From the Rising of the Sun
From the Rising of the Sun
From the Rising of the Sun
Czeslaw Milosz's poem bearing the Polish title "Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kedy zapada," later translated as "From the Rising of the Sun," was published in 1974 in a collection titled with the name of the same poem. An English translation of "From the Rising of the Sun" is available in Milosz's New and Collected Poems (1931-2001) (2001). Milosz was born in Lithuania, which at the time, in 1911, was a part of the Russian Empire. (Following the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War, which lasted from 1918 until 1921, the region known as the Russian Empire would become the Soviet Union.) Milosz was educated in an area of the Lithuanian region that after World War I had become a part of Poland; hence the language in which he wrote the majority of his works was Polish.
"From the Rising of the Sun" is a lengthy poem featuring a combination of verse and prose and is considered by some critics to be among Milosz's greatest works, although in his lifetime Milosz's poetry was somewhat overshadowed by his political and philosophical essays. The poem is a work of great thematic and stylistic complexity. Like many of Milosz's works, poetic and otherwise, it explores issues that were dear to him throughout his life, including those pertaining to religion and theology, the relationship between faith and reason, and the natural world. The work also reflects the poet's longing for his native Lithuania, in part through reminiscences of the neighborhoods he recalls from his childhood there. A survivor of both World Wars I and II, Milosz is one of the best-known Polish writers in the West, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980.
Czeslaw Milosz was born to Weronika Kunat Milosz and Aleksander Milosz on June 30, 1911, at Szetejnie, in Lithuania, which was then part of the Russian Empire. His father, a civil engineer, served in the Imperial Russian Army from 1914 through 1918, during World War I. From 1921 through 1929,Milosz attended secondary school in Wilno (now known as Vilnius), which was the historical capital of Lithuania but after the war had become part of Poland. He then began studying law at Stefan Batory University, also in Wilno. There he published his first poems in the university newspaper. In 1933, Milosz published his first volume of poetry, Poemat o czasie zastyglym (A Poem on Frozen Time). Upon completion of his law studies in 1934, Milosz left Poland to study in France. He returned to Wilno in 1936 and that same year published his second book of poems, Trzy zimy (Three Winters).
In 1940 Milosz left Wilno, which was then occupied by the Soviet army, and arrived in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, procuring a position as a janitor in a university library. He married Janina Dluska in 1944; the couple would eventually have two sons. In 1945 Milosz and his wife left Poland, which was once again under Soviet rule, in order for Milosz to take a diplomatic position in the United States, working in the service of the Polish Communist government. During this time Milosz translated the work of American poets into Polish. Soon disillusioned by the Communist Party, Milosz defected from Communist Poland, and in 1951 he made a request to the French government for political asylum; he accepted a diplomatic position in Paris that same year. He published Zniewolony umsyl, translated as The Captive Mind, in 1953. The English and French translations were both published at the same time. This political work explores the power of totalitarianism in Eastern Europe. During his years in Paris, Milosz published two novels, a collection of poems, and an autobiography, among other works.
In 1960 Milosz was offered a position as a lecturer in Polish literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He was soon offered tenure, and he settled in Berkeley. Meanwhile he continued to write and publish poetry and essays in Polish. In 1973 Milosz's first volume of poetry in English was published, titled Selected Poems. The following year he published the volume of poetry Gdzie wschodzi słońce i kedy zapada in Polish, a work for which he received the I. Wandycz Award. The slim collection was later translated by Milosz himself, along with Lillian Vallee and Robert Hass (who publishes poetry under the name Robert Hass), as From the Rising of the Sun and was included in its entirety in his larger collection The Collected Poems: 1931-1987. The collection From the Rising of the Sun contains the poem by the same name. Milosz's second collection of poetry in English, Bells in Winter, was published in 1978.
When Milosz was seventy years old, in 1980, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. At about the same time the Solidarity worker protest movement in Poland was emerging in opposition to Communist rule, a development Milosz followed closely. Several years later, in 1986, Milosz's wife, Janina, died. He published Collected Poems, 1931-1987 in 1988, giving American critics and audiences the most comprehensive selection of his work available in English to date; Milosz translated much of this work himself. While his works often treat the difficulties inherent in integrating faith and reason, and while his faith was often challenged by the cruelties he witnessed during the two world wars and years of Communist oppression in Poland, much of his poetry retains a consistently Christian tone. In 1989 Milosz returned to Poland for the first time after decades of exile. In 1992 he married Carol Thigpen. The couple made a home in Crakow, spending their summer months there, while Milosz continued to publish essays and poetry in English and Polish. His work during this time period included Piesek przydrozny (1997), a collection of poems translated and published as Roadside Dog (1998). Milosz's second wife died in 2002. At the age of ninety-three, Milosz died in Crakow, on August 14, 2004.
Section 1: The Unveiling
In the first section of "From the Rising of the Sun," the poet speaks of being moved to write, regardless of where he is or what he is doing. He reveals how on this occasion, of beginning to write again, he is fearful. The cause of this frightened state appears to be a combination of his feeling that language itself is not up to the task of conveying truth, yet he feels at the same time that he is compelled to write, he is unable to stop. At the same time, the poet makes several references to a red horse. (A red horse, associated with war, figures prominently in the biblical book of Revelation, which deals with the apocalypse. As apocalyptical themes are explored in the poem, some critics have suggested that this image of the red horse is an allusion to the horse of Revelation.) The poet additionally describes his feelings of loss and longing for a native land that he believes he will never see again. This lament will continue throughout the work, taking various forms in the course of the poem. In this first section, the lament takes the form of a chorus, as in a song of sorrow, as the poet describes dark cities and old people full of hopes that will never be fulfilled. After mentioning once again the red horse, the poet states that he is able, however dimly, to see the past, and that as an unnamed other speaks for him, he is able to write in a state described in spiritual terms.
Section 2: Diary of a Naturalist
In this lengthy section, Milosz combines verse and prose and recounts experiences in which the dream of a unity with nature is sought but is never achieved. Discussions of the natural world yield to the lament of a lost generation, lost cities, and Milosz's lost past that cannot be regained. The poet then describes a pilgrimage undertaken when he turned from his hopes of being a traveler and a naturalist to other endeavors. The pilgrimage ends with the poet viewing an image of a wooden Madonna with the infant Jesus along with a throng of art lovers. He reflects on his inability to identify and connect with a sense of holiness.
