Milosz, Czeslaw (30 June 1911 - 14 August 2004)
Czesław Miłosz (30 June 1911 - 14 August 2004)
University of British Columbia
This entry was expanded by Czaykowski from his Miłosz entry in DLB 215: Twentieth-Century Eastern Euroþean writers, First Series.
BOOKS: Poemat o czasie zastygłym (Wilno: Koło Polonistów Słuchaczy Uniwersytetu Stefana Batorego, 1933);
Trzy zimy (Wilno: Zwięzek Zawodowy Literatów Polskich, 1936);
Wiersze, as Jan Syruć (Lwów: Biblioteka rękopisów wydawnictwa “Brzask,” 1939);
Ocalenie (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1945);
Światło dzienne (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1953);
Zniewolony umysł (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1953); translated by Jane Zielonko as The Captive Mind (London: Secker & Warburg, 1953; New York: Knopf, 1953);
Zdobycie władzy (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1955); translated by Celina wieniewska as The Seizure of Power (New York: Criterion, 1955); translation also published as The Usurpers (London: Faber & Faber, 1955);
Dolina Issy (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1955); translated by Louis Iribarne as The Issa Valley (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1981; London: Sidgwick & Jackson / Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1981);
Traktat poetycki (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1957);
Kontynenty (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1958);
Rodzinna Europa (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1959); translated by Catherine S. Leach as Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981; London: Sidgwick & Jackson / Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1981);
Człowiek wśród skorpionów: Studium o Stanisławie Brzozowskim (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1962);
Król Popiel i inne wiersze (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1962);
Gucio zaczarowany (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1965);
The History of Polish Literature (New York: Macmillan /London: Collier-Macmillan, 1969; revised edition,
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); translated into Polish by Maria Tarnowska as Historia literatury polskiej do roku 1939 (Kraków: Znak, 1993);
Miasto bez imienia: Poezje (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1969);
Widzenia nad Zatoką San Francisco (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1969); translated by Richard Lourie as Visions from San Francisco Bay (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1982; Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1982);
Prywatne obowiązki (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1972);
Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kędy zapada (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1974);
Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977);
Ziemia Ulro (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1977); translated by Iribarne as The Land of Ulro (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984; Manchester: Carcanet, 1985);
Ogród nauk (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1979; Lublin, Poland: Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski, 1986);
Nobel Lecture (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1981);
Hymn o perle (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1982; Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1983);
Pieśń obywatela (Kraków: Wydawnictwo świt, 1983);
The Witness of Poetry, Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 1981-1982 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983); Polish version published simultaneously as świadectwo poezji: Sześć wykładów o dotkliwościach naszego wieku (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1983; censored edition, Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1987);
Dialog o Wilnie, by Miłosz and Tomas Venclova (Warsaw: Społeczny Instytut Wydawniczy “Młynek,” 1984);
Dostojewski i Sartre (N.p., ca. 1984);
Nieobjęta ziemia (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1984; Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1988); translated by Miłosz and Robert Hass as Unattainable Earth (New York: Ecco, 1986);
Z ogrodu ziemskich rozkoszy, nowe wiersze i epigrafy (N.p., 1984);
Podróżny świata: Rozmowy E. Czarneckiej [Renata Gorczyńska] z Czesławem Miłoszem (Kraków: Wszechnica Społeczno-Polityczna, 1984);
The Separate Notebooks, bilingual edition, translated by Miłosz, Hass, Robert Pinsky, and Renata Gorczyńska (New York: Ecco, 1984);
Zaczynając od moich ulic (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1985); translated by Madeline G. Levine as Beginning with My Streets: Essays and Recollections (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991);
Kroniki (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1987; Kraków: Znak, 1988);
świat/The World, bilingual edition, translated by Miłosz (San Francisco: Arion, 1989);
Rok myśliwego (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1990); translated by Levine as A Year of the Hunter (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1994);
Dalsze okolice (Kraków: Znak, 1991); translated by Miłosz and Hass as Provinces (New York: Ecco, 1991; Manchester: Carcanet, 1993);
Szukanie ojczyzny (Kraków: Znak, 1992);
Na brzegu rzeki (Kraków: Znak, 1994); translated by Miłosz and Hass as Facing the River: New Poems (Hopewell, N.J.: Ecco, 1995; Manchester: Carcanet, 1995);
Polskie kontrasty: On Contrasts in Poland (Kraków: Universitas, 1995);
Jakiegoż to gościa mieliśmy: O Annie świrszczyńskiej (Kraków: Znak, 1996);
Legendy nowoczesności: Eseje okupacyjne: Listy-eseje Jerzego Andrzejewskiego i Czesława Miłosza, by Miłosz and Jerzy Andrzejewski (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1996); translated by Madeline G. Levine as Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-43 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005);
Abecadło Miłosza (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1997); translated by Levine as Miłosz’s ABC’s (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001);
życie na wyspach (Kraków: Znak, 1997);
Piesek przydrożny (Kraków: Znak, 1997); translated by Miłosz and Hass as Road-side Dog (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998);
Inne abecadło (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1998);
To (Kraków: Znak, 2000);
Druga przestrzeń (Kraków: Znak, 2002), translated by Miłosz and Hass as Second Space: New Poems (New York: Ecco, 2004);
Orfeusz i Eurydyka (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2003)—includes translations into English by Miłosz and Hass; German by Doreen Daume; Russian by Anatol Roitman; and Swedish by Anders Bodegård;
Spiżarnia literacka (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2004);
O podróżach w czasie, edited by Joanna Gromek (Kraków: Znak, 2004);
Przygody młodego umysłu: Publicystyka i proza 1931-1939 (Kraków: Znak, 2004).
Editions and Collections: Dolina Issy (London: Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy, 1966);
Wiersze (London: Oficyna Poetów i Malarzy, 1967);
Utwory poetyckie: Poems, introduction by Aleksander Schenker (Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications, 1976);
Widzenia nad Zatoką San Francisco (Warsaw: Krąg, 1979);
Dzieła zbiorowe, 12 volumes (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1980-1985);
Wiersze zebrane, 2 volumes (Warsaw: Krąg, 1980);
Wybór wierszy (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1980);
Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kędy zapada i inne wiersze (Kraków: Znak, 1980);
Poezje (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1981);
Prywatne obowiązki (Warsaw, 1983; Wydawnictwo Kropka, 1983; Niezależna Oficyna Wydawnicza “Nowa,” 1985);
Zniewolony umysł (Warsaw, 1984; Wydawnictwo Wolność, 1986);
Nieobjęta ziemia (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Trzeci Obieg, 1984);
Ogród nauk (Warsaw: Książnica Literacka, 1984);
Gucio zaczarowany: Miasto bez imienia (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo “V,” 1985);
świadectwo poezji (Kraków: Oficyna Literacka, 1985; Wrocław: Oficyna Wydawnicza Constans, 1986);
Poszukiwania: Wybór publicystyki rozproszonej 1931-1983, edited by Konrad Piwnicki (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo CDN, 1985),
Trzy zimy & Głosy o wierszach, edited by Renata Gorczyńska and Piotr Kłoczowski (London: Aneks, 1987);
Metafizyczna pauza, selected and edited by Joanna Gromek (Kraków: Znak, 1989);
Poematy (Wrocław, Poland: Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, 1989);
Kołysanka (Warsaw: Varsovia, 1990);
Wiersze, 3 volumes (Kraków: Znak, 1993);
Poezje wybrane: Selected Poems, bilingual edition (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1996);
Antologia osobista (Kraków: Znak, 1998);
Esse (Warsaw: Prószyński i Ska, 2001);
Dzieła zebrane: Wiersze, 4 volumes (Kraków: Znak, 2001-2004).
