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Czeslaw Milosz

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/206

Czeslaw Milosz was born to Weronika and Aleksander Milosz on June 30, 1911, in Szetejnie, Lithuania (then under the domination of the Russian tsarist government). After the outbreak of World War I, Aleksander Milosz was drafted into the Tsar's army, and as a combat engineer he built bridges and fortifications in front-line areas. His wife and son accompanied him in his constant travels about Russia. The family did not return to Lithuania until 1918, whereupon they settled in Wilno (then a part of Poland; also called Vilnius or Vilna).

Milosz graduated from high school in 1929, and in 1930 his first poems were published in Alma Mater Vilnenis, a university magazine. In 1931 he co-founded the Polish avant-garde literary group "Zagary"; his first collection of verse appeared in 1933. That same year he co-edited an Anthology of Social Poetry. In 1934 he earned a degree as Master of Law and traveled to Paris on a fellowship from the National Culture Fund. In 1936 he began working as a literary programmer for Radio Wilno. He was dismissed for his leftist views the following year and, after a trip to Italy, took a job with Polish Radio in Warsaw. He spent most of World War II in Nazi-occupied Warsaw working for underground presses.

After the war, he came to the United States as a diplomat for the Polish communist government, working at the Polish consulate first in New York, then in Washington. In 1950 he was transferred to Paris, and the following year he requested and received political asylum. He spent the next decade in Paris as a freelance writer. In 1953 he published The Captive Mind, and his novel, The Seizure of Power, received the Prix Litteraire European from the Swiss Book Guild. In 1960 he moved to the United States to become a lecturer in Polish literature at the University of California at Berkeley. He later became professor of Slavic languages and literature, a position he still holds. He did not visit Poland again until 1981.

In 1980, Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His other honors include an award for poetry translations from the Polish P.E.N. Center in Warsaw, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He has written virtually all of his poems in his native Polish, although his work was banned in Poland until after he won the Nobel Prize. He has also translated the works of other Polish writers into English, and has co-translated his own works with such poets as Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky. His translations into Polish include portions of the Bible (from Hebrew and Greek) and works by Charles Baudelaire, T. S. Eliot, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Simone Weil, and Walt Whitman. He died on August 14, 2004.


From the official Nobel site
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1980/milosz-poetry.html

Encounter

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Wilno, 1936

By Czeslaw Milosz from "The Collected Poems 1931-1987", 1988
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee


So Little
I said so little.
Days were short.

Short days.
Short nights.
Short years.

I said so little.
I couldn't keep up.

My heart grew weary
From joy,
Despair,
Ardor,
Hope.

The jaws of Leviathan
Were closing upon me.

Naked, I lay on the shores
Of desert islands.

The white whale of the world
Hauled me down to its pit.

And now I don't know
What in all that was real.


Berkeley, 1969

By Czeslaw Milosz from "The Collected Poems 1931-1987", 1988
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee


Esse


I looked at that face, dumbfounded. The lights of métro stations flew by; I didn't notice them. What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an ideal form, a sign like a hieroglyph simplified from the drawing of an animal or bird? A slightly snub nose, a high brow with sleekly brushed-back hair, the line of the chin - but why isn't the power of sight absolute? - and in a whiteness tinged with pink two sculpted holes, containing a dark, lustrous lava. To absorb that face but to have it simultaneously against the background of all spring boughs, walls, waves, in its weeping, its laughter, moving it back fifteen years, or ahead thirty. To have. It is not even a desire. Like a butterfly, a fish, the stem of a plant, only more mysterious. And so it befell me that after so many attempts at naming the world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one string, the highest, the unique avowal beyond which no power can attain: I am, she is. Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing, repeating only: is!

She got out at Raspail. I was left behind with the immensity of existing things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees.


Brie-Comte-Robert, 1954

By Czeslaw Milosz from "The Collected Poems 1931-1987", 1988
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky


A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto
Bees build around red liver,
Ants build around black bone.
It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,
It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam
Of gypsum, iron sheets, violin strings, trumpets, leaves, balls, crystals.
Poof! Phosphorescent fire from yellow walls
Engulfs animal and human hair.

Bees build around the honeycomb of lungs,
Ants build around white bone.
Torn is paper, rubber, linen, leather, flax,
Fiber, fabrics, cellulose, snakeskin, wire.
The roof and the wall collapse in flame and heat seizes the foundations.
Now there is only the earth, sandy, trodden down,
With one leafless tree.

Slowly, boring a tunnel, a guardian mole makes his way,
With a small red lamp fastened to his forehead.
He touches buried bodies, counts them, pushes on,
He distinguishes human ashes by their luminous vapor,
The ashes of each man by a different part of the spectrum.
Bees build around a red trace.
Ants build around the place left by my body.

I am afraid, so afraid of the guardian mole.
He has swollen eyelids, like a Patriarch
Who has sat much in the light of candles
Reading the great book of the species.

What will I tell him, I, a Jew of the New Testament,
Waiting two thousand years for the second coming of Jesus?
My broken body will deliver me to his sight
And he will count me among the helpers of death:
The uncircumcised.


Warsaw, 1943

By Czeslaw Milosz from "Selected Poems", 1973
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz

Copyright - Czeslaw Milosz

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/M/MiloszCzesla/Forget.htm



Late Ripeness


Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget - I kept saying - that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago -
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef - they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.


http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/M/MiloszCzesla/Forget.htm


Forget

Forget the suffering
You caused others.
Forget the suffering
Others caused you.
The waters run and run,
Springs sparkle and are done,
You walk the earth you are forgetting.

Sometimes you hear a distant refrain.
What does it mean, you ask, who is singing?
A childlike sun grows warm.
A grandson and a great-grandson are born.
You are led by the hand once again.
The names of the rivers remain with you.
How endless those rivers seem!
Your fields lie fallow,
The city towers are not as they were.
You stand at the threshold mute


On Angels


All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,
messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seems.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice -- no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draws near
another one
do what you can.

From Against Forgetting, Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, ed. By Carolyn Forche

This Only

A valley and above it forests in autumn colors.
A voyager arrives, a map leads him there.
Or perhaps memory. Once long ago in the sun,
When snow first fell, riding this way
He felt joy, strong, without reason,
Joy of the eyes. Everything was the rhythm
Of shifting trees, of a bird in flight,
Of a train on the viaduct, a feast in motion.
He returns years later, has no demands.
He wants only one, most precious thing:
To see, purely and simply, without name,
Without expectations, fears, or hopes,
At the edge where there is no I or not-I.

 

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