Section 3: Lauda
The sense of yearning for something almost indefinable is carried over in the third section of the poem, in which Milosz reflects on his native region in Lithuania, describing the place he was baptized and the character of the people of the region. The verse portion of this section gives way to a prose selection in which the poet discusses, among other things, the etymology of the title of the section, "Lauda,"; the noble family of the region of Liauda, a noble line of which he is a descendant; he also provides a medieval inventory of the possessions of a magistrate of the region. The prose shifts once again to verse. Milosz reflects on the futility of words, of language, to capture meaning but simultaneously expresses his urgent need to use language as a tool to construct order out of the chaos of experience. This section additionally includes a poem by the Lithuanian poet Teodor Bujnicki and an extended prose commentary on the work of a Lithuanian ethnographer, Father Jucewicz, who collected traditional songs and folk legends.
Section 4: Over Cities
This section begins, in verse, with the poet's denial of responsibility. He states that if he does bear responsibility, he does not bear it for everything. The verse in this section quickly switches to prose in which the poet describes himself presenting a lecture to students on the Christian monk and theologian Maximus the Confessor. The students are informed that Maximus warned against the temptation offered by the truth of reason, underscoring the struggle the poet has been facing in different forms throughout the course of the poem, the struggle to hold on to faith despite the lessons of loss taught by reason and experience. Milosz once again turns to verse, recalling his mother and the faith she offered him. The section concludes with the poet's expression of a sense of being disoriented, isolated. He is once again lost, asking where he has gone.
Section 5: A Short Recess
Milosz envisions a different life in this section, one distinct from the one he lives now. He imagines what his life would have been like if his early dreams had come true, if he had remained in his native land. But, as he explains, he realized that he wanted more, including fame and power. Yet after he began to travel to far off countries to seek his desires, he learned that the goal was an empty one, that he had been deluded. The section ends with an emphasis on the poet's sense of isolation and his pain and shame at trying to behave as he believed he was supposed to, trying to be like other people while knowing that truly he was not like them. He wonders in the last lines of this section whether or not one's life ever ends up meaning much.
Section 6: The Accuser
In this section, the poet addresses what he describes as sins: his vanity, his self-willfulness, his interest in the poison of faiths that contradict the church history he has learned. In particular he mentions Manicheanism and Gnosticism, two philosophies that deny the benevolence and omnipotence of God. The poet also makes reference to Marcionism, which holds that the vengeful Hebrew God of the Old Testament was a separate and lesser being than the all-forgiving deity of the New Testament. The movement of the poem carries the reader with the poet on a journey in which he chooses a difficult path over an easy one, with the goal being a serene castle in the clouds where he will find communion with those who know and love him. But what the poet finds is that the castle never existed. What follows is a list of horrors he has witnessed, a stark description of human suffering. The ending of the section features the hope offered by a ritual for the purposes of purification.
Section 7: Bells in Winter
Milosz begins the final section of the poem with a description of a dream-vision in which he is told by a messenger of God that the Lord's mercy will save us. The poet then informs the reader that the incident he has just recounted, of traveling from Transylvania and having this vision, never happened, yet it could have, he insists. He promises that the next portion of the poem is not an invention, and he describes a street in a village, and the home he had there, along Literary Lane. While he speaks of the place fondly, he states that there is no reason for him to try to re-create such a place in the here and now. He acknowledges now a sense of connection that has eluded him in various ways throughout the course of the poem. Stating that he belongs to those people who believe in apokatastasis, he explains what the word means to him: movement in reverse, backward toward a state of unity. It means, he tells us, restoration, in the spiritual sense. The poet explains that everything possesses a dual existence, as everything exists in time as well as when time itself shall no longer exist. From this explanation, Milosz moves to a description of a frigid winter morning. The sound of the bells jingling nearby gives way to the more persistent and insistent pealing of church bells at various churches (nine of which he lists by name). He returns once again to the old servant, Lisabeth, whom he described in the section on Literary Lane. Now she hears the bells and is urged to Mass. He identifies himself with her now, now that he too is old. Lisabeth is also identified as a member of the communion of saints, and Milosz lists others who are members of that group, specifically other women-witches forced to confess their wickedness, women used by men for pleasure, and wives who have been divorced. He imagines the song of the choirmaster, imagines the cleansing away of sins with the proper rituals. Asking what year it is and answering himself, that it is easy to remember, Milosz brings the reader back to the present, where he can see San Francisco through the fog. He suggests that maybe his reverence will save him after all from the apocalypse he describes in the last lines of the poem, the end of days that may be far off or may occur next week. He speaks again of the hope of the spiritual restoration he discussed earlier, yet the last line grimly states that he was judged for his despair, for he has been unable to understand the truth of such a restoration.
The theme of alienation is a pervasive one in "From the Rising of the Sun," and Milosz explores it in all its variations. The poet underscores the extreme isolation he experiences from mankind, focusing on the religious, social, temporal, and geographic sources of this sense of disconnection. Throughout the poem he makes reference to his sense of alienation from faithful Christians. He fears that his investigations into alternative philosophies and faiths have isolated him from the his religious peers. He despairs that he will be excluded from the final restoration of mankind to its original glory with God due to his inabilities to fully embrace his faith, due to his difficulty in believing what he cannot rationally understand. The poem also depicts the poet's yearning for the home he left behind in Lithuania. He longs for the people and places he remembers from long ago. Trying to capture a sense of what he left behind, of the history of his homeland, he constructs elaborately detailed and lengthy lists, designed to offer at least a glimpse into the lives of his native people. He identifies in many ways with the people of Lithuania and Poland, as shown by his verses on the old servant woman, Lisabeth. Yet he nevertheless is fully aware of his distance from them, in terms of time and geography. In the last section of the poem, Milosz emphasizes this distance by reminding the reader that while much of the poem depicts his onetime home in Eastern Europe and how it existed years ago, he is in fact writing from present-day California. He furthermore implies that he is even isolated from himself when he speaks of the unchanging consciousness, which we may assume is his, that will not forgive.