Editions in English: “Not More,” translated by Adam Czerniawski, in San Francisco Review Annual, 1 (1963): 111–112;
“Campo di Fiori,” translated by Adam Gillon, in Introduction to Modern Polish Literature: An Anthology of Fiction and Poetry, edited by Gillon and Ludwik Krzyżanowski (New York: Twayne, 1964), pp. 447–449;
Selected Poems, with an introduction by Kenneth Rexroth (New York: Seabury, 1973);
Bells in Winter, translated by Miłosz and Lillian Vallee (New York: Ecco, 1978; Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1980);
“Gus Spellbound,” translated by Andrzej Busza and Bogdan Czaykowski, in Gathering Time: Five Modern Polish Elegies, edited by Busza and Czaykowski (Mission, b.c.: Barbarian, 1983), pp. 41–48;
The Collected Poems, 1931-1987 (New York: Ecco, 1988);
New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001 (New York: Harper-Collins, 2001);
To Begin Where I Am: Selected Essays, edited by Bogdana Carpenter and Madeline G. Levine (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001);
A Treatise on Poetry, translated by Miłosz and Robert Hass (New York: Ecco, 2001);
Selected Poems, 1931-2004, edited by Hass (New York: Ecco, 2006).
RECORDING: Fire, read by Miłosz, Washington, D.C., Watershed Tapes C-200, 1987.
OTHER: Antologia poezji społecznej, edited by Miłosz and Zbigniew Folejewski (Wilno: Wydawn. Koła Polonistów Universytetu Stefana Batorego, 1933);
Pieśń niepodległa, edited by Miłosz (Warsaw: Oficyna Polska w Warszawie, 1942);
Kultura masowa, edited by Miłosz (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1959);
Węgry, edited by Miłosz (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1960);
Aleksander Wat, Mój wiek: Pamiętnik mówiony, 2 volumes, edited by Miłosz (London: Polonia Book Fund, 1977; Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1990); edited and translated by Richard Lourie, with a foreword by Miłosz, as My Century: The Odyssey of a Polish Intellectual (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988);
Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz, The Noble Traveller, introduction by Miłosz, edited by Christopher Bamford (West Stockbridge, Mass.: Lindisfarne, 1984);
Mowa wiązana, edited by Miłosz (Olsztyn, Poland: Pojezierze, 1986);
Wypisy z ksiąg użytecznych, edited by Miłosz (Kraków: Znak, 1994);
A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry, edited by Miłosz (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996);
Wyprawa w dwudziestolecie, edited by Miłosz (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1999).
TRANSLATIONS: Jacques Maritain, Drogami klęski (Warsaw: Oficyna Polska, 1942);
Daniel Bell, Praca i jej gorycze (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1957);
Jeanne Hersch, Polityka i rzeczywistość (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1957);
Simone Weil, Wybór pism (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1958; Kraków: Znak, 1991);
Postwar Polish Poetry: An Anthology (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965; expanded edition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); republished as Polish Post-War Poetry (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1970);
Zbigniew Herbert, Selected Poems, translated by Miłosz and Peter Dale Scott (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1968);
Aleksander Wat, Mediterranean Poems (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1977);
Księga Psalmów, edited and translated by Miłosz (Paris: Editions du Dialogue, 1979; Lublin: Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski, 1982);
Księga Hioba, edited and translated by Miłosz (Paris: Editions du Dialogue, 1980);
Księgi pięciu Megilot, edited and translated by Miłosz (Paris: Editions du Dialogue, 1982; Lublin: RW KUL, 1984);
Ewangelia według Marka: Apokalipsa, edited and translated by Miłosz (Paris: Editions du Dialogue, 1984; Lublin: Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski, 1989);
Anna świrszczyńska, Happy as a Dog’s Tail, translated by Miłosz and Leonard Nathan (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985);
Apokalipsa, edited and translated by Miłosz (Paris: Editions du Dialogue, 1986);
With the Skin: Poems if Aleksander Wat, translated and edited by Miłosz and Nathan (New York: Ecco, 1989);
Księga mądrości, edited and translated by Miłosz (Paris, 1989);
Haiku, edited and translated by Miłosz (Kraków: WydaWnictWo M. Biblioteka NaGłosu, 1992);
Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz, Storge (Kraków: Znak, 1993);
świrszczyńska, Talking to My Body, translated by Miłosz and Nathan (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1996).
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATION-UNCOLLECTED: Robinson warszawski, by Miłosz and Jerzy Andrzejewski, Dialog, 9 (1984): 5-17.
No Polish writer has enjoyed greater renown in the West than Czesław Miłosz. Of the two Polish winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature before Miłosz, Henryk Sienkiewicz (in 1905) and Wladyslaw Reymont (in 1924), the former gained enormous popularity in France and the United States, but only briefly; the latter remained virtually unknown and largely untranslated despite the prize. Among the post-World War II writers, several did become well known in the West, most notably Witold Gombrowicz, Tadeusz Różewicz, Zbigniew Herbert; and Wisława Szymborska, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1996. But their recognition in the United States has not equaled that of Miłosz, who has been described on occasion as not only a Polish but also an American poet.
Throughout most of his long literary career, however, Miłosz was virtually unknown to the wider readership. Before World War II his first two volumes of poetry, which had a miniscule circulation, gained him critical recognition as a talented and promising poet who-although he belonged to what was called the Second Vanguard-was not truly avant-garde, having moved rather abruptly from socially committed poetry to a form of incantatory, visionary verse that many critics considered passé. After the war Miłosz quickly made his mark as one of the foremost poets with his volume Ocalenie (1945, Rescue) and was singled out in a major article in 1946 by perhaps the most influential literary critic of the time, Kazimierz Wyka, as the leading poet of the postwar period. By 1951, following his defection to the West, Miłosz came to be regarded by the Communist authorities as a renegade, and, except for a brief interlude in 1956-1957, a total ban was imposed on the publication of his writings; in fact, well into the 1970s special permission was required in the Soviet bloc even for his name to be printed or mentioned in the media.
The awarding of the Nobel Prize to Miłosz in 1980 coincided with the considerable relaxation of censorship during the Solidarity period (1980-1981), and his works appeared in print and sold immediately in large numbers. Although stricter censorship was reinstated after the declaration of martial law in December 1981, the regime did not find it either possible or politically expedient to reimpose too strict a ban on Miłosz’s works, and the collapse of Communist power in Poland in 1989 made it again possible for his works to be published, heard, and discussed extensively. Despite occasional criticism (at times quite virulent) from the nationalist and Catholic Right because of his publicly voiced dislike of nationalism and of what some have regarded as the flaunting of his Lithuanian roots and sentiments, Miłosz’s literary reputation in Poland and his authority as a writer and thinker have remained high among Catholic, left-wing, and liberal intellectuals, while his books have continued to ensure financial success for their publishers. In fact, during the last years of his life, which he spent in Poland in the ancient city of Kraków, his authority as a poet and thinker reached a height not attained by any other Polish poet since the time of the nineteenth-century Romantic national bard, Adam Mickiewicz.
