classics from the staryi krai. In fact, one of Kubek’s first literary accomplishments was the compilation of an almanac of his own in 1908, which appeared in two editions – one for the United States and one for Carpathian Rus’.

1908 Calendar - American
Kubek’s almanac The American Rusyn Calendar for 1908 and for Eternity (1907).

Like Dukhnovich before him, Kubek announced the global ambitions of his almanac with its title: The American Rusyn Calendar for 1908 and for Eternity. These two temporalities reveal that Kubek understood his role as an editor and author to compose a work both “of an age” and “for all time.” In other words, the content should address the unique historical and cultural situation of Rusyns in the United States but also cultivate virtues in its readership necessary for the cultivation of Rusyn culture and, more importantly, the salvation of the soul. “This almanac is useful not only for the current year, but for all time and for eternity,” he writes in his introduction: “In other words, I speak like my Lord: ‘For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ (Matthew 16:26). My almanac says the same thing: For what is a man profited, if he reads the most ridiculous speeches and the strangest news, if he looks at the most beautiful drawings and laughs at them so hard he cries: has he done anything useful for himself if he loses his soul, his eternity?” (Kubek 1908, 4). For this reason, Kubek’s monthly entries are structured as sermons on topics such as the nature of sin, education, and parenting.

1908 Almanac - Teacher and Student
Teacher and student in Kubek’s 1908 almanac.

In the latter half of the almanac, Kubek does include the types of material he criticizes in his introduction, such as jokes, anecdotes, and sensational stories of death and destruction. For example, his “Humor” section has a number of jokes illustrated by drawings:

TEACHER (at an exam): Why did Adam in paradise take a bite out of the apple?
STUDENT: Because he didn’t have a knife.

Kubek argued that he could have included stories about how “7 men were killed in the mines in Wilkes-Barre,” “the Iroquois theatre burned down,” “a train to New York derailed,” or “the SS Berlin sank at sea” but would refrain from doing so since “our newspapers bring these terrible stories to us on a daily basis” (Kubek 1908, 4).

1908 Almanac - Lullaby
Illustration to “Lullaby to a Miner’s Child” in Kubek 1908 almanac.

Since his readership expected to be entertained by stories of human tragedy, Kubek satisfied this desire by including his poem “Lullaby to a Miner’s Child”, but he does so in a way that compels his Rusyn-American readers to identify and sympathize with the victims rather than take pleasure from them. The poem takes the form of a bedtime song sung by a mother to her young son, which is interrupted by the news that her husband has been killed in a mining accident. It is illustrated by five drawings, which represent the mine disaster and the mother’s reaction to the news as she falls in grief into the cradle.

The New Year’s Greeting and the Catalogue

As the almanac became an established medium for Carpatho-Rusyn literature, its dominant genre was the New Year’s greeting (pozdravlenie). In Dukhnovich’s 1850 almanac, his 300-line “Greetings” comprises the majority of the text and aspires to the same comprehensive sense of time that the almanac does as a genre. “Ten times already, one hundred years / Have gone by,” he writes: “Yet […] No alien hand has the Rusyn’s / Own little hand pressed” (quoted in Rusinko 2003, 134).

One of the ways in which Dukhnovich conveys the global scale of his vision is through the poetic device of the catalogue. In his “Greetings to the Rusyns for the Year 1852,” Dukhnovich wishes his readers as “many years” as there are “trees (drov) in the Beskids,” “peoples (rodov) in the world,” “falcons (sokolov) on the cliffs,” “forests (lesov) in Russia,” “dogs (psov) in Germany,” “donkeys (oslov) in Spain,” and so on. By reeling off rhyme after rhyme for over 100 lines, Dukhnovich displays a panoramic vision that spans the globe and at the same time flaunts his extensive talents as a poet. In the years to come, the New Year’s greeting typically was the first poetic text a reader encountered upon opening the book. In the GCU almanacs in particular, the pagination often placed the text in an ornately illustrated frame as well.

The New Year’s Greeting in a Time of War:
Kubek’s “Last Year’s Night” (1917)

At the end of 1916, Emil Kubek sent “Last Year’s Night” to the GCU, which was published as the “New Year’s Greeting” (Novoročnyj pozdrav) in their 1917 almanac. While writers often wrote New Year’s greetings to take stock of the past and chart a course towards a brighter future, it seemed that 1917 had nothing but suffering in store for the Rusyns.