Judgment and the Apocalypse
A number of religious issues are treated in "From the Rising of the Sun," including sin and the nature of God. The title of the poem itself is taken from a line from the biblical book of Psalms. The full verse is an urging to praise God's name from sunrise to sunset. One of the most prominent of the poem's religious features is its repeated reference to both individual judgment (God's personal judgment against the poet) and the final judgment of mankind, the end of days, the apocalypse. While Milosz expresses his quest for faith throughout the course of the poem, he returns with some regularity to the question of his ultimate fate, seeming to doubt that he has been faithful enough to achieve the ultimate union with God he claims to believe in.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- In "From the Rising of the Sun," Milosz refers to several faiths or philosophies that deviate from the teachings of Christianity. Research one of these systems of thought and write an essay comparing it to the teachings of modern-day Christianity.
- Milosz speaks lovingly of the Lithuanian people in his depictions of their lives, their homes, their villages and towns, and their countryside. Focusing on one or two aspects of Lithuanian life and culture, create a presentation about Lithuanians, incorporating visual elements, music, or food, for example.
- A variety of political forces shaped the development of the Lithuania that Milosz describes in "From the Rising of the Sun." Write a report on the twentieth-century wars and occupations that plagued the country, being sure to include a discussion of the nation's struggle for independence.
- Milosz employs both verse and prose in "From the Rising of the Sun." Write a poem that emulates this unique structure. Like Milosz's poem, it may reflect on the past and provide conjecture on the future. Select themes that are representative of your interests and concerns.
In the opening stanza of the poem, Milosz refers to a red horse, a symbol taken from the book of Revelation in its depiction of the apocalypse. (One of four horses mentioned in Revelation, the red horse and its rider are associated with war, one of the indicators of the coming apocalypse.) Also in the first section of the poem, he speaks of the challenges that the man who has lived a long life will face in being forgiven for his sins. In the third section of the poem, Milosz makes reference again to the apocalypse, commenting on what might exist when the world no longer does. Once again, he speaks of the judgment he will face at the end of his life, observing that we are all of us alone at this dark trial. The fifth section similarly meditates on death, what might come after, and the purpose of our lives. Milosz, in the sixth section of the poem, expresses his fears that his questioning of faith, and his explorations into philosophies that conflict with his church's teachings have perhaps poisoned him. He speaks of these inquiries in terms of sin and the resultant guilt. He wonders whether purification before the final judgment is possible. The final stanza of the final section closes the poem with the same grim tones that opened it, with references to the apocalypse. The poet wonders when it might come; he knows that it is inevitable and that a silence that cannot be imagined will follow. While Milosz speaks of the restoration of all to God's glory, he ends the poem with the comment that his final judgment will stem from his despair at not being able to comprehend the possibility of this restoration.
Verse and Prose
Milosz's approach to "From the Rising of the Sun" is extremely complex in terms of structure and voice. In combining verse and prose, Milosz constructs a work whose narrative often feels jarring and disjointed. The Milosz scholars Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, in The Poet's Work: An Introduction to Czeslaw Milosz, comment on this poem's structure, stating that "the effort needed to follow the movement of the poem from section to section is staggering." In fact, the disorienting effect of the stops and starts in verse, with the interruptions by long sections of prose, is challenging but underscores the painful themes of the poem, which focus on alienation and judgment, fear and longing. The prose is sometimes used as a mini-lecture, conveying instruction by Milosz crafted to help the reader understand the import of the verse, as when the poet discourses on the origins of the word "lauda," which is the title of the poem's third section. The prose supports the verse in other ways as well. In a prose portion of the poem's third section Milosz incorporates medieval family histories, along with a household inventory of a magistrate. The exhaustively detailed tracts of prose highlight the poet's longing for what has passed, for a sense of family and history that has been left behind. The prose sections are often attempts to order the feelings he possesses regarding his isolation from his native land, feelings he explores in a more lyrical manner in the verse sections of the poem.
In addition to the complex structure, "From the Rising of the Sun" also makes use of different points of view, giving the effect that there are a variety of speakers in the poem. Milosz at times speaks in the third person, at other times in the first, and some sections in the poem are structured in a question-and-answer format, although it appears as though Milosz is doing both the asking and the answering. He describes scenes as though recalling things that happened to him and then informs the reader that such things never actually happened to him; he thus provides voices from the past that never existed. At the same time, he introduces us to other individuals whom he recalls vividly, who he affirms are real, and in telling their stories, he gives them a voice. By occupying these various identities, by voicing his thoughts and feelings through a multiplicity of individuals both real and imagined, Milosz again underscores his yearning for connection as well as his isolation.
Lithuania and Poland in the 1940s
Although "From the Rising of the Sun" was not written during the 1940s, nor is it specifically about that time period in Lithuanian and Polish history, lengthy sections of the poem contain Milosz's reminiscences about the home he left. The turmoil in his homeland, which Milosz had escaped in the mid-1940s, would haunt his prose and poetry for years to come; the longing Milosz expresses, generated at least in part by his separation from the land of his birth, textures much of the poem. Warfare in the regions of Lithuania and Poland from before World War I, in the years between World Wars I and II, and during World War II resulted in a shifting in borders. The land Milosz called home, the Vilnius region in what is now Lithuania, was alternately possessed by imperialist Russia and later, from 1920 through 1938, by Poland. It was during these years that Milosz attended secondary school and then law school in Wilno, the Polish name for Vilnius. For a brief time, following a Soviet invasion of Poland, all of Poland and Lithuania were under Soviet control. In October 1939 a portion of the region, including Vilnius, was given to Lithuania by the Soviet Union. In 1941, Lithuania was occupied by Nazis. Following World War II, in 1944, both Poland and Lithuania were once again entirely dominated by Soviet control. Having escaped Soviet-controlled Wilno in 1940, Milosz landed in Warsaw (in Poland), which was then occupied by the Nazis, as per the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Milosz and his wife left Poland in 1945 for the United States. By this time the Soviets had driven out the Germans, and Poland and Lithuania were once again both under Soviet rule. Milosz lived in exile for the next several decades, first in the United States and then for a time in France before his return to America.
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1970s: Milosz, working as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, writes poetry and publishes it in Polish. However, Polish readers are unable to read his poetry; Milosz's works are banned in Poland by the Soviet Communist party.
Today: Milosz's poetry has been read in Poland since the ban on his works was lifted in 1980, the year Milosz won the Nobel Prize in Literature. His work is now respected and emulated by Polish poets.
- 1970s: In "From the Rising of the Sun," Milosz comments on the dangers that wildlife and the environment face from mankind. His focus reflects a growing interest in America on the environment. In April 1970, the United States celebrates its first Earth Day.