Miłosz was born on 30 June 1911 in the manor house of Szetejnie, in what was then part of the Russian Empire. Historically, the region Miłosz came from is known as Samogitia, one of the major provinces of the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which joined the Kingdom of Poland in 1386. The nobility of Lithuania gradually adopted the Polish language and culture, but it retained many distinctive characteristics. Both Miłosz’s father, Aleksander, and his mother, Weronika (née Kunat), came from Lithuanian stock; his paternal uncle Oscar Vladislas de Lubicz Miłosz served as a Lithuanian diplomat in Paris during and after World War I while also writing poetry and mystical prose in French. Samogitia was an ethnically diverse region comprising–in addition to the Lithuanian-speaking Catholic peasantry–a new Lithuanian intelligentsia, Polish-speaking Lithuanian patriots, Polish nationalists, Belorussian peasants and intelligentsia, Russian officials and landowners, and a large, diversified Jewish community with its own traditions, culture, and literature in Yiddish. Miłosz’s experience of this diversity was further amplified by the travels of his father, a civil engineer, across Russia during World War I and the 1917 revolution, and also by his father’s decision to settle in the territory of independent Poland. Multinational or supranational ideals were reinforced by Miłosz’s education from 1921 to 1929 in the King Sigismundus Augustus Secondary School in Vilnius, which gave Miłosz a humanist grounding as well as a realization of the philosophical chasm dividing religious and scientific outlooks.
The religious diversity–not only its Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant forms but also local propensities for mysticism, Judaic lore, and the pagan substratum, still alive in folklore and various romanticized tales about the Lithuanian lakes, rivers, and forests–proved more important for Miłosz’s intellectual development than ideology, whether nationalist (which Miłosz came to regard quite early as pernicious) or Marxist (which he found more convincing, though ultimately unacceptable to his spiritual yearnings). The most significant element of the Christian tradition for Miłosz, however, was Gnosticism, which led him to a starker view of Nature, whose wonders, imbibed from observation and books on animals (including American fauna) were tempered by the realization of the pitiless character of the struggle going on in the natural world. This realization seemed to confirm Miłosz’s Manichaean view, derived from some of his readings, of the struggle between the principles of good and evil, and it gave his catastrophist forebodings a metaphysical character.
Despite his early naturalist and literary interests, Miłosz became a student of law at the University of Vilnius in 1930, completing his studies with a degree of master of law in 1934. He did, however, cultivate his literary interests by becoming a member of the Section of Original writing, affiliated with the Circle of Students of Polish Literature, in which intellectual, literary, and ideological questions were hotly debated. Student life at the university was highly politicized, with left-wing and nationalist ideologies competing against each other, at times in violent forms. Miłosz took active part in social and literary activities and in 1931 joined the poetic group żagary (Tinder or Kindling, referring to the literary review of the same name). His left-wing leanings found expression in his first volume of verse, Poemat o czasie zastyglym (1933, Poem about Congealed Time); these poems were modeled, at least to some extent, on revolutionary Russian poetry.
The politicized phase, however, was short-lived, as by the time of the appearance of his second volume of poems, Trzy zimy (1936, Three Winters), Miłosz had discovered a dithyrambic mode of versification as well as esoteric lore of mysticism and metaphysics, primarily because of the influence of de Lubicz Miłosz, whom the young poet met for the first time in Paris in 1931. It was at least partly as a result of his new conception of literature and of its social and cultural function that he addressed in 1936 an open letter (“List do obrońców kultury,” A Letter to the Defenders of Culture, Po prostu, 20 January 1936) to his fellow leftists, in which he sharply criticized their tendency to follow Soviet models in literary activity, rejected the idea of subordinating literature to the goals of political struggle, stressed the importance of the writer’s commitment to his own self and the philosophical and metaphysical dimensions of creative individualism, and, in a striking reversal of his former attitude to Vladimir Mayakovsky, called him “a loudmouth and a poseur.”
Miłosz’s reading was quite broad in the decade that followed and during the early years of World War II. As far as his religious ideas of that time were concerned, the most significant influence was perhaps that of Marian Zdziechowski, a profoundly pessimistic Christian thinker, whose lectures Miłosz attended at the University of Vilnius and whose writings contributed to Miłosz’s Manichaean tendencies. Another important shaping force of Miłosz’s outlook were Russian novelists, poets, and religious thinkers such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Sergeevich Solov’ev, and Nikolay Aleksandrovich Berdyayev (and later Lev Shestov).
What is less often realized is the role that French literature, and especially the French novel, from Stendhal and Honoré de Balzac to André Gide, played in shaping Miłosz’s views on society and Western culture and his conviction of the influence of literature on popular and ideological beliefs. As far as poetry is concerned, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Robert Browning, and T. S. Eliot were influences once Miłosz learned enough English in occupied Warsaw; he also read modern French and Russian poets, though the earliest and most significant influence in terms of poetic language was undoubtedly the work of Adam Mickiewicz, in which Miłosz discovered, as he later put it, “language in its state of balance.” Two contemporary Polish writers also contributed significantly to the formation of Miłosz’s intellectual personality: the philospher and novelist Stanislaw Brzozowski, especially with his program of “intellectual deeds,” and Stanisław Ignacy witkiewicz, playwright, philosopher, artist, and precursor of the theater of the absurd, whose deeply pessimistic view of the political and cultural future of European civilization reinforced Miłosz’s own catastrophist views.
Upon completion of his studies in 1934 Miłosz obtained a scholarship from the National Culture Fund that enabled him to spend a year in Paris, where he learned French and broadened his artistic and intellectual horizons while continuing to learn from his uncle. Returning to Poland, he obtained a position in the Vilnius Broadcasting Station of the Polish Radio, but he was dismissed by the end of 1936 for his political views and his attempts to promote Belorussian culture. With the help of his left-wing and liberal friends, however, he was soon reappointed to the Warsaw Broadcasting Station, where he worked until the outbreak of World War II. Miłosz made several important new friendships in Warsaw: with the foremost lyrical poet of the time, Józef Czechowicz; the young Catholic novelist Jerzy Andrzejewski; and the future leading critic, Kazimierz Wyka. In addition, he met Jarosłav Iwaszkiewicz, whose poetry played a role in Miłosz’s later transition to a more classical style. Miłosz also entered the circle of liberal Catholic intellectuals connected with the Laski monastery and the periodical Verbum (word).
The interwar years of Miłosz’s intellectual development are portrayed most fully (though still selectively) in two later works, the novel Dolina Issy (1955; translated as The Issa Valley, 1981) and the essay Rodzinna Europa (1959; translated as Native Realm: A Search for SelfDefinition, 1968). Both may be described as depictions of the growth of awareness. Dolina Issy has as its principal theme the development of the sensibility and metaphysical awareness of a boy, Thomas, and is set in the Lithuanian landscape among historical memories, local lore, and the manners of provincial society. Rodzinna Europa, overtly autobiographical, includes experiences, observations, and ideas that the poet gathered on his journey to Western Europe and then across redrawn boundaries after the destruction of Poland; it constitutes an attempt, undertaken from the perspective of the 1950s, at a self-definition.