In Europe, the third year of the Great War had devastated much of the Carpatho-Rusyn homeland. In 1914, the Austro-Hungarian government arrested, deported, and imprisoned thousands of Lemko Rusyns in the Thalerhof concentration camp, where many of them died from disease and malnutrition. At the same time, much of the Lemko Region was severely damaged or destroyed when the Russian army began its westward advance. After the Russians had taken control of the Carpathian mountain passes and began to seize villages south of the slopes, the Austro-Hungarian army launched a campaign in the winter of 1915 to force back the Tsarist troops. This offensive, known as the Carpathian Winter War (Karpathenkrieg), produced over a million Russian and 800,000 Austro-Hungarian casualties, which has led some historians to refer to it as the “Stalingrad of World War I.” Kubek’s beloved Snakov sustained heavy losses during this period as well, for all able-bodied men between 18 and 50 were mobilized into the Austro-Hungarian army, and in 1915, Russian troops were quartered in the village (Danćak 2007, 52).

When World War I broke out, Kubek had already been in the United States for ten years, and he turned to poetry and prose again and again to mediate the daily reports of death and destruction being published in the newspapers. Earlier in 1916, he published the patriotic lyric “My Native Land” in the American Rusyn Messenger. The poem expresses an immigrant’s sadness at the loss of his homeland, but for Kubek, this loss comes from both immigration and war.

While “My Native Land” focuses primarily on the emotional experience of the poet, Kubek’s New Year’s greeting, like Dukhnovich before him, is a wide-ranging retrospective on the state of the Rusyns in 1917. However, unlike Dukhnovich’s greetings, “Last Year’s Night” is not an optimistic, celebratory work but a sobering epic about the effects of war. Kubek systematically catalogues the sufferings and sorrows afflicting the peoples of the world, which echoes Homer’s Iliad or Walt Whitman’s Drum-Taps. But Kubek does not laud the heroes of the battlefield; instead, he lends his powerful voice to the less fortunate and brings those in need into his poetic universe, particularly in the “catalogue of laments,” which occupies the middle section the poem.

“Last Year’s Night”
By Emil Kubek

It’s strange to be joyful,
At a funeral service,
But the grave ‘s already open,
And the crowd knows its purpose.
At the mouth of the tomb,
Were gathered together,
All different nations,
To bury forever
This wretched past year,
There they stood without fear.

Twelve months,
Those twelve brothers,
Have passed, day by day,
They’ve seen every hour.
The moments of summer,
Are like leaves in the breeze,
They’ve sunk now forever
In the past of the sea,
In the strong raging stream
Of the fugitive year.
But then fate betrayed us.
How much faith and ambition,
Love, hope, and conviction,
Good will, happiness,
Like an albatross,
In the sea waves,
Or in tears, has been lost?
How much misery, anguish,
Sadness, and gloom,
Are now over for good?
In the very short time
Of this past wretched year,
Oh how many people,
With downtrodden voices,
How many wishes were lost,
And innocent pleasures,
How much loyalty, passion,
And imagination,
How much of our trust,
How many good wishes,
Have now found their graves?
And oh how much shame
Of all sorts,
How much want,
Have burdened our people
This past dreadful year?
And how many hardships
We’ve been forced to endure?
How much suffering and torment,
Sadness, ennui, and grief,
We’ve had to withstand?
But yet we’re still standing,
With joy in our hearts,
Above the fresh grave
Of this old wretched year!

All the nations have gathered
From around the whole world:
Under the roar of the Pharaoh
From the Egypt of Moses,
From the ice of the north,
From the sands of the east,
From the Palestine’s steppes,
From the mills of the West,
From the north, from the south; …
From the wealthiest palace,
From the lowliest huts,
From the Tsar’s brilliant throne,
From the poor soldiers’ trench,…
The richest and the powerful,
And the poor working people,
Those in velvet and silk,
And the children in tatters;
The always carousing,
And those dying from hunger,
Happy and healthy,
The sick in the clinics,
The dumb and the wise,
The mothers and fathers,
The young and the old,
The orphans and children…
They all want to witness
Their fates turn
For the better.

The earth turns from the light.
The hour hand now
Approaches midnight
The old year will be finished.
Under one cloudy sky,
In small huts,
In bright cities,
Above the palms of the desert
In the blazes of war,
Near the fires of shepherds…
The sorrows will start,
In mournful whispers,
All will present their laments
To this year:

–This year
My wife left me,
And now she rests,
Blessed, in her grave;
The children are orphans,
I’m an orphan myself,
And now our old house
Is wrecked by misfortune.

—What a terrible fate,
I’ve lost my son,
He was my oldest,
I’m now all alone.
I spent every last penny
On him. It’s all gone.

Oh what will I do,
How will I live on?

—I’ve lost my breadwinner,
My husband is dead,
He left me the children,
Who now have no dad.

—And my house has lost
Its beauty,
My only daughter has died
Too early.