Today: With the release of Al Gore's book and film titled An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, a renewed interest in the effects of global warming on the environment is witnessed in America. Gore's work in this area wins him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
- 1970s: American poetry undergoes a surrealist revival during the decade, with an increased focus on the freeing of the mind and the imagination. Poetry is also an increasingly academic endeavor, with creative writing programs growing in many colleges and universities.
Today: Contemporary poetry is engaged in an ongoing debate regarding whether it has become too academic in nature, with some poets maintaining that the academic setting has fostered poetry that is formulaic in its attempts to challenge conventional forms.
Soviet Communism in the 1970s
Milosz's painful emotional response to his estrangement from his countrymen, and to the suffering that decades of Soviet rule inflicted on the residents of Poland and Lithuania, colors portions of "From the Rising of the Sun." When Milosz wrote the poem in 1974, Lithuania and Poland were both still ruled by the Soviet Union. The 1970s in Communist Poland and Lithuania were years characterized by government attempts to prop up failing economies. Attempts to modernize the industries of the countries and to rejuvenate the economic structure met with some success, yet the efforts resulted in massive debts. With Lithuanian and Polish writers and artists pushing for greater freedom of expression, opposition to the Soviet government often took the form of underground publications, the creators of which had to avoid detection by the Soviet secret police. Other Poles and Lithuanians sought to work within the system rather than against it and subsequently joined the Communist party in an attempt to transform the country from within the established form of government. Milosz himself, as evidenced by his writings in such works as The Captive Mind, viewed Communism as a dehumanizing system; he wrote about its dangerous allure in Europe. Having spoken out through his political writings against Communism, Milosz, who by now had settled in Berkeley, California, found his works banned in his native land by the Soviet Communist party. Soviet control of Poland and Lithuania was finally relinquished in 1990, with independence being gained the following year.
"From the Rising of the Sun" has the reputation of being a complex, challenging work. According to the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky (as quoted by George Gomori in the Independent in a 2004 obituary of Milosz), "From the Rising of the Sun" was "perhaps the magnum opus" of Milosz. Milosz's Berkeley colleagues Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, in The Poet's Work: An Introduction to Czeslaw Milosz, regard "From the Rising of the Sun" as "a deliberately obscure initiation into a final wisdom, in which the poet occupies the role of priest, of mystagogue." What appears to be confusion and disorder becomes clear and coherent when the poem is understood in this way, Nathan and Quinn state. The critics then take the approach of dissecting the poem section by section and analyzing the way the themes and techniques of each section dovetail. The effect produced, they argue, is one in which harmony of the "multivocal clash of voices" is elusive but nevertheless offers "tentative, personal hope."
While the work is not often examined separately from Milosz's poetic oeuvre (body of work) as a whole, when it is studied alone a thematic approach is often used. Aleksander Fiut, in a 1987 study of Milosz's poetry titled The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czeslaw Milosz, explores portions of "From the Rising of the Sun." Fiut focuses on the themes Milosz develops in the work and maintains that Milosz posits the imagination and the "cult of the particular" against the pull of nihilism and the temptation toward impiety. For Milosz, Fiut maintains, Lithuania is a spiritual homeland to which the poet longs to return. Fiut additionally explores elements of Milosz's nature poetry through an examination of the "Diary of a Naturalist" section of "From
the Rising of the Sun." In this section, Fiut identifies a sense of disillusionment that he argues the hero of the poem experiences in his encounter with nature.
Other critics have commented more generally on the overarching themes of Milosz's work. Jaroslaw Anders, writing in a 2005 introduction to Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-1943 (a collection of essays by Milosz), observes thatMilosz's writings were shaped by a "sense of Europe's spiritual crisis, and his own crisis of faith." This understanding, Anders states, led to Milosz's "lifelong preoccupation with religious and metaphysical subjects." Similarly, Edward Mozejko, in an essay on Milosz's writings from the 1988 collection of essays Between Anxiety and Hope: The Poetry and Writing of Czeslaw Milosz, stresses that throughout Milosz's works there exists "a surprising continuity and a consistency rarely found among writers." Yet the critic also observes that despite this harmony and the consistent exploration of metaphysical themes, Milosz's poetry is characterized by a complex intermingling of voices, times, places, and cultures. "Polyphony" is a "creative principle" for Milosz, Mozejko contends, and it is "one of the foremost characteristics of Milosz's poetry." Certainly these statements regarding Milosz's themes and stylistic approach apply to "From the Rising of the Sun."
Dominic is a novelist and freelance writer and editor. In the following essay, Dominic contends that while "From the Rising of the Sun" features several points of view or different voices, a structure that randomly incorporates verse and prose, and a style that ranges from lyrical to instructional, the poem possesses a distinct unity in its persistent longing for the comfort of faith.
Descriptors such as "multivocal" and "polyphony" are often used in discussing the style of Milosz's "From the Rising of the Sun." In fact, the effect in question pervades every aspect of the poem. "From the Rising of the Sun" is characterized by a startling multiplicity in terms of voice, form, style, and content. Stunning lyricism, for example, gives way to historical essays or lists of facts, just as the first-person point of view shifts to the third person. Yet despite the dissonance that these transitions create, the poem is unified by the sense of yearning that pervades the poem, a yearning specifically for faith and comfort in it. In a sense, to the extent that the poem can be said to be about any one thing, "From the Rising of the Sun" is about the poet's longing for faith as compensation for the deep sense of isolation and alienation he feels so viscerally. It is about the interplay between despair and hope—the despair that experience teaches and the hope that faith offers.
From the opening of the first section the relationship between despair and hope is outlined, underscoring the poet's sense of longing to transition from one state to the other. He speaks in the second stanza of the first section of his fear, his weakness, and about the need to at least imagine oneself brave in order to brace oneself for the spiritual restoration, symbolized by the light of day, with which the repentant sinner will be rewarded at the end of the world, symbolized by the red horse, a reference to one of the biblical book of Revelation's four horses and horsemen that initiate the apocalypse. The poet goes on to speak of the unfulfilled hopes of old people who await glory and power. This opening section sets the stage for the rest of the poem, in which dark images and sentiments are juxtaposed with references to faith and the glory of God.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Zniewolony umsyl, translated as The Captive Mind and published in 1953, is Milosz's political examination of totalitarianism and is counted among Milosz's best-known works.
