Belarus Literature

Belarus Literature

From the origins to the 15th century

The question concerning the period of early Belarusian literature (11th-13th century) arises very controversial, since it belongs to a large complex of literary works equally claimed by Ukrainian and Russian literature. It is actually an era of common language, albeit with vernacular variants, and of common literature, which remained such throughout the period of Kievan Rus’, only to divide and develop more or less autonomously after the his fall (1240). According to Localcollegeexplorer, in this first period there are three literary genres that characterize the more strictly indigenous production: homiletic works, pilgrimage lives and diaries; of the second half of the 13th century. it is the Slovo or Merkurij Smolenskom («Song of Mercury of Smolensk »). Of particular importance is the literary activity linked to the city of Turov, documented as early as the 11th century. from the Turovense Gospel, which finds its most mature expression in the works of Bishop Cyril of Turov (12th century), such as the Slovas (“Sermons”).

With the sec. 14th-15th century Lithuanian power was established on the Belarusian lands, but the loss of political freedom was compensated by the Belarusian dominance in the cultural and linguistic fields. The chronicles (written in the Belarusian language in its vernacular variant, the one in use for the chancellery and for secular literature) testify to this, which reached us through three editorial offices, which reached maturity between the 15th century. and the 16th.

From the end of the 15th century. Humanism and then the Protestant Reformation brought about a strong spiritual awakening in Belarus, permeated with European culture thanks to the experiences gained abroad, particularly in Italy, by the men of culture of the time. Of these the most illustrious was the humanist F. Skaryna (15th-16th century); among his works stand out the translation and commentary of some books of the Old Testament (Bivlja ruska, 1517-19), Acts and letters of the apostles (Apostol, 1525) and the Malaja podorožnaja knižica (“Small book for the journey”, 1530). Skaryna was also one of the forerunners of the versification technique among Eastern Slavic writers.

From the 16th to the 18th century

This period of Belarusian literary history is known as Lithuanian-Polish. It includes works of a secular nature, extraneous to the religious themes that dominate the Slavic-Orthodox tradition, such as the Dopisy (“Letters”, 1572-74) by F. Kmita Čarnabyl′skyi and Dzënnik(“Diary”, 1564-1604) by F. Eulašoŭski. Despite the intense process of polonization, a local linguistic-literary tradition resisted, thanks to the consolidated writing tradition of Belarusian, which at first became the official language of the administration. This resulted in the codification of the lexical, grammatical and stylistic innovations of the vernacular language with its local variants, so for the late-humanistic age one can legitimately speak of Middle Belarusian (considering Old Belarusian the most archaic forms, already present in Slavic texts – clergymen of the 13th century), the language in which the three versions (1529, 1566 and 1588) of the Statut Velikoho knjaz ′ stva Litovskoho were written(“Statute of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy”), considered the most complete and advanced legal document in Eastern Europe of the time. The literature develops along two lines: one Latin-Polish, Western, almost always Catholic, and the other Slavic-ecclesiastical, generally from the Orthodox area. The Belarusian character of this second trend is indisputable; On the other hand, it is difficult to assign the writings and writers in Latin and Polish to a national literature. This is the case of S. Budny (16th century), theologian and translator, who wrote a catechism in Slavonic (1562), by V. Cjapinski, supporter of the Reformation and translator of the Gospel (around 1570), as well as the great Latin poet, of Polish education, M. Hussowski (15th-16th century). A further testimony of the openness to Western culture is given by the rich and widespread presence of translations of medieval and humanistic European works.

In the 17th century. there is a halt in the development of the Belarusian culture, which almost leads to the extinction of the national tradition of Slavic-ecclesiastical matrix. Representatives of the learned culture in Church Slavonic, such as S. Polockij and JA Belobockij, move to Muscovy ; Polish is imposed as the only official language (1697) and Middle Belarusian disappears as a literary language, reducing itself to a popular dialect.