—My fiancée,
He was killed in the war,
I’m crushed, broken-hearted,
heartsick, and heartsore.

—And I lost my health,
Then I lost my job,
There’s no savings for food,
And we’ve lost the whole crop.

—I’m broke, I’m a cripple,
I just lay in bed,
There’s no one to earn money
So the kids have no bread.

—And I’m here in the ward;
I’ve suffered all through my life,
My heart breaks from pity,
For my kids and my wife.

—I’ve become blind
I can’t see the light,
In my world of darkness,
It’s eternally night.

—I’m an innocent man,
Just let me explain,
My enemies lied to a judge,
Who put me in chains.

—What’s most dear to me,
My honor, was taken,
As a woman, they slandered,
And shamed my good reputation.

—My life’s work
Has been burned to the ground,
What a terror! Over there
Is my family, in their burial mound.

—A storm came through my village,
And destroyed all my land,
And now we’re suffering
From sickness and famine.

—And all of my riches,
Were lost in the ocean,
I’m now a poor beggar,
Despondent and broken.

—All of my family
Were killed by some robbers.
When I came home, I found that my wife
And my children were slaughtered.

—And my poor husband
Was attacked far from home.
When I found him, the wolves only left
Bloody clothes and his bones.

—They robbed me.

—Deceived me.

—The rains washed out our fields,
Which now all are empty,
And will be forever.

—A drought ruined our family,
There’s no lightning or thunder,
From the barn all our cattle
Now cry out from hunger.

—It’s unsafe at our house
We caught the disease,
We’re all dead, in the graveyard,
Which is covered in leaves.

—The earth violently shook,
The town was destroyed,
And along with the ruins
We were buried alive.

—And our town was burned
When a mountain caught fire,
And it poured smoking dust
And lava upon us.

—For us ‘t was the waves
That ruined our town,
Like living mountains,
Upon us, struck down.
Not a trace was left
Of our great civilization,
To the depths of the sea,
All the people were taken.

—When we were enslaved,
They forbade us to speak
In our native tongue,
And they stopped us from praying;
We fought, but they won.
Against foreign armies,…
In long, bloody fights,
Our husbands and children,
Lost their freedom and lives.

—In our native country,
A civil war raged,
Almost all of our best
Were sent to their graves. 

—Oh we are beat down,
We have nothing left
From the fog of the war,
We’ve emerged sad and depressed.
Where we ploughed in the past
And planted our seeds:
Thousands of corpses
Lie under the weeds.
The forests are emptied,
They’ve burned down our huts,
Our fields are ripped up
By trenches and ruts.
They’ve shot through the churches
They’ve taken our cows, …
We’ve lost all our possessions,
We have nothing now.
We don’t have a house
There’s nowhere to sleep,
Our children are starving
Because there’s nothing to eat.
Oh where are our brothers,
Husbands, sons, fathers,
And long-lost lovers?
We have no idea.
Maybe they’re dead,
Or dying somewhere
In lands far abroad.
But we will remember
Through tears those we love,
Wherever they are.
Or are they now crippled,
And crawling home from afar?
We’ve lost everything,
Only heartbreak and tears
Are what we’ve preserved.
They’ve stolen our joy,
We’ve lost all our things,
But what’s hardest of all,
Is that we lost our country!

Your laments will soon cease,
Your tears will be dried;
For no one can lose
More than you already have!

The hour hand shows
That it’s already twelve.
And with this last blow
Of midnight’s new hour
Last year has been buried
And placed in its grave. . . .
With joy the new year
Comes to greet us with pleasure:
What will you bring us,
You young newborn child?
Will your present
Be a new, happy life?
Can you right all the wrongs
That took place this last year,
Those evils your father
Forced us to endure?
Do you have the strength
To dry all our tears,
And fill up the plates
Of those we hold dear?
Could you comfort somehow
The broken hearts of the widows,
And return all the lost soldiers
To their poor grieving mothers?
Do you have in your power
To heal all of our wounds,
To calm this harsh sea
Of sadness and gloom,
To put an end to the bloodshed
And depravation,
Which have broken the hearts
Of our desperate nation?
Can you put to an end
Our pain from last year?
Oh what will you do
To us, child my dear?

Merciful God
Bring peace this new year,
Raise up your people,
Help us persevere!

Translated by Nick Kupensky.


One thought on “Kubek’s New Year’s Greeting at a Time of War

  1. Nick Kupensky.. I am totally impressed with the quality of the work and the immensity of the research and translation you have put forward, and look forward to a good read about the cultural insights provided by Reverend Emil Kubek with his many modes of expression as a writer, culture builder, a priest, a dictionary compiler and maker, and Carpatho-Rus’ cultural patriot. Thank you. Jerry Jumba


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