- Native Realm: A Search for Self-Definition, originally published in 1959 in Polish as Rodzinna Europa, is Milosz'a autobiography. The English translation was originally published in 1968.
- Lithuania: The Rebel Nation (1996), by Vytas Stanley Vardys and Judith B. Sedaitis, offers a history of Lithuania's struggle against Soviet oppression and provides a thorough exploration of the effects of the Soviet occupation on Lithuanian culture.
- Contemporary East European Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Emery George, was originally published in 1983 and then reprinted in an expanded form in 1993. The collection contains representative twentieth-century poetry from Eastern European countries, including Lithuania. The section on Lithuania allows one to compare Milosz's poetry to that of his countrymen.
In the second section of the poem, after outlining the struggles inherent in the natural world, the poet speaks of the losses he has witnessed—a lost generation, lost cities, lost nations. Descriptions of death and destruction are offered in a lamenting tone before the poet turns to the pilgrimage he embarked upon. He sets off, seeking and yearning, pursuing faith and true belief, but he finds only an idol, an image of religion (a Madonna and child carved out of wood), rather than faith itself. This section emphasizes the undulations of hope and despair throughout the poem; hope is perpetually sought as a salve to the poet's sense of despair, but these dreams are never fulfilled.
The lengthy third section of the poem, "Lauda," features the longest prose portions to be found in the poem. In the verse portion that opens the section, the poet speaks lovingly about his native land, the Liauda region in Lithuania. He recalls simple times, yet the juxtaposition of despair and spiritual hope remains. After commenting that he has been baptized and has renounced evil, he refers, several stanzas later, to a devil that has not been sufficiently baptized. What follows is a prose section featuring a thoroughly detailed discussion of the etymology, or word origin, of the title of this section of the poem and its relation to both his native region and an Italian term for a song of praise. He gives an account of the nobility of the region, an account that includes reference to his ancestors and details regarding Lithuanians killed in battle. The prose section continues with an account of the household items of a particular magistrate and the subsequent fate of his belongings. The details seem random, but their exhaustive nature and their focus to some degree on the domestic underscore the depth of the poet's longing for a place he left long ago, for a sense of home. This yearning for something that feels like home to him is transmuted into a striving toward faithfulness, as the poem shifts from prose to verse once again. The focus shifts to a song described as a song of the Catholic season of Lent. In it, the poet speaks of the grief and despair he feels at being unable to understand his faith; he speaks of words that produce no light inside him.
The beginning of the shorter fourth section of "From the Rising of the Sun" is laden with references to religious holidays and images. Waking from this parade of imagery, the poet strives to understand its meaning. Later, he speaks of entering a monastery, seeking a moment of comprehension. He is constantly hoping for clarity, for true knowledge that would justify faith. Near the end of this section, having wondered what use he has been in his life, the poet observes that at the end our days, when we are judged, we stand alone for our trial, waiting in the dark for our fate. In this way the poet emphasizes the relation between his yearning for faith and his fears in having questioned too much for too long. The poem is colored by the poet's apprehension that in seeking rational understanding of faith—something that others accept without question—he will be judged unfavorably by God.
This apprehension is taken up again by the poet in the fifth section. Throughout this section he speaks of his shortcomings. While others forgave each other and were forgiven, he sought fame and power and earthly glory. He comments on his sense of isolation from others, on the pain that reminded him of the foolishness of trying to be like other people. By the end of this section he is once again expressing his despair over whether or not he, or anyone, can live a life that truly means anything. This section offers little sense of hope. Futility, despair, and alienation take center stage. Similarly, the next section focuses on sin and guilt. These stem largely from the poet's desire for knowledge of faith, a desire that led him to explore ideas about God that ran contrary to church teachings. He speaks of living in a void, and he relays images of human suffering. Yet the section ends with the poet's now-familiar thirst for faith, this time for the release offered through a purification ritual.
In the poem's final section, the exchange between despair and hope, which characterizes the poet's longing for faith and which has played itself out throughout the often jarring course of the poem, is examined repeatedly, almost stanza by stanza. The poet opens with a vision of God's mercy, a dream that the poet recounts having had on his travels. Almost immediately thereafter he denies having had this experience, although he insists that he could have. His desire to accept his faith without skepticism is strong, but it is not stronger than his skepticism. Each of the poet's efforts to connect with faith is somehow negated. The poet's longing for his native Lithuania, for a sense of home and community, has been a stand-in throughout the poem for the poet's longing for the comfort offered by faith. In the poem's final section, the home of his past makes an appearance once again as the poet remembers an old servant named Lisabeth, with whom he now identifies. He remembers Lisabeth going to morning Mass and thinks how long ago that was. The poet recognizes that he, too, is now old, just as he remembers Lisabeth to be. Emphasizing his affinity with her, he notes that they are the same, and the implication is that it is not just in their ages that they are similar. Perhaps he, too, longs for the solace offered by morning Mass. The poet then draws the reader back to the present time and place in which he is writing the poem and suggests that maybe his reverence will offer him salvation after all; perhaps his respect for the faith will be enough. Yet his hope for the final peace that faith promises is undercut by the sentiments of the poem's final line. In this line the poet acknowledges that judgment will befall him for his despair, for his inability to accept the glory of God on faith. In this ultimate line, the poet suggests that his desire for faith will not be sufficient in the end, for he has been unable to accept without question the tenets of his faith despite his deep desire to do so.
Throughout "From the Rising of the Sun," the poet demonstrates his inability to approach faith without question, using various methods to accomplish this. The speaker's longing for his homeland is a major theme in the poem in its own right, yet it serves additionally as a metaphor for his yearning for true faith and the spiritual sustenance such belief can provide. His sense of alienation from both his countrymen and the faithful highlights his pain and his despair. Although affirming Milosz's essential Catholicism in an essay published in the religion-oriented journal First Things following Milosz's death in 2004, Jeremy Driscoll writes that "Milosz often sensed a lack in his own faith." In "From the Rising of the Sun," this deficiency and its ramifications are thoroughly explored; for the poet, hoping for the ability to accept faith without question yields not comfort but alienation and despair.
Source: Catherine Dominic, Critical Essay on "From the Rising of the Sun," in Poetry for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
In the following excerpt, Keen comments on Milosz's Collected Poems: 1931-1987, including "From the Rising of the Sun." Keen draws upon Milosz's essays in order to interpret his poetic work.