The 19th century

In 1807 with the peace of Tilsit, Russia completed the process of annexation of the Belarusian lands started in 1772 with the first partition of Poland, which had meant the end of the polonization process, but the beginning of an even more systematic process of russification. Every local literary expression was interpreted as an expression of separatist tendencies; hence the prohibition of the Belarusian language. Yet, after an initial period of stagnation, the very beginning of the century. 19th marks a revival of Belarusian literature, which focuses on the living language and folklore; the activity of writers often begins with the collection and reworking of popular poems. An anonymous production of various kinds is established, among which heroic-comic poems stand outEneida navyvarat (“Aeneid in disguise”), inspired by the work of the Ukrainian IP Kotljarevs′kyi, and Taras na Parnase (“Taras in Parnassus”). A first literary school is had thanks to the work of the Polish J. Czeczot, whose production (songs, ballads, poems) is mainly of a popular character. Like him, animated by the spirit of Romanticism, other local nobles, Polish or Polonized, cultivate Belarusian letters, preferring the popular-folkloric genre; the work of J. Barszczewski presents particular literary value, composed of poems, stories and studies, and that of A. Plug, mainly prose. Always centered on popular motifs is the poetry of P. Bachrym, one of the first ‘peasant poets’. From these ferments new currents of thought develop which find the best interpreters in writers such as VI Dunin-Marcinkevič, author of very popular songs and plays, the Polish A. Rypinski, geologist and rutenologist, and the poet A. Hrosa. Other writers publish in Russian, with the aim of spreading the knowledge of Belarus; among these J. Grigorovič, editor of collections of ancient documents, O. Turcinovič, historian of the origins of the Belarus, and P. Spileŭski, author of numerous studies of a geographical and ethnographic nature. In the same ideological climate, the literary activity of the second half of the century matured, which had its best expression in the works of K. Kalinouski, F. Bahuševič, J. Lučyna, A. Hurynovič and A. Abuchovič, considered the fathers of national literature. But their works, due to the increasingly restrictive tsarist censorship, were published abroad, and at home they could only circulate clandestinely.

From the 20th to the 21st century

After the revolution of 1905 a new national-popular school arose which had its major exponents in J. Kupala and J. Kolas, founders of the magazine Nasa niva (“Our field”, 1906), around which a pleiad of young men of letters, including A. Paškevič Kejrys, known under the pseudonym of Cëtka. The suspicions of the Tsarist government led to the dispersion of the group, but its legacy was collected by Z. Bjadulja-Jasakar, A. Harun and M. Bahdanovič. With the new division of the Belarusian lands sanctioned by the Peace of Riga (1921), a progressive process of cultural assimilation was carried out by both the Polish and the Russian sides, which hindered the literary development in the national language. Belarusian literature became part, while maintaining relative cultural and linguistic autonomy, of a literary system dominated by the doctrine of socialist realism. Beyond the rhapsodies of the regime and the patriotic war (I. Šamjakin, M. Melež, I. Gurski), significant figures of the war and post-war period are M. Tank, A. Kulešov, A. Balevič, K. Kraŭčenko, PE Pančenko ; among the authors of short stories we remember J. Bryl ′, E. Vasilenko, V. Bykov, R. Sobolenko, A. Ryl′ko. In particular, poetry was able to find a purer and more authentic inspiration in the work of A. Kulešov, A. Zaricki, and later N. Gilevič, R. Baradulin, V. Nedzvedzki. In the 1960s, the literary horizon, overcoming the limits of the previous patriotic-ideological positions, opened up to a wider historical and existential theme; among the poets, mostly born after the war, are distinguished R. Semaškievič, J. Janiščyč, N. Sklarava, V. Ipatava, A. Razanaŭ, L. Dajnieka. Among the writers working outside the national borders is S. Janovič, a Belarusian from Poland.


Białowieza Forest (1979, 1992); Mir castle (2000); architectural, residential and cultural complex of the Radziwill family in Nesvizh (2005); geodetic arch of Struve (2005).

Belarus Literature