A further insight into Miłosz’s early years is offered in his Rok myśliwego (1990; translated as A Year of the Hunter, 1994). Miłosz developed a lifelong sense of radical alienation and a need to follow his own personal quest; this feeling crystallized during the German occupation, when inessentials became pared down to the existential, human core. Such radical reductionism, rather than leading to despair and abnegation, generated in Miłosz an eruption of creative and intellectual energy, resulting not only in a reorientation of his poetics toward more classical and objective forms but also in a series of penetrating essays that were written in 1942 and 1943 but did not appear in their entirety until 1996 as Legendy nowoczesności: Eseje okupacyjne (Legends of Modernity: Occupation Essays).
Except for a still somewhat mysterious journey in September 1939 to Bucharest (where Miłosz managed to obtain a Lithuanian safe-conduct pass) and then through Ukraine and Belorussia to Vilnius, where he stayed briefly during its incorporation into Lithuania and subsequent occupation by Soviet forces, Miłosz spent the war years with Janina Dłuska (whom he married in 1944), principally in warsaw. His experience of illegally crossing the borders dividing Soviet-occupied Lithuania from Warsaw, an act that required stamina, ingenuity, and courage, is memorably described in Rodzinna Europa. Once in Warsaw, Miłosz took part in clandestine literary activity: his Wiersze (Poems, 1939), a volume appearing under the pseudonym Jan Syruć, was the first underground publication of its kind, and with the help of his friend Andrzejewski, he edited an anthology of poetry significantly titled Pieśń niepodległa (1942; translated as Invincible Song: A Clandestine Anthology, 1981). He took a critical view of armed resistance, however, and did not join the underground army. He witnessed the two most terrible events of the German occupation of Warsaw: the final destruction of the Jewish ghetto in 1943, and the long but unsuccessful uprising by the Polish underground army in 1944, followed by the deliberate destruction of most of the city by the Germans. Miłosz managed to escape from the defeated city and eventually went to liberated Kraków, where he took part in literary activity and prepared Ocalenie for publication in 1945; it was his first and only volume of poems to appear in postwar Poland between 1945 and 1980.
Miłosz’s writings of the war period constitute a watershed in his creative and intellectual development. In witnessing the eruption of genocidal forces that turned the inheritors of one of the most accomplished cultures into instruments of mass destruction, Miłosz acquired a sharp critical perspective on civilization in general and on literature in particular. In Zniewolony umysł (1953; translated as The Captive Mind, 1953) there is a passage that describes the nature of this dark illumination:
A man is lying under machine-gun fire on the street of an embattled city. He looks at the pavement and sees a very amusing sight: the cobblestones are standing upright like the quills of a porcupine. The bullets hitting against their edges displace and tilt them. Such moments in the consciousness of a man judge all poets and philosophers.
The passage is preceded by a statement of uncompromising severity: “The work of thought should be able to withstand the test of brutal, naked reality. If it cannot, it is worthless.”
What preserved Miłosz from nihilistic reductionism or ideological fanaticism (such as, for instance, that of Tadeusz Borowski or of Andrzejewski, both of whom after the war embraced the Communist creed) was the fundamentally religious but at the same time nonideological, highly individualistic nature of his intellectual psyche. Miłosz’s writings of the period display a range of theme and perspective, of personae and tones in which mordant and grim feelings are counterbalanced by compassion and affirmation. The burden, if not the guilt, of being an heir to the dark side of Western civilization finds expression in the complex poem “Biedny chrześcijanin patrzy na getto” (translated as “A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto”), which is part of a cycle titled “Voices of Poor People” in Ocalenie. The insensitivity of people to the suffering and destruction of their fellow human beings is the theme of “Campo di Fiori.” In several poems, notably “W malignie” (In Malignant Fever), “Równina” (Plain), and “Rzeka” (River), anger and bitterness are mixed with sadness and pity as the poet addresses the absurdity of interwar Poland, the blindness and irrationality of its politics, and the vulnerability of its inhabitants to the cruel forces of history. Yet, the capacity of human nature to ignore or adapt to the “end of the world,” the impossibility of abandoning hope, and the ability to be happy and to find psychological and intellectual alibis in the midst of oppression and naked evil are revealed in poems that range from songlike lyrics to constructs of complex personae, particularly “Piosenka o końcu świata” (translated as “Song of the End of the World”), “Piosenka pasterska” (Shepherds’ Song), and “Pieśni Adriana Zielińskiego” (translated as “Songs of Adrian Zieliński”). Two poems stand out as unquestionable masterpieces: the poignant lyric “Szedłem dzisiaj przez ogród” (translated as “As I walked through the shattered garden”), and the longer cycle of poems of formal perfection, “świat (poemanaiwne)” (translated as “The World”).
Miłosz’s left-wing leanings underwent a severe test after the war. His catastrophist views predisposed him to regard Soviet Communism as an inevitable phase, perhaps of long duration, in the history of the European continent. Moreover, he was convinced that Poland needed radical social reforms. His close friend in occupied Warsaw and in the immediate postwar years, the Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel specialist Tadeusz Kroński (called Tiger in Rodzinna Europa), influenced Miłosz’s attitude toward Marxism as a farfrom-spurious theory of societal and historical change and further strengthened his dislike of right-wing ideologies. But at the same time, Miłosz’s penchant for sharp observation and his sense of the value of literature as an autonomous mode of cultural activity made him resistant to Socialist Realism, which required of the writer not only to become an instrument of Communist Party policy but also to impose a ready-made and simplistic formula on reality.
Miłosz’s knowledge of Soviet reality under Stalin (including his firsthand observations of Soviet Ukraine in the winter of 1939-1940), the materialism of official Communist doctrine, and the gradual but unmistakable Sovietization of Poland, including increasingly severe restrictions on democratic and intellectual freedom, made him gradually recoil from even the limited approval he had initially given to the new regime in Poland. For Miłosz, the real touchstone was poetry: its character, freedom, and future. He could, and did, write journalistic prose that he later judged harshly as an example of the general “descent into abomination”-such as a series of feuilletons in 1945 in Dziennik Polski (Polish Daily), edited by Jerzy Putrament, one of the chief cultural functionaries of the Party-but Miłosz could not compromise his poetic principles.
These principles, as his 1946 “List półprywatny o poezji” (A Semi-Private Letter Regarding Poetry, reprinted in Kontynenty [Continents, 1958]) shows, were not merely technical. Poetry for Miłosz was a way both of being one’s own person and of trying to grasp or clarify the real; it was also a crucial form of societal discourse. In 1950, after working in the diplomatic service for Poland in Washington, D.C., and Paris, Miłosz realized that he could no longer propitiate the cultural apparatchiks by minor concessions (such as “translating” Mao Tse-tung) but would have to conform fully and unambiguously; he decided instead to seek freedom. Early in 1951 he left his job in the Polish embassy in Paris and sought refuge with the editors of the émi gré monthly Kultura, explaining in an article titled “Nie” (No) his reasons for breaking with Communist Poland.