This fall, Ecco Press reissues one of the essential books of our time, The Collected Poems of 1980 Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz. Born in Lithuania in 1911, educated in Wilno (Vilnius), a city with overlapping Polish and Lithuanian identities, Milosz has written in Polish while living in France, Poland, and, since 1961, California. He does not regret the decision to write in the language in which he is the best poet, nor should he, for his translators convey his vivid particularity and his range of tones with such success that I must remind myself to think of what I'm missing. Despite the loss of the Polish sounds, rhythms, formal structures, and idiomatic and cultural resonances, Milosz's poetry in translation is the real thing.
The poet Robert Hass has frequently collaborated with Milosz in translating himself, most recently in Provinces: Poems 1987-1991. From that volume, the poem "The Thistle, the Nettle" demonstrates how superbly these poets make English poetry from Milosz's original.
… The desolate music of the lines defies the "earth without grammar" that the aging poet faces. The poet reanimates his cousin Oscar Milosz's catalog of weeds, quoted in the epigraph to the poem, making continuity out of arranged words even as he disbelieves in the efficacy of poetry's claim on the future. My own experience of vacant lots and the accidental meadows of the postindustrial landscape, not to mention the prospect of the end of the poet's vocation, is whipped into shape by this rigorous lyric.
Writing of his own translations of Robinson Jeffers in an essay collected in the new volume, Beginning with My Streets, Milosz concludes that "the translator sees a sort of ‘empty space’ in his own home, in his home of sounds and intonations that he has known since childhood, and desires that it not remain empty." It is our good fortune to have not only the works that reveal and occupy this space in excellent English versions, but also Milosz's own guide to his personal and intellectual geography. A collection of essays, interviews, reviews, and addresses, Beginning with My Streets makes a fascinating companion to The Collected Poems and to Provinces.
Milosz's poetry draws our attention to the amnesia of recent history regarding Central Eastern Europe, although most of the poems are invested with a piercing personal vision that is not always obviously political. The meditations on places, people and concepts in Beginning with My Streets paradoxically awaken us to the knowledge lost to the world during the half century of Milosz's experience as a writer. Always painfully aware of the partiality and incompleteness of an individual witness's account, Milosz nonetheless invests these diverse writings with a compassionate and encompassing spirit. In his Nobel Lecture, which closes Beginning with My Streets, Milosz asks his audience's forgiveness for "laying bare a memory like a wound." Of his responsibility to reveal the "hidden reality" that drives and eludes human reckoning, he writes, "There are moments when it seems to me that I decipher the meaning of afflictions which befell the nations of the ‘other Europe,’ and that meaning is to make them the bearers of memory—at the time when Europe, without an adjective, and America possess it less and less with every generation." The poet's characteristic irony tings through a statement in another essay, "On Nationalism": "It is difficult to forget what happened in Catholic Croatia during the last war, when crimes of genocide were committed in the name of religion as the only distinctive mark separating the Croats from the Orthodox Serbs." The empty space lies exposed; it was all too easy for us to forget, until we were recently reminded.
The opening essay takes off from the twelfth section of the poem "City without a Name," reprinted in its entirety in the Collected Poems. In the essay, Milosz compiles details of architecture, geography, and persons in a digressive map of his original territory, the city Wilno. The dialogue with Tomas Venclova brings home the importance of such remembering, for Venclova's Vilnius, "having experienced the twentieth century" is Wilno no more. The contesting claims of Poland and Lithuania and, of course, the former Soviet Union to this city result in a double or triple naming that threatens to obliterate meaning. In the poetic sequence "From the Rising of the Sun," Milosz writes, "Everything would be fine if language did not deceive us by finding different names for the same thing in different times and places." The failure of the Platonic ideal to exist immanently in all objects threatens poetry, as well:
A word should be contained in every single thing
But it is not. So what then of my vocation?
A permanent sense of being rooted in a specific point on the globe governs and legitimates Milosz's vocation: "Even if I were gathering images of the earth from many countries on two continents, my imagination could cope with them only by assigning them to positions to the south, north, east, or west of the trees and hills of one district."
The phrase, "a sense of place," so often applied to poetry, takes on new meaning in Milosz's moral geography. In an essay on Stanislaw Vincenz's On the Side of Memory, Milosz concurs with the author's polemic: "The godless man can travel for many hundreds or thousands of kilometers in a single day without noticing anything that might move him, and just as space loses the value of the particular to him, so, too, does time lose value; for him, the past is obscured by a cloud of gray dust, it is reduced to vectors of motion, ‘lines of development’; no inn, in which it would be pleasant to stop and rest, attracts him." Yet Milosz insists on addressing the hazards of creating, in imagination and poetry, a substitute world out of the particularities noticed by the alert person. In "The Costs of Zealousness," Milosz describes the poet's reaction to life: "Then the substitute world, which originally was a separate island, occupies more and more territory within us and the zealousness that it exacts … generates a further skewing of our day-to-day obligations toward people."
An intriguing essay called "Saligia" reveals more of the poet's self-examination, arranged around the meanings in Latin and in Polish, in youth and in adulthood, of the seven deadly sins. Here as elsewhere in Milosz's essays, he scrutinizes himself: "It is easy to understand the anger of the oppressed, the anger of slaves," he writes in the section on ire, "particularly if you yourself have lived for several years inside the skin of a subhuman. In my century, however, the anger of the privileged who are ashamed of their privilege was even louder. I am fairly well acquainted with this anger." Therein lies the sin of the successful, he warns, as "well-fed, rosychecked [sic] people have often gotten entangled in duplicity when they pretended they were suffering."
A reader unfamiliar with Milosz's lively, tender, wry, self-deprecating, and often hilarious poetry might come away with a false impression of the poet from this brief description of Beginning with My Streets, or indeed from the volume itself. For this reason I recommend that a reading of the essays accompany an excursion into the poems, which are luckily available in both The Collected Poems and in Provinces….
Source: Suzanne Keen, Review of The Collected Poems: 1931-1987, in Commonweal, Vol. 119, No. 19, November 6, 1992, 3 pp.
In the following interview, Milosz talks about his upbringing in Lithuania and the spiritual underpinning of his poetry.
