None of Skovoroda's works appeared during his lifetime - they were first published in 1837 in Moscow. The texts of Skovoroda's writings were preserved mostly by Skovoroda's lifelong friend Mykhailo Kovalynsky, to whom he had given the manuscripts. Skovoroda's extant writings consist of a collection of thirty poems entitled The Garden of Divine Songs along with other occasional poems, a collection of fables entitled Kharkiv Fables, which was published in 1990, and seventeen philosophical treatises. Most of the treatises were composed during the latter part of his life.
The letters of Skovoroda are appearing in their entirety here in English for the first time, accompanied by a guest introduction by Leonid Rudnytzky.
Skovoroda was born on December 3, 1722 to a poor Cossack family in the village of Chornukhy in Ukraine, which was then part of the Russian Empire. He studied at the famed Kyiv-Mohyla Academy at various times in his life, but never completed his studies in theology. From 1741-1744 he lived in Moscow and Petersburg, serving in the imperial choir of the Russian Empress Elizabeth I. He spent the period 1745-1750 living in Tokai, Hungary, where he was musical director of a Russian mission.
After returning to Kyiv in 1750, he taught poetics in Pereyaslav. For a large part of 1753-1759 he worked as a tutor for the son of the landowner Stepan Tomara. After that, he taught poetics, syntax, Greek, and ethics at the Kharkiv Collegium for ten years, but left the position after personal attacks on his teachings. After undergoing a spiritual crisis, he decided to devote his life entirely to God and to a life of poverty.
For the rest of his days, he lived the life of a wandering religious hermit, traveling with just a Bible in his knapsack and few other worldly possessions. He stayed with various friends, often giving lessons in exchange for food and lodging. Three days before his death, in 1794, he began digging his own grave and requested that the following epitaph be inscribed on his tombstone: "The world tried to catch me but never could," meaning that the material aspects of earthly life were never able to seduce him.