Three books reveal the intellectual dilemmas Miłosz faced in the immediate postwar years and express his views on Soviet Communism and the political and ideological predicaments of the postwar world. The first of them, Zniewolony umysł, in effect launched his literary career in the west While making him a significant moral and ideological influence in Poland. Generically, it is best described as a mixture of essays and biographical sketches; in addition to topical chapters, it includes “portraits” of four Polish writers who collaborated with the Communist regime in Poland. It was intended as a warning to the West (one chapter begins, “Are the Americans really that stupid?”) and an attempt to enlighten Western intellectuals about the true nature of the relationship between Communist authorities and intellectuals and the totalitarian character of Soviet Communism. It is a depiction of the lure Communism exerted on the minds of Polish intellectuals (exemplified mainly by the behavior of the Polish literary community) and the frequent “schizophrenia” that characterized their practice of dissimulation or at least mental reservations (which Miłosz called ketman, borrowing the term from Islamic religious history). On a more personal level, the book is an apology for Miłosz’s own collaboration in the diplomatic service and his “Hegelian sting,” which made him view Communism as a system willed by history. The book is an eloquent and penetrating document, surpassing in its complexity similar accounts written by Western as well as Eastern authors who became disillusioned with Communism.
The second book, Zdobycie władzy (1955; translated as The Seizure of Power, 1955, and as The Usurpers, 1955), although ostensibly a novel, is of interest mainly as an intelligent presentation of the reasoning and attitudes of those in Poland who experienced Nazi and at times Stalinist evil-people who had to make difficult political and moral choices, faced with the defeat of the prewar Polish political class (symbolized especially in the tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising) and the “betrayal” of the cause of Polish independence by the Western powers.
The third book is entirely different in character. światło dzienne (1953, Daylight) is a fairly large volume of poems; it includes poems written after Miłosz’s break with the regime as well as poems written since Ocalenie and mostly published in Poland. The volume opens with “Do Jonathana Swifta” (To Jonathan Swift), which bitingly sounds the central moral and political themes of the collection:
I bvisited the lands of Brobdingnag
And stopped at the Laputan isles.
Became acquainted with the Yahoo tribe
Which worships its own excrement,
A denunciators’ cursed race
Living in slavish fright.
The volume includes two poetic treatises, “Traktat moralny” (A Treatise on Morals) and “Toast,” principally discursive and narrative, respectively. “Dziecię Europy” (translated as “Child of Europe”) is a masterpiece of ironic reasoning turned against the fraudulence of Communist dialectics. Several of the poems are about American themes, and there are free renderings of African American spirituals as well as Miłosz’s own songlike poems. Two poems deal with contemporary Polish writers. The first, “Do Tadeusza Różewicza, poety” (To Tadeusz Różewicz, Poet), reaffirms Miłosz’s view of the importance of poetry: “Fortunate is the nation that has a poet / And in its toil does not walk in silence.” The second, “Na śmierć Tadeusza Borowskiego” (On the Death of Tadeusz Borowski), interprets Borowski’s suicide (presented as a tragic accident by the Communist authorities) as a flight into death of someone caught between two dead ends: a reactionary Polish ethos and the “smooth wall” of the East: “Borowski betrayed. He fled where he could.”
Included also are two poems written during the war, one of which is the cycle “Swiat (poema naiwne).” A “song of innocence” written in the face of and against the horror of experience, it reaffirms-with profound naiveté and serenity and with a mastery of form-the reality of faith, hope, and love, and the beauty of the natural and human world.
światło dzienne ends with a short poem, “Mittelbergheim,” signaling a new turn in Miłosz’s poetic preoccupations. The poem, dedicated to Stanisław Vincenz, another of Miłosz’s mentors, may be described as the poet’s rededication to the pursuit of a quest infinitely more fundamental than politics or ideology: the philosophical and religious search for the nature of reality. It is a poem of the rebirth of the essential Miłosz and of the rediscovery of the concrete world and as such should be read together with another poem written roughly two years later, “Notatnik: Bonnad Lemanem” (A Notebook: Bon by Lake Leman), the final lines of which read:
And he who finds repose,
Order and time eternal in what is,
Passes without a trace. Do you agree
To void what is, and to extract from movement,
Like a gleam from a black river’s water,
The eternal moment? Yes.
With these two poems, Miłosz’s poetics entered a phase of epiphany, understood by Miłosz in terms akin to those of James Joyce, who meant by it not only, as he wrote in Stephen Hero (1955), a “sudden spiritual manifestation” but also the “gropings of a spiritual eye which seeks to adjust its vision to an exact focus. The moment the focus is reached the object is epiphanized.”
During the first forty years of his life Miłosz was constantly trying to find his bearings in extremely complex situations, in which personal choices were often tantamount to political acts and ideological declarations, while the sphere of private life was constantly affected by external factors and forces. Once, however, he had made his decision to break with the Communist regime and stay in the West, he gained, after an initial period of hardship, the ability to concentrate on his literary and intellectual pursuits and to deepen and refine his understanding of those forty years of experience.
Miłosz’s post-1951 life falls into three periods: his stay in France (1951-1960); his appointment as a lecturer and then professor in the Slavic department of the University of California at Berkeley (1960-1980); and his post-1980 years, after the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature. One of the main problems of the French period was Miłosz’s decision to provide for himself and his family (he and his wife had two sons) by writing, which was not easy. Miłosz was regarded as a renegade not only by the Communist authorities in Poland (hence the ban on the publication of his works) but also by a large and influential segment of the French intellectual milieu, while the Polish émigré circles in the West rejected him as a former collaborator of the regime and, in the view of some, a Communist agent. An important exception to this ostracism was the support offered Miłosz by the editor of Kultura, Jerzy Giedroyc, and his closest associates. Giedryoc not only recognized Miłosz’s talent but also provided a considerable portion of Miłosz’s earnings between 1953 and 1960 by publishing twelve books either of Miłosz’s own writings or of translations. Among these books were two of Miłosz’s novels as well as Zniewolony umysł, światło dzienne, Rodzinna Europa, Kontynenty (which included articles on and translations of American poets), and Traktat poetycki (1957, A Treatise on Poetry).
Traktat poetycki is a long poem that constitutes a transition between Miłosz’s political phase and his more essential preoccupations. Modeled to some extent on Karl Shapiro’s Essay on Rime (1945), the poem treats in a major and integrated manner several of Miłosz’s earlier themes, such as interwar Poland’s ethos and its roots, the meaning of history when judged by extreme human situations, and the nature of Nature; it also includes a brilliantly sketched outline of modern Polish poetry. In a pithy poem titled “Preface” Miłosz formulates his poetic manifesto:
First, plain speech in the mother tongue.
Hearing it, you should be able to see
Apple trees, a river, the bend of a road,
As if in a flash of summer lightning.
And it should contain more than images....
You often ask yourself why you feel shame
Whenever you look through a book of poetry.
As if the author, for reasons unclear to you,
Addressed the worse side of your nature,
Pushing aside thought, cheating thought....
One clear stanza can make more weight
Than a whole wagon of elaborate prose.