In a small club room at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Czeslaw Milosz is seated on a sofa having tea, surrounded by several academics from universities in the Boston area and a representative of the City Council. The Polish Nobel Prize-winning poet is in town today to give a poetry reading in the Lowell Lectures at Boston College. A short, but not slight, older man, Mr. Milosz sits quietly while the others discuss the political events in Eastern Europe: the collapse of the Berlin Wall a few weeks earlier and the lifting of travel restrictions for Czech citizens that very morning. When I enter the room, Milosz lets me know that he will speak to me in a few minutes' time. For a moment there's an awkward pause, a shuffling of chairs and places as everyone suddenly realizes Milosz's presence. I'm reminded of a passage by Milosz himself on the social awkwardness of the artist, "ill at ease in one place, ill at ease in the other—always and everywhere ill at ease—who managed to distance himself by spinning, cocoon-like, his incomprehensible language."
Born in 1911 in Wilno (Vilnius), Lithuania, to Polish and Lithuanian parents, Czeslaw Milosz's reticence during the morning's discussion reveals the experience of one familiar enough with the unpredictability of the political situation in Eastern Europe to be wary of making definitive comments about it. After receiving a degree in law at the age of 23, Milosz became involved in underground circles in Warsaw with the coming of the Nazis to Poland in 1939. When the war ended, he served in the Polish Foreign Service, eventually leaving his post in Paris in 1951 to reside in the West thereafter. He established his literary reputation through the publication of political and literary essays, several semi-autobiographical novels and, most notably, several volumes of poetry, his most recent being The Collected Poems 1931-1987, published by Penguin Books in 1988.
This most recent selection of Milosz's poems is an especially revelatory selection in its representation of both the devastating and hopeful in his work. "Proof," a poem written in Berkeley, Calif., in 1975 begins, "And yet you experienced the flames of Hell./You can even say what they were like: real,/Ending in sharp hooks so that they tear up flesh/Piece by piece, to the bone." On the facing page, also written in Berkeley in the same year, is "Amazement," which reveals a different tone entirely, opening with lines whose detailed simplicity is characteristic of Milosz's work, "O what daybreak in the windows! Cannons salute. The basket boat of Moses floats down the green Nile./Standing immobile in the air, we fly over flowers:/Lovely carnations and tulips placed in long low tables."
Milosz's depictions of an earthly hell and a present-day paradise reveal, in their coexistence within his creative scheme, a sense of traditional Judeo-Christian morality often shunned in the work of many modern artists. I ask Milosz how he retained this traditional sense of ethics in a world where existentialism has long prompted many of his contemporaries to discount the ethical duality of good and evil altogether. "Sometimes one discovers the value of elementary attachment to the notion of good and evil, and my faith is rooted in my childhood," responds Milosz, in slow, thoughtful tones whose color reflects his Eastern European background. "One discovers the value of certain basic notions: of catechism, of the notions of good and evil inculcated by our parents in childhood. So that's a sort of an indication of simple tools against highfalutin and complicated things of philosophy, and very often ominous philosophies of the 20th century.
"I have been observing so many destructions, so many ruins, not only in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense, and I noticed that ruins in the human mind preceded physical ruins. I know to what extent catastrophes of the 20th century were determined by a kind of erosion that was going on during the 19th century. I should say that if I preserved faith, it was largely empirical, through seeing diabolical forces at work."
I'm struck by his unpretentiousness. Milosz has written The History of Polish Literature, a massive, scholarly work, and is Professor Emeritus of Slavic and Eastern European languages at the University of California at Berkeley. But he possesses an ingenuous wisdom one would expect to find in someone removed from the academic world. It is this wisdom that takes over when I press him about the possibility for someone of today's generation to possess strong religious faith when the notion of "the banality of evil" itself has become banal.
"You may see a contradiction because I said that because of experiences of the 20th century, one appreciates naïve notions inculcated in childhood. I do not see any contradiction because this is not a naïve approach, but through a religious upbringing one can appreciate naïve attitudes. That is not identical with being naïve, you see. It's looking from another angle. You understand what I mean?"
I assure him that I do. His tremendous faith in his traditional religious upbringing seemed as intuitive in his speech as it does in his poetry. Indeed, his major literary influences include English Romantic poet William Blake, and he has lectured extensively on the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I recall one of Dostoyevsky's more oft-quoted statements, "If I had to choose between Christ and truth, I would choose Christ," and ask if he agrees.
"This is specific of Dostoyevsky. Simone Weil said that when confronted with such a choice, ‘I would always choose truth, because I am convinced that what is really true cannot be against Christ.’ Dostoyevsky meant scientific truth, truth of science of the 19th century versus Christ. And Simone Weil was fanatically attached to science and even to the notion of determinism in the 19th century because she considered that this didn't interfere with her faith.
"As everybody in the 20th century, I have been under a very strong influence of science and technology, pervading all our lives. But because of that influence, I believe that faith in the 20th century is something very different from naïve faith of the past, of medieval man, for instance. So if I have faith, it is seasoned with irony, with humor, with various elements that are unavoidable once we are confronted with the scientific world inherited from the 19th century."
Then what is it that attracts him to Dostoyevsky, if not simply his faith? "I was interested primarily in Dostoyevsky as a spokesman of the Russian intelligentsia in the 19th century, and as a prophet of the Russian Revolution. Undoubtedly, such novels—The Possessed, for instance—are prophetic books. And, for Dostoyevsky, the erosion of Christianity, the erosion of religious imagination, inevitably led his characters to a Promethean revolutionary hope. The Possessed is a novel about a revolutionary group that is like a body of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Communist Party. And Russians themselves recognize the prophetic character of Dostoyevsky's writings. The Russian Revolution was not only a social and historical phenomenon, it was a profound metaphysical phenomenon."
I ask how he saw this metaphysics today, in light of the political revolution that has recently taken place throughout virtually all of Eastern Europe. "External changes are very important, but even more important is the complete end of Marxism as a doctrine, as a philosophy. Still we can expect many turns and turns, but one is certain that Marxist philosophy is dead, it's all over. And that's a fact of tremendous importance for the world, more important, perhaps, than political changes that have made the reversals that we see. In China we saw a reversal and it doesn't matter, for there is no messianic feeling, and no messianic faith, no philosophy as a substitute for religion, which it was, for several decades of the century.
"It is very, very hard to predict," he says when I ask if he believes that this messianic faith will return to religion in Eastern Europe. "In Western societies undoubtedly, especially in Western Europe, there is the loss of the feeling of the sacred and the sort of transformation of the churches into clubs of social activity. Why, excluding the former Communist countries, we don't know. We are before such a tumultuous and such a bleak situation that it is hard to tell what will emerge. But undoubtedly, there is a need for basic spiritual values in all those countries, much stronger than in the West."
Perhaps art itself will fill this spiritual gap? "That's something that occurred in the 19th century already. Obviously, the slogan ‘art for art's sake’ was a kind of substitute of religion. And if you observe today's scene, you will observe the names of artists, of great painters like van Gogh, like Matisse, like Goya and so on—wesee a kind of religious cult of art. They take the figure of spiritual heroes, the place of saints, or even gods. And this is taken over by mass media. There is a cult of art—in America, for instance. In Western Europe, also. Museums are now a kind of temple."
Although he speaks passionately about his own religious views, Milosz is generally reserved. When I ask who his favorite contemporary poets are, he laughs politely and replies that he wouldn't drop names. However, as fair alternative to the previous question, he does offer advice to aspiring poets. "Read good poetry. And among good poetry, I place old Chinese poetry, of the T'ang dynasty, for instance." Although he cannot read in Chinese, he believes that, "reading in translation is legitimate. I have been acting as a translator of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek. I translated the Book of Psalms, and the Book of Job. And from Greek I translated the Gospel according to Mark.
"I have written one poem in my life in English, the rest in Polish. I translate myself with the help of my American friends; mostly translations are a corporate effort."
In his critical work The Land of Ulro, Milosz writes, "A work condemned never to leave the artist's workshop has the same power as a work of lasting significance for the public." I asked him why he believed in this, what he calls the "magical intervention through unseen communion."
"I can now say here, quoting French poet Charles Baudelaire, who said in one place, ‘Every form, even one created by man, is immortal.’ Interpret it as you like.
"Of course in the material sense, it makes a great difference" for the public if a work of art is displayed in a museum, Milosz admitted. "But what Baudelaire meant is probably on another spiritual level, that energies that are drawn into creating a work, a painting, for instance, that is not known to the public at all, that [these] energies somehow act, turn in the human sphere."
This spiritual, personal view of his work reflects Milosz's desire to be a hermetic poet, an intensely private artist with a small but loyal following. "My adventure was very strange because I started as a hermetic poet and because of various circumstances, including literary prizes and the situation in Poland, and so on, I became a kind of spokesman for people, for many people; and it happened practically against my own will. I have written a certain number of poems during the war that were anti-Nazi poems, and after the war I wrote poems connected with the situation in Poland, and those poems brought me a response, as I said, practically against my will.
"In 1950 I wrote a short poem, ‘You who harmed a simple man.’ It waited for some 30 years and that poem was placed on the monument for workers killed in Gdansk by the police; it is there, on the monument. So those are adventures of a hermetic poet!"
Throughout the interview,Milosz's responses are often serious, yet undercut by his gentle wit. When I suggest that perhaps the artist owes a debt to the general public, he replies without hesitation. "I am for an artist going after his business, and his business is, as Auden said, ‘To praise the world, praise everything which is in being,’ but I have been taught by history, if you are completely cornered, if you have no way out except to give vent to your moral indignation, then you write poems—committed poems, in a way."
Source: William Lach, "A Conversation with Czeslaw Milosz," in America, May 12, 1990, pp. 472-75.
Anders, Jaroslaw, Introduction, in Legends of Modernity: Essays and Letters from Occupied Poland, 1942-1943, by Czeslaw Milosz, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, pp. ix-xvi.
Czaykowski, Bogdan, "Czeslaw Milosz," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 215, Twentieth-Century Eastern European Writers, First Series, edited by Steven Serafin, The Gale Group, 1999, pp. 236-49.
Driscoll, Jeremy, "The Witness of Czeslaw Milosz," in First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, Vol. 147, November 2004, pp. 28-33.
Fiut, Aleksander, The Eternal Moment: The Poetry of Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Theodosia S. Robertson, University of California Press, 1990, pp. 6-36, 37-62.
Gomori, George, Obituary of Czeslaw Milosz, in Independent, August 16, 2004, http://news.independent.co.uk/people/obituaries/article39034.ece (accessed February 14, 2008).
Milosz, Czeslaw, "Fromthe Rising of the Sun," in New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001, Ecco, 2001, pp. 278-331.
Mozejko, Edward, "Between the Universals of Moral Sensibility and Historical Consciousness: Notes on the Writings of Czeslaw Milosz," in Between Anxiety and Hope: The Poetry and Writing of Czeslaw Milosz, edited by Edward Mozejko, University of Alberta Press, 1988, pp. 1-29.
Nathan, Leonard, and Arthur Quinn, The Poet's Work: An Introduction to Czeslaw Milosz, Harvard University Press, 1991, pp. 99-154.
Maciuszko, Jerry J., "The Moral Aspect of Czeslaw Milosz's Creativity," in World Literature Today, Vol. 73, No. 4, Autumn 1999, p. 675.
Much of Milosz's poetry, including "From the Rising of the Sun," is concerned with crisis, such as a crisis of faith or the crises inflicted on Milosz's homeland by warfare. Maciuszko explores the moral attitude that informs the catastrophism (the focus on crises) of Milosz's work.
Royal, Robert, "The Ecstatic Pessimist," in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2005, pp. 72-83.
Royal contends that in his poetry, Milosz does not retreat from the horrors he witnessed in his life, but neither does he express an attitude of bleakness. Rather, Royal argues, Milosz uses his painful experiences as a source of insight.
Smoley, Richard, Forbidden Faith: The Secret History of Gnosticism, HarperOne, 2006.
Gnosticism intrigued Milosz, and he mentions in "From the Rising of the Sun" how the temptation of this school of thought, along with those of similar faiths, perhaps poisoned him against his Catholic faith. Smoley traces the roots of Gnosticism from its origins and describes its modern depiction in books and film.
Wat, a contemporary of Milosz, was an acclaimed Polish poet who lived in Poland during the Nazi and Soviet occupations; he remained in Poland longer than Milosz and experienced to a more extensive degree the Soviet oppression that possessed Poland following World War II. His recollections of the Nazi and Soviet occupations offer a detailed historical framework for understanding what Milosz endured as well as what he escaped. Portions of the work are based on interviews between Wat and Milosz.