The volume that collects most of Miłosz’s poems written in France, Król Popiel i inne wiersze (1962, King Popiel and Other Poems), includes a new and, for Miłosz, a rather unusual departure: “Album snów” (translated as “Album of Dreams”) is ostensibly a notebook of dreams but is more in the nature of dream-like recollections of troubling or unclear episodes from the author’s life–his only attempt, it seems, at poetically engaging the subconscious. There are also several excellent shorter poems, such as “Nic więcej” (No More) and “Mistrz” (The Master), both of which are ironic, melancholy, but unapologetic reflections on his powers as a poet. The thematically connected “Ballada” (Ballad) is a moving meditation on the fate of Tadeusz Gajcy, a young rightwing poet who perished in the Warsaw Uprising, written from the perspective of his mother. Finally, there are some skillful exercises in the baroque style. The last poem of the volume, “Po ziemi naszej” (translated as “Throughout Our Lands”), develops further what Aleksander Schenker describes in the introduction to Utwory poetyckie (1976, Poems) as Miłosz’s earlier attempts “to fuse” various levels of language or voices “into one poetic idiom” so that, while retaining “their distinctive characteristics and fulfilling distinct stylistic functions,” they are “skillfully harmonized into one polyphonic whole.” This concluding poem combines not only various styles and voices but also different perspectives to illuminate a major central theme: the universal fate of all human beings, irrespective of their locus, time, culture, gender, or status. It is also the first of Miłosz’s major poems that reflects in its imagery and descriptions the impact of the Pacific Coast on his poetic mind.
Miłosz’s Berkeley years are often referred to as the Californian or American phase of his poetry. Indeed, images of Californian and Pacific Coast nature and cities, especially of San Francisco, often blend or contrast with vividly recollected landscapes of Lithuania. The interplay of the experience of two such different regions enriches not only the evocative and epiphanic powers and scope of Miłosz’s poetry but also his sense of the strangeness of human society and civilization. Miłosz made his Californian (and more broadly, North American) experience the subject of a book of short essays, Widzenia nad Zatoket San Francisco (1969; translated as Visions from San Francisco Bay, 1982) in which, probing the meaning of being in a place, he connected his new experience (“What one feels facing too large a space”) to his central preoccupations and already formulated views.
The constant thematic parallelism between Miłosz’s discursive prose and his poetry is represented by the poem “Do Robinsona Jeffersa” (To Robinson Jeffers), in which the latter poet’s stark vision of an unfeeling and force-driven universe is contrasted with the milder, humanized Nature of “the Slavic poets”:
Thin-lipped, blue-eyed, without grace or hope,
before God the Terrible, body of the world,
Prayers are not heard. Basalt and granite.
Above them, a bird of prey. The only beauty....
And yet you did not know what I know. The earth teaches
More than does the nakedness of elements....
Better to carve suns and moons on the joints of crosses
as was done in my district. To birches and firs
give feminine names. To implore protection
against the mute and treacherous might
than to proclaim, as you did, an inhuman thing.
However formally fruitful and enriching in imagery and perspective the Californian phase of Miłosz’s poetry is, it cannot be described as thematically American. Miłosz observed with apprehension the turbulence of the American scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially the transformations of the intellectual climate; after all, Berkeley was one of the centers of the student movement, of counterculture, and of political, often Marxist, dissent. These and other developments of American life occasionally find their reflection in Miłosz’s poetry, but they function principally as exemplifications of more-general and typically Miłoszian themes.
Miłosz also devoted considerable time and effort to acquainting American readers with Polish literature, especially poetry. The three most important publications in this respect are the anthology Postwar Polish Poetry (1965), which met with considerable interest and acclaim; The History of Polish Literature (1969); and the post-Nobel Harvard lectures published in 1983 as The Witness of Poetry, which gave Miłosz the opportunity to formulate and argue for his own view of poetry. In the early 1970s Miłosz started presenting his poetry and other writings to English-speaking readers, a process that began with the appearance of Selected Poems (1973) and reached its high point with the publication of The Collected Poems, 1931-1987 (1988), which despite the title is still quite selective. He was helped in the task of crossing the barrier of Polish language by several of his students at Berkeley, who translated his prose and with some of whom, as well as with some American poets, he translated his poems, insisting from roughly the mid 1970s on complete control over the translations of his poetry into English. He also gave many public readings, mostly on university campuses, thus further extending his reading public and the addressees of his writings.
The most important aspect of Miłosz’s Californian phase, however, is the intensification of his ontological and metaphysical concerns. In having to resituate himself, Miłosz reevaluated his view of civilization, as illustrated in the poem “Wieści” (translated as “Tidings”) in Gdzie wschodzi slońce i kędy zapada (1974, From the Rising of the Sun). He also went deeper than before into his own past and that of his culture, especially in the cycle “Do Heraklita” (To Heraclitus) in Kroniki (1987, Chronicles). He addressed wider anthropological and philosophical concerns and increasingly shed his reticence to reveal his religious (even theological) thinking. In fact, the religious theme becomes the dominant and synthesizing framework for older as well as newer or more overtly treated themes, such as the erotic—as in “Filina,” written in 1976, and such relatively late poems as “Ogród ziemskich rozkoszy” (translated as “The Garden of Earthly Delights”) and “Annalena” from Nieobjęta ziemia (1984; translated as Unattainable Earth, 1986). Thus, the Californian phase of Miłosz’s poetry extended beyond two key events in his life: the awarding of the Nobel Prize, which transformed him, despite his reluctance, into a public figure and resulted in extensive publication of his work in translation, and the collapse of Communism in Poland and in the rest of Eastern Europe, which made it possible for him not only to spend longer periods of time in Poland but also to visit his native region in Lithuania.
In prose the most important single presentation of the religious theme is Ziemia Ulro (1977; translated as The Land of Ulro, 1984). Its somewhat meandering form is probably deliberate, though it no doubt also reflects the author’s uncertainties about his argument and the putative reactions of his reader. Ostensibly a discussion of the religious views of several writers and thinkers (Mickiewicz, Emanuel Swedenborg, William Blake, Dostoyevsky, de Lubicz Miłosz, Gombrowicz, and Shestov), it serves as the central purpose of much of Miłosz’s writing since his arrival in Berkeley: to create an intellectual space for religious thought outside of “academic” and confessional theology. In poetry, of the several volumes published between 1962 and the 1990s, the most important in this respect is Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kędy zapada, which includes several shorter poems on the religious theme as well as “Nie tak” (translated as “Not this Way”), “Lektury” (translated as “Readings”), “Oeconomia divina,” “0 aniolach” (translated as “On Angels”), and the long title poem, which directly discloses for the first time some of Miłosz’s long-held convictions:
Yet I belong to those who believe in apokatastasis,
The word promises reverse movement,
Not the one that was set in katastasis,
And appears in Acts 3, 31.
It means: restoration. So believed: St. Gregory of Nyssa,
Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ruysbroeck, and William Blake.
For me, therefore, everything has a double existence.
Both in time and when time shall be no more.
The nature of Miłosz’s religious quest, and the way in which it has contributed to the character of his poetry, has been well summed up by Aleksander Fiut in his study Moment wieczny. Poezja Czesława Miłosza (1987; translated as The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czesław Miłosz, 1990). Fiut posits that in his religious poetry Miłosz
tries to rebuild the Christian anthropocentric vision of the world, at the same time (unlike naive traditionalists) acknowledging those theories and experiences that have undermined it. This attempt explains the constant presence in his poetry of antithetical clashes, the dialectic of opposite ideas, and the ambivalence of opinions: all are called into question and reinterpreted. From this point of view, Miłosz’s poetry can be read as a hermeneutics of the Christian imagination, one aware of its own limitations.
However, if one takes into account Miłosz’s later volumes and such major poetic restatements of the religious theme as his “Sześć wykładów wierszem” (translated as “Six Lectures in Verse”), which pose as problematic the central Christian belief in the Resurrection, it is possible to regard Miłosz’s poetic treatment of religious themes as something broader than the hermeneutics of the Christian imagination: as an attempt to revive convincingly religious imagination altogether while subjecting it to severe doubts and tests of experience and philosophical thought.
Miłosz continued to extend and further diversify the already wide range of his poetic form. He worked toward achieving the most effective full line, taut or intonationally hymnic. He wrote aphoristic poems, passages made of unistichs, and whole poems written in dithyrambic versets, such as “Zdania” (translated as “Notes”) in Hymn o perle (1982, Hymn of the Pearl); the opening unistichs of another of Miłosz’s longer masterpieces, “Gucio zaczarowany” (translated as “Bobo’s Metamorphosis”), in a 1965 volume of the same title; and “Na trąbach i na cytrze” (translated as “With Trumpets and Zithers”) in Miasto bez imienia (1969, City Without a Name). He wrote short lyrical poems of joy, wonder, adoration, and confession, notably the serene “Dar” (translated as “Gift”) in Gucio zaczarowany, the poem of paradisiacal happiness “Po wygnaniu” (translated as “After Paradise”) in Nieobjęta ziemia, and the humorously self-absolving “Wyznanie” (translated as “A Confession”) in Kroniki. He also mixed prose and verse in longer poems, most notably in “Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kędy zapada,” and composed sequences and whole volumes, such as “Osobny zeszyt” (translated as The Separate Notebooks, 1984), Nieobjęta ziemia, and Kroniki, comprising his own poems, passages of discursive prose, reminiscences, epigraphs (his own and translated), and translations of poems. In Piesek przydrożny (1997; translated as Road-side Dog, 1998), he included short pieces of prose, poems, and short essays, as well as a sequence subtitled “Tematy do odstąpienia” (Topicsfor the Taking). The book won the Nike Prize, the highest Polish literary award.
At no point in his long literary career has Miłosz been interested in “mere literature.” From at least the mid 1930s he has tried to perfect his language and maintain what he terms its dignity. He has assiduously translated other poets, especially those who either supported his own view of poetic speech “as a more capacious form, that should not be too much like poetry nor too much like prose,” or helped him to extend and justify the range of his own poetic form and style (John Milton, William Wordsworth, Whitman, Blaise Cendrars, W. B. Yeats, Eliot, Constantine Cavafy, Chinese poets, and some contemporary American poets of the objectivist school). He has translated religious texts–from the Psalms, the Book of Job, and Ecclesiastes to the Gospel of St. Mark, the metaphysical writings of de Lubicz Miłosz, and the essays of Simone Weil. Above all, he has steered clear of vagueness as a mode of symbolism, of the avant-garde tendency to transform language into an antiworld or pure verbal object, and of excessive lyricism, which excluded or “cheated” thought. Finally, he has rejected the worship of poetry as a substitute for religion.
Miłosz died on 14 August 2004. According to a spokesman for Miłosz’s family, there was no particular cause of death; he simply died of old age. He was buried in the Pauline sanctuary at Skałka near Kraków, despite some protests by nationalist Catholic groups.
Miłosz’s creative powers did not abandon him in the last years of his life. Described by a somewhat unfriendly critic in the obituary in The Guardian (16 August 2004) as “perhaps the luckiest Polish writer of the last century” (a statement that certainly contradicts the poet’s own view of his long, rich, yet philosophically and morally tormented existence), Miłosz continued despite his age and increasingly fragile health to produce works of major significance and excellence. Two collections in prose of character sketches, reminiscences, and reflections, Abecadlo Miłosza (1997; translated as Miłosz s ABC’s, 2001) and Inne abecadlo (1998), are remarkable distillations of memory and judgment; and the last two volumes of poetry, To (2000, It) and Druga przestrzeń (2002; translated as Second Space: New Poems, 2004) are a fitting summation both of Miłosz’s essentially religious quest, in which faith, hope, doubt, ecstasy, affirmation, sober realism, and despair are held in philosophical balance by the consciousness of their inherent contradictions, and of his poetic art. Their effect, as in much of his earlier work, is, to quote Helen Vendler’s apt characterization of his writing, “as though Miłosz were at once Chardin, Rembrandt, Matisse, Gericualt and Cesanne, or-to turn to poetic analogies-as though he were from moment to moment Clare, Whitman, Lawrence, Auden and Marvell.” But the masterpiece of Miłosz’s last poetic phase is the profoundly moving elegy Orfeusz i Eurydyka (2003; translated as Orpheus and Eurydice in the same volume), which Miłosz wrote after the death of his much loved second wife, the American Carol Thigpen, whom he had married in 1992 (his first wife had died in 1986). Miłosz’s Orpheus does not lose Eurydice the second time because he fails to heed the injunction not to look back (as in the original story); he loses her for a reason that concerns not disobedience but reality:
Under his faith a doubt sprang up
And entwined him like cold bindweed.
Unable to weep, he wept at the loss
Of the human hope for the resurrection of the dead.
He was, now, like every other mortal.
His lyre was silent and in his dream he was defenseless.
He knew he must have faith and he could not have faith.
The volume Nieobjęta ziemia ends with a short untitled piece of poetic prose, tagged “Berkeley-Paris-Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981-1983”:
To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.
The continuously perceived failure to find such a home led Czeslaw Miłosz to generate a massive body of work that ranks among the most philosophically penetrating and meaningful poetry of the twentieth century.
“Wańkowicz Miłosz w świetle korespondencji,” TwÓrczoŚć, 10 (1981);
Listy, by Miłosz and Thomas Merton, translated into Polish by Maria Tarnowska (Kraków: Znak, 1991);
Striving Towards Being: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Miłosz, edited by Robert Faggen (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997);
Zaraz po wojnie. Korespondeja z pisarzami 1945-1950, edited by Jerzy Illg (Kraków: Znak, 1998);
Mój wilenski opiekun”: Listy do Manfreda Kridla (1946-1955), edited by Andrzej Karcz (Torun: Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika, 2005).
Aleksander Fiut, Rozmowy z Czeslawem Miłoszem (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1981);
Ewa Czarnecka (Renata Gorczyńska), Podróżny świata: Rozmowy z Czestawem Miłoszem. Komentarze (New York: Bicentennial Publishing, 1983; expanded edition, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1992);
Czarnecka and Fiut, Conversations with Czeslaw Miłosz, translated by Richard Lourie (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987),
Fiut, ed., Czestawa Miłosza autoportret przekorny. Rozmowy przeprowadził A. Fiut (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1988);
Cynthia L. Haven, ed., Czestaw Miłosz: Conversations (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006).
Rimma Volynska-Bogert and Wojciech Zalewski, Czeslaw Miłosz: An International Bibliography, 1930-1980 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983).
Andrzej Zawada, Miłosz (Wroclaw, Poland: Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, 1996).
Lidia Banowska, Miłosz i Mickiewicz: Poezja wobec tradycji (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Adama Mickiewicza, 2005);
Stanisław Barańczak, “Miłosz’s Poetic Language: A Reconnaissance,” Language and Style, 4 (1985): 319–333;
Stanisław Bereś, Ostatnia wileńskaplejada (Warsaw: PEN, 1990);
Ewa Bieńkowska, W ogrodzie ziemskim: Ksi żka o Miłoszu (Warsaw: Sic, 2004);
Jan Błonski, Miłosz jak świat (Kraków: Znak, 1998);
Bogdana Carpenter, “The Gift Returned: Czeslaw Miłosz and American Poetry,” in Living in Translation: Polish Writers in America, edited by Halina Stephan, Studies in Slavic Literature and Poetics, 38 (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2003), pp. 45–75;
Bożena Chrząstowska, Poezje Czeslawa Miłosza (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, 1982);
Bogdan Czaykowski, “From Rhythm and Metaphysics to Intonation, Experience and Gnosis: The Poetry of Bolesław Leśmian, Aleksander Wat and Czeslaw Miłosz,” in The Mature Laurel: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry, edited by Adam Czerniawski (Bridgend, Wales: Seren Books, 1991), pp. 37–87;
Donald Davie, Czestaw Miłosz and the Insufficiency of Lyric (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986);
Davie, “From the Marches of Christendom: Mandelstam and Miłosz,” Southwest Review, 4 (1995);
Helen De Aguilar, “A Prince Out of Thy Star: The Place of Czeslaw Miłosz,” Parnassus: Poetry in Review, 2 (1983-1984): 127–154;
Judith A. Dompkowski, “Down a spiral staircase, never-ending”: Motion as Design in the Writing of Czestaw Miłosz (New York: Peter Lang, 1990);
Jolanta Dudek, Europejskie korzenie poezji Czestaw Miłosza (Kraków: Księgarnia Akademicka, 1995);
Aleksander Fiut, Moment wieczny. Poezja Czestawa Miłosza (Paris: Libella, 1987); translated by Theodosia S. Robertson as The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czestaw Miłosz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990);
Fiut, W stronê Miłosza (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2003);
Witold Gombrowicz, Przeciw poetom. Dialog o poezji z Czestawem Miłoszem, edited by Francesco M. Cataluccio (Kraków: Znak, 1995);
B. Grodzki, Tradycja i transgresja: Od dyskursu do autokreacji w estetyce i formach pojemnych Czeslawa Miłosza (Lublin: Uniwersytet Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej, 2003);
Joanna Gromek, ed., Czestaw Miłosz: In Memoriam (Kraków: Znak, 2004);
K. van Heuckelom, “Patrzeć w promień od ziemi odbity”: Wizualność w poezji Czeslawa Miłosza (Warsaw: Instytut Badań Literackich, 2004);
Edward Hirsch, “Miłosz and world Poetry,” Partisan Review, 1 (1999): 24–26;
Ironwood, special Miłosz issue, 8 (1981);
Bożena Karwowska, “Czeslaw Miłosz’s Self-Presentation in English-Speaking Countries,” Canadian Slavonic Papers, 3-4 (1998): 273–295;
Karwowska, Miłosz i Brodski: Recepcja krytyczna twórczości w krajach anglojezycznych (Warsaw: IBL, 2000);
Elżbieta Kiślak, Walka Jakuba z Aniołem: Czeslaw Miłosz wobec romantyczności (Warsaw: Prószyński i Ska., 2000);
Andrzej S. Kowalczyk, Kryzys świadomości w estetyce polskiej lat 1945-1977 (Vincenz—Stempowski—Wittlin—Miłosz) (Warsaw: LNB, 1990);
Krasnogruda, special Miłosz issue, 13 (2001);
Jerzy Kwiatkowski, ed., Poznawanie Miłosza. Studia i szkice o twórczości poety (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1985);
Zdzisław Lapiński, Między polityką i metafizyką. O poezji Czestawa Miłosza (London: Odnowa, 1981);
Hank Lazer, “Poetry and Thought: The Example of Czeslaw Miłosz,” Virginia Quarterly Review, 3 (1988): 449–465;
Madeline G. Levine, “Czeslaw Miłosz; Poetry and Ethics,” in her Contemporary Polish Poetry, 1925-1975 (Boston: Twayne, 1981), pp. 36–54;
Literatura na świecie, special Miłosz issue, 6 (1981);
Ryszard Matuszewski, Moje spotkania z Czeslawem Miłoszem (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2004);
Edward Możejko, ed., Between Anxiety and Hope: The Poetry and Writing of Czeslaw Miłosz (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1988);
Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, The Poet’s Work: An Introduction to Czestaw Miłosz (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991);
Nils Ake Nilsson, ed., Czeslaw Miłosz: A Stockholm Conference (Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien, 1992);
Ryszard Nycz, Sylwy współczesne (Wroclaw: Zakład Naro dowy im. Ossolińskich, 1984);
Józef Olejniczak, Czytajac Miłosza (Katowice: Szkoła języka i kultury polskiej, 1997);
Pamiętnik Literacki, special Miłosz issue, 4 (1981);
Partisan Review, special Miłosz issue, 66 (Winter 1999);
Poezja, special Miłosz issue, 7 (1981);
Polonistyka, special Miłosz issue, 1 (2005);
Alan Soldofsky, “Nature and the Symbolic Order: Dialogue Between Czeslaw Miłosz and Robinson Jeffers,” in Robinson Jeffers: Dimensions of a Poet, edited by Robert Brophy (New York: Fordham University Press, 1995);
A. Staniszewski, ed., Studia i szkice o twórczości Czeslawa Miłosza (Olsztyn: WSP, 1995);
świat i słowo, special Miłosz issue, 1 (2006);
Jerzy Szymik, Problem teologicznego wymiaru dzieła literakiego Miłosza (Katowice: Księgarnia św. Jacka, 1996);
Beata Tarnowska, Geografia poetycka w powojennej twórczości Czeslawa Miłosza (Olsztyn: WSP, 1996);
Teksty, special Miłosz issue, 4-5 (1981);
Teksty Drugie, special Miłosz issue, 3-4 (2001);
Lukasz Tischner, Sekrety manichejskich trucizn: Miłosz wobec zła (Kraków: Znak, 2001);
Twórczość, special Miłosz issue, 6 (1981);
Tomas Venclova, “Poetry as Atonement,” Polish Review, 4 (1986): 265–271;
Helen Vendler, “Czeslaw Miłosz,” in her The Music of What Happens: Poems, Poets, Critics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), pp. 209-223;
Andrzej Walicki, Spotkania z Miłoszem (London: Aneks, 1985);
Walicki, “Zniewolony umysł”po latach (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1993);
Więź, special Miłosz issue, 3 (1981);
World Literature Today, special Miłosz issue, 3 (1978);
Kazimierz Wyka, “Ogrody lunatyczne i ogrody pasterskie,” Twórczość, 5 (1946): 135–147;
J. Zach, Miłosz i poetyka wyznania (Kraków: Universitas, 2002);
Krzysztof Zajas, Miłosz i filozofia (Kraków: Baran i Suszczyński, 1997);
Marek Zaleski, Zamiast: 0 twórczości Czesława Miłosza (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2005);
Zeszyty Literackie, special Miłosz issues, 75 (2001); 5 (2005); 94 (2006).
Some of Czeslaw Miłosz’s papers are in The Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Yale University, and in The Miłosz Institute, Archives and Library in